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Independent: Former MI6 agent Christopher Steele’s frustration as FBI sat on Donald Trump Russia file for months

Exclusive: Steele was so concerned by revelations he worked without payment after Trump’s election victory in November

By Kim Sengupta

Jan. 14, 2017

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Christopher Steele, the former MI6 agent who investigated Donald Trump’s alleged Kremlin links, was so worried by what he was discovering that at the end he was working without pay, The Independent has learned.

Mr Steele also decided to pass on information to both British and American intelligence officials after concluding that such material should not just be in the hands of political opponents of Mr Trump, who had hired his services, but was a matter of national security for both countries.

However, say security sources, Mr Steele became increasingly frustrated that the FBI was failing to take action on the intelligence from others as well as him. He came to believe there was a cover-up, that a cabal within the Bureau blocked a thorough inquiry into Mr Trump, focusing instead on the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

It is believed that a colleague of Mr Steele in Washington, Glenn Simpson, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who runs the firm Fusion GPS, felt the same way and, at the end also continued with the Trump case without being paid.

Fusion GPS had been hired by Republican opponents of Mr Trump in September 2015. In June 2016 Mr Steele came on the team. He was, and continues to be, highly regarded in the intelligence world. In July, Mr Trump won the Republican nomination and the Democrats became new employers of Mr Steele and Fusion GPS.

In the same month  Mr Steele produced a memo, which went to the  FBI, stating that Mr Trump’s campaign team had agreed to a Russian request to dilute attention on Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine. Four days later Mr Trump stated that he would recognise Moscow’s annexation of Crimea. A month later officials involved in his campaign asked the Republican party’s election platform to remove a pledge for military assistance to the Ukrainian government against separatist rebels in the east of the country.

Mr Steele claimed that the Trump campaign was taking this path because it was aware that the Russians were hacking Democratic Party emails. No evidence of this has been made public, but the same day that Mr Trump spoke about Crimea he called on the Kremlin to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails.

By late July and early August MI6 was also receiving information about Mr Trump. By September, information to the FBI began to grow in volume: Mr Steele compiled a set of his memos into one document and passed it to his contacts at the FBI. But there seemed to be little progress in a proper inquiry into Mr Trump. The Bureau, instead, seemed to be devoting their resources in the pursuit of Hillary Clinton’s email transgressions.

The New York office, in particular, appeared to be on a crusade against Ms Clinton. Some of its agents had a long working relationship with Rudy Giuliani, by then a member of the Trump campaign, since his days as public prosecutor and then Mayor of the city.

As the election approached, FBI director James Comey made public his bombshell letter saying that Ms Clinton would face another email investigation. Two days before that Mr Giuliani, then a part of the Trump team, talked about “a surprise or two you’re going to hear about in the next few days. We’ve got a couple of things up our sleeve that should turn things around.”

After the letter was published Mr Giuliani claimed he had heard from current and former agents that “there’s a kind of revolution going on inside the FBI” over the original decision not to charge Ms Clinton and that Mr Comey had been forced by some of his agents to announce the reinvestigation. Democrats demanded an investigation into how Mr Giuliani acquired this knowledge without getting an answer.

In October a frustrated and demoralised Mr Steele, while on a trip to New York, spoke about what he has discovered to David Corn, the Washington editor of the magazine Mother Jones. There was a little flurry of interest that quickly died down.

Mr Trump’s surprise election victory came and the Democrat employers of Mr Steele and Mr Johnson no longer needed them. But the pair continued with their work, hopeful that the wider investigation into Russian hacking in the US would allow the Trump material to be properly examined.

It was against this background that Senator John McCain, who had been hearing with growing alarm reports about Mr Trump and the Kremlin, met Sir Andrew Wood, a former British ambassador to Moscow, who had spent 10 years in Russia and is highly respected for his knowledge of Russian affairs, at a security conference in Halifax, Canada.

Sir Andrew stressed to Senator McCain that he had not read the dossier, but vouched for Mr Steele’s professionalism and integrity. The chair of the Senate Armed Forces Committee then sent an emissary to London who picked up the dossier from an intermediary acting on behalf of Mr Steele. The Senator personally took the material to Mr Comey.

Mr Trump and Barack Obama were briefed about the allegations as part of a report into Russian hacking a week ago. Mr Trump remained silent about them until they were published this week and then he angrily denounced them as lies. His spokesperson said he could not recall the briefing.

Mr Steele is now in hiding, under attack from some Tory MPs for supposedly trying to ruin the chances of Theresa May’s Government building a fruitful relationship with the Trump administration. Some of them accuse him of being part of an anti-Brexit conspiracy. A right-wing tabloid has “outed” him as being a “confirmed socialist” while at university.

