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Trump’s 2016 ‘America First’ energy speech was edited and preapproved by UAE and Saudi Arabia

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During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump was set to do a speech on energy in which he was going to start pitching the phrase “America First,” but before he went onstage to talk about his plans for American energy production, one of Trump’s advisers ran the speech past officials from the United Arab Emirates. And then copies were sent to Saudi Arabia. So it was America first—so long as the UAE and Saudis are okay with that. When he finally got around to sharing the speech with Americans, some of the language in Trump’s “America First” speech actually came from the UAE.

According to ABC News, it was Trump adviser Thomas Barrack who arranged to give representatives from the UAE a preview of the speech two weeks before Trump delivered it. An associate of Barrack’s provided the speech to both Saudi and UAE representatives, still before Trump had delivered it to Americans. Finally, Barrack worked with Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort to insert revisions made by the UAE into the speech that Trump actually delivered. Manafort wrote back to Barrack confirming that the final version of the speech included the language requested by the UAE.

Why is this coming to light now? Because investigators for the House Oversight Committee—the committee chaired by Rep. Elijah Cummings—have unearthed a trove of communications featuring Manafort, Barrack, and representatives from the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Though Trump’s attack on Rep. Cummings appears to have been tied to a Fox News hit piece, the idea of going after the Oversight Committee chair might very much have already been on Trump’s mind.

The recommended language from Barrack’s UAE contact at one point included suggesting that Trump directly mention Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, but that apparently didn’t mesh too well with the screw-the-world tone of the speech that included Trump’s declaration that he would withdraw from the Paris agreement. The final speech included a toned-down version of the text requested by the UAE that said that Trump wanted to “work with our Gulf allies to develop a positive energy relationship as part of our anti-terrorism strategy.”

Barrack seemed to realize that this communication between the Trump campaign and a foreign government over the future of U.S. energy policy was problematic at best. In an exchange with Manafort, he noted that the language he was proposing to add to the speech was “probably as close as I can get without crossing a lot of lines.” Whether he’s concerned about crossing U.S. law, or crossing Mohammed bin Salman, isn’t clear.

Investigators for the Oversight Committee have collected more than 60,000 documents showing “intermingling of private interests and public policy decisions” by Trump both before and after the election. Some of this information was released in a report on Monday, and follows similar information released by the House in February after whistleblowers discussed these connections between the Trump White House and foreign governments.

The request to mention Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, along with the crown prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, is of great interest. At the time of Trump’s speech, Mohammed bin Salman was not the crown prince. He wouldn’t assume that position until an internal “mini-coup” in 2017, immediately following Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia. Since then, Jared Kushner has made multiple trips to visit him, delivering to him classified information to use against his enemies. Trump has issued two vetoes of bills designed to halt arms sales used in Mohammed bin Salman’s expansive war in Yemen.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on July 30, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

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Trump puts public, workers at risk as he tries again to eliminate nation’s chemical safety agency

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As part of his administration’s rollback of key safety and environmental protections, President Donald Trump wants to eliminate the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, a federal agency with a strong record of improving public safety. The proposed gutting of the agency comes as the Trump administration seeks to give a boost to the nation’s petrochemical industry as part of its “energy dominance” agenda.

As with his FY 2018 budget, Trump’s new budget proposal will call for wiping out the Chemical Safety Board’s entire $12 million budget, Bloomberg News reportedThursday. The agency is charged with investigating major chemical fires, explosions, leaks, and other accidents.

The Chemical Safety Board, with its relatively small budget, plays an oversized role among federal agencies. In 2017, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the agency was on the frontlines, looking into a fire and explosions at a chemical facility, owned by French company Arkema Inc., northeast of Houston. Fifteen sheriff’s deputies were sent to the hospital on the morning of August 31, 2017, after responding to the chemical fire and falling ill in the middle of the road.

The board was created as part of the Clean Air Act amendments in 1990 and began operations in 1998. The agency’s recommendations are often adopted by industry and government agencies. For example, the agency, with only 40 staff, investigated the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and has performed more than 130 investigations since it began operations in 1998. The agency is modeled after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which investigates plane crashes and other major accidents. Like the NTSB, the Chemical Safety Board is an independent agency.

Most recently, Chemical Safety Board staff traveled to Oklahoma to investigate a natural gas well explosion that killed five workers. The agency is currently reviewing information about the drill site and plans to interview eyewitnesses and others who were present beginning next week, it said Wednesday in a statement.

The United States averages more than 1,000 industrial chemical accidents each year, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a nonprofit group that investigates reports of environmental crimes from government employees. Throughout its history, the agency has responded primarily to incidents with high consequences, including fatalities, injuries, more than $500,000 in facility damage, or significant environmental or community impact.

Starting in 2010, the agency prioritized eliminating an investigation backlog. The backlog peaked at about 22 open cases in June 2010 following the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig explosion and fire. In January 2016, a year before President Barack Obama left office, the number of open investigations has been reduced to seven.

Last year, after the agency learned of its proposed elimination under Trump’s FY 2018 budget, Chemical Safety Board Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland issued a statement expressing extreme disappointment with the president’s proposal.

“For over 20 years, the CSB has conducted hundreds of investigations of high consequence chemical incidents, such as the Deepwater Horizon and West Fertilizer disasters,” Sutherland said. “Our investigations and recommendations have had an enormous effect on improving public safety.”

The agency’s recommendations resulted in banned natural gas blows in Connecticut, an improved fire code in New York City, and increased public safety at oil and gas sites across Mississippi. “The American public is safer today as a result of the work of the dedicated and professional staff of the CSB,” she said.

This blog was originally published at ThinkProgress on February 2, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mark Hand is a climate and environment reporter at ThinkProgress. Send him tips at [email protected]


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