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??Italian Bank Rescue??

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Dear Friends,

Smoke and mirrors again. In the end, the Italian banks will be saved, if at all, by wiping out creditors and equity holders. Many of the creditors are simple folk, sold credit yield with no safety. All of that could bring on a “Populist” government very soon. Portugal, Spain, Greece, France and Germany are not far behind in their own banking difficulties.

Bloomberg: Italy Bank Rescue Won’t Fill $54 Billion Hole on Their Books

by Yalman Onaran

Dec. 21, 2016

Italian banks need at least 52 billion euros ($54 billion) to clean up their balance sheets, much more than the rescue package proposed Monday by the government.

The shortfall is an estimate of how much lenders would have to increase loan-loss provisions to allow for the sale of bad debt, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It includes the 8 billion euros of provisions UniCredit SpA has said it will add before selling 18 billion euros of its worst loans and uses that ratio as a proxy for the gap at other banks. The total also includes the 5 billion euros Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA has been struggling to raise in recent months.

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The Italian government asked parliament this week to increase the public borrowing limit by as much as 20 billion euros to potentially backstop Monte Paschi and other lenders. The rescue package needs to be closer to 30 billion euros to solve Italy’s bad-debt crisis, according to Paola Sabbione, a Milan-based analyst at Deutsche Bank AG. That conclusion assumes UniCredit and some other lenders can raise about 20 billion euros through capital markets, asset sales and profit retention — leaving the government to fill the rest of the 52-billion-euro hole.

“Some of the publicly traded banks can probably raise some of the funds needed for a cleanup, including Monte Paschi,” said Sabbione, who has covered Italian banks for the past decade. “So the government would have to plug in the rest. But still, at this level, it won’t do the full job.”

Monte Paschi shares fell as much as 19 percent Wednesday as prospects for finding the necessary funds from the market dimmed and the bank said cash resources were dwindling. The stock recouped some of the losses after the Italian parliament approved the government’s request to increase the debt limit in preparation for a potential bailout.

UniCredit Provisions

UniCredit, the nation’s largest lender, plans to increase loan-loss provisions to 75 percent for nonperforming loans with the lowest chances of recovery and 40 percent for two other categories considered less dire. The increased writedowns will help the Milan-based lender sell about a third of its bad loans to asset manager Fortress Investment Group.

UniCredit is planning to raise 13 billion euros of new equity funding to cover the increased provisions as well as other restructuring costs and to improve its capital ratio. The company’s shares have jumped 15 percent since the Dec. 13 announcement, giving analysts confidence the bank will have little trouble tapping investors for the funds.

Italian banks had 356 billion euros of bad loans at the end of June and 165 billion euros of provisions against them, according to the latest Bank of Italy data. To get the worst category to 75 percent provisioning and the rest to 40 percent, as UniCredit is doing, would take 52 billion euros.

The ECB has been pushing for reduction of bad loans at the 14 large Italian banks it directly supervises, which include UniCredit and Monte Paschi, Italy’s No. 3 lender. The 75 percent writedown on the worst type brings the value in line with what outside investors are paying for such distressed debt in recent sales, making the disposals more likely. While some bad-debt portfolios have been sold for about 25 percent of face value in recent years, some have gone for as low as 16 percent as Italy’s slow bankruptcy process makes recovery arduous, lowering the price investors are willing to pay.

Worst Shape

Four banks supervised by the ECB are in the worst shape, according to Nicolas Veron, a senior fellow with Bruegel, a Brussels-based research group. They are Monte Paschi, Banca Carige SpA, Banca Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca SpA. The government may have to put up money to help those with their capitalization and debt disposals, while other large banks will probably be able to access capital markets for the needed resources, Veron said.

“Nationalization is better than denial,” he said.

Once larger banks meet their capital shortfalls and sell some bad loans, the ECB probably will pressure the Bank of Italy, which supervises the rest of the nation’s lenders, to do the same with smaller firms, Veron said. The government would have to contribute capital to small banks that aren’t publicly traded, according to Veron and Sabbione.

Italy has shied away from intervention in its banks because new European Union rules require losses on junior bonds, which are widely held by retail investors, when government money is injected. Spain, which cleaned up its banks in 2012 by funding an asset-management company to take over bad loans, imposed losses on junior creditors as a condition for the EU funds it tapped. The country then reimbursed retail investors who’d bought the bonds without realizing their risk.

Italy has pressed healthier banks and insurance companies to fund an asset-management company for bad loans. The firm, Atlante, has fallen short of raising enough money to tackle all of the worst debt sitting on balance sheets.

Italy could follow Spain’s example by setting up a government-backed fund, bail in junior debt as new rules require and refund retail investors. That could speed an Italian cleanup, according to an EU official who asked not to be identified. A new government next year would be more likely to carry out such a plan, the official said. Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who stepped down this month, has said he favors elections as soon as April.

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Washington Post: Trump transition team for Energy Department seeks names of employees involved in climate meetings

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By Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin

The Trump transition team has issued a list of 74 questions for the Energy Department, asking officials there to identify which department employees and contractors have worked on forging an international climate pact as well as domestic efforts to cut the nation’s carbon output.

The questionnaire requests a list of those individuals who have taken part in international climate talks over the past five years and “which programs within DOE are essential to meeting the goals of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.”

The questionnaire, which one Energy Department official described as unusually “intrusive” and a matter for departmental lawyers, has raised concern that the Trump transition team was trying to figure out how to target the people, including civil servants, who have helped implement policies under Obama.

The questionnaire was first reported by Bloomberg News. The Post has obtained its own a copy of the document as well as confirmation from other people in the department.

The memo provides the clearest indication yet of how Trump’s administration would begin to dismantle specific aspects of President Obama’s ambitious climate policies. Thousands of scientists have already signed petitions calling on the president-elect and his team to respect scientific integrity and refrain from singling out individual researchers whose work might conflict with the new administration’s policy goals.

This potential clash could prompt a major schism within the federal government, with many career officials waging a battle against incoming political appointees.

One question zeroed in on the issue of the “social cost of carbon,” a way of calculating the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions. The transition team asked for a list of department employees or contractors who attended interagency meetings, the dates of the meetings, and emails and other materials associated with them.

The social cost of carbon is a metric that calculates the cost to society of emitting a ton of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. The Obama administration has used this tool to try to calculate the benefits of regulations and initiatives that lead to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Another question appeared to delve deeply into the mechanisms behind scientific tools called “integrated assessment models,” which scientists use to forecast future changes to the climate and energy system. It even asked what the Energy Department considers to be “the proper equilibrium climate sensitivity,” which is a way that climate researchers calculate how much the planet will eventually warm, depending upon the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere.

“My guess is that they’re trying to undermine the credibility of the science that DOE has produced, particularly in the field of climate science,” said Rob Jackson, a Stanford climate and energy researcher, in response to the question about the Integrated Assessment Models.

The transition team list also asked how to keep open aging nuclear power plants, restart the controversial Yucca mountain nuclear waste site shelved by President Obama, and support the licensing of small modular reactors.

It included 15 questions for the Energy Information Administration, some of them routine but some questioning the way the agency uses data about energy production.

Energy Department officials have not yet decided how to respond to the questions targeting the agency’s climate activities, according to federal officials who asked not to be identified to discuss internal deliberations.

“With some of these questions, it feels more like an inquisition than a question, in terms of going after career employees who have been here through Bush years to Clinton, and up to now,” said one current Energy Department employee. “All of a sudden you have questions that feel more like a congressional investigation than an actual probing of how the Department of Energy does its job.”

Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science and Democracy, called the memo’s demand that Energy officials identify specific employees “alarming.”

“If the Trump administration is already singling out scientists for doing their jobs, the scientific community is right to be worried about what his administration will do in office. What’s next? Trump administration officials holding up lists of ‘known climatologists’ and urging the public to go after them?” Halpern asked, adding that lawmakers have attacked executive branch scientists in the past for doing “work they find inconvenient. It seems that they are about to get accomplices in the Department of Energy. But don’t expect the federal workforce to simply roll over. The new administration will find thousands of federal workers who still believe in their departmental mission and will work hard to resist attacks on their peers. Scientists outside government are standing by to expose these actions and fight back.”

The questionnaire spanned a broad area of Energy Department activities, including spelling out its loan program, its technology research program, responses to Congress, estimates of offshore wind, and cleanup of uranium at a site once used by the military for weapons research.

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NYT: Trump’s Likely Labor Pick, Andrew Puzder, Is Critic of Minimum Wage Increases

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By Noam Scheiber and Maggie Haberman

Dec. 8, 2016

President-elect Donald J. Trump is expected to name Andrew F. Puzder, chief executive of the company that operates the fast food outlets Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. and an outspoken critic of the worker protections enacted by the Obama administration, to be secretary of labor, people close to the transition said on Thursday.

Mr. Puzder has spent his career in the private sector and has opposed efforts to expand eligibility for overtime pay, while arguing that large minimum wage increases hurt small businesses and lead to job loss among low-skilled workers.

He strongly supports repealing the Affordable Care Act, which he maintains has helped create a “restaurant recession” because rising premiums have left middle- and working-class people with less money to spend dining out.

Mr. Puzder will arguably have less experience in government than any labor secretary since the early 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan appointed a longtime construction executive named Raymond J. Donovan. Mr. Donovan’s tenure was marked by an easing of numerous regulations.

In selecting Mr. Puzder, Mr. Trump appears to be banking on the idea that he can replicate some of his own appeal. Mr. Puzder, too, is a successful businessman prone to making populist pronouncements — he complained that “big corporate interests” and “globalist companies” were supporting Hillary Clinton in the presidential election — and the occasional streak of political incorrectness.

The advertisements that Mr. Puzder’s companies runs to promote its restaurants frequently feature women wearing next to nothing while gesturing suggestively. “I like our ads,” he told the publication Entrepreneur. “I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s very American.”

But Mr. Trump is also taking a risk that a wealthy chief executive will be viewed as a credible advocate for workers.

In a 2012 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Mr. Puzder’s company listed his base salary as over $1 million. “Annual base salaries should be competitive and create a measure of financial security for our executive officers,” the filing said.

Many advocates of raising the minimum wage significantly argue that it is necessary to provide a measure of financial security to ordinary workers.

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FT: Trump picks climate change sceptic to head environment agency

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By Barney Jopson in Washington

Dec. 7, 2016

Donald Trump has signalled his intent to undo Barack Obama’s efforts to curb climate change by choosing as his chief environmental regulator a conservative state law enforcer who is battling to overturn the president’s legacy.

Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma’s attorney-general, has been selected to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, as the president-elect turns to a man who, like himself, has questioned the science of climate change, the Trump team said.

If confirmed by the Senate he would be catapulted from the US’s oil-producing heartland to the centre of global policymaking on climate change, a position from which green groups worry he would wreck progress to stem carbon emissions.

Mr Pruitt, 48, has railed against the EPA for meddling in state affairs and played a leading role in a lawsuit that has frozen the centrepiece of Mr Obama’s climate policy pending a court judgment.

His nomination sparked a fierce reaction from the left. Senator Jeff Merkley said he would turn the EPA into the “Polluter Protection Agency” and Eric Schneiderman, New York attorney-general, called him a “dangerous and unqualified choice”.

The EPA has played a central role in devising Mr Obama’s Clean Power Plan rules to cut emissions from the power sector, which are the bedrock of the president’s commitments in the Paris climate accord.

Mr Trump has called global warming a “hoax” and threatened to ditch the Paris accord. His victory rocked international policymakers who have looked to the US for leadership on action against climate change.

Mr Pruitt’s confirmation would put him in an extraordinary position at the head of an agency whose modus operandi he has condemned, branding it a rogue operator that is overstepping its authority by bossing around states in an interview with the Financial Times last year.

“What we see with the current EPA approach is almost an attitude that the states are a mere vessel of federal will,” he said in 2015, explaining the motivation for the climate change lawsuit. “What the EPA is trying to achieve through regulatory rulemaking [is] unlawful.”

Environmental groups including the League of Conservation Voters condemned Mr Pruitt as a “climate denier” and ally of the oil industry, citing a 2014 New York Times report that said energy lobbyists had drafted letters for Mr Pruitt to send to the federal government on environmental issues.

Mr Pruitt’s re-election campaign in 2014 was chaired by Harold Hamm, the billionaire chief executive of shale producer Continental Resources and an energy adviser to Mr Trump.

In his 2015 interview with the FT, Mr Pruitt said he had been compelled to fight Mr Obama’s plans because they infringed on states’ rights as enshrined in the law, not because of any beliefs about climate change.

Humanity’s contribution to global warming was “subject to considerable debate”. But when told that 97 per cent of scientists endorsed the idea that humans had caused climate change, he said: “Where does that fit with the statutory framework? That’s not material at all. So that’s why I don’t focus on it.”

Mr Pruitt said it was “fanciful” to think that renewable energy could entirely take the place of fossil fuels.

But he bristled at the suggestion that if left to its own devices, Oklahoma might do nothing to cut carbon emissions, noting that the state already generated about 15 per cent of its electricity from wind.

“We drink the water, we breathe the air here in Oklahoma. To think that we don’t care about that, and somehow are being led to sacrifice those things is . . . not accurate,” he said.

“It’s a paternalism that’s exercised by DC to say: ‘We know best, you cannot take care of yourselves’.”

Contrary to the hopes of some Republicans and the fears of some Democrats, it will not be possible for Mr Trump’s EPA to scrap the Obama era’s key climate change regulations quickly.

Thomas Lorenzen, a partner at the law firm Crowell & Moring who argued for Mr Pruitt’s side in a September hearing on the climate lawsuit, said: “Undoing the Clean Power Plan or the clean water rule or any of the other big-ticket items will require significant effort.”

Certain parts of the statute, including the 1970 Clean Air Act, required administrations engaged in rulemaking to explain the legal basis for their actions, put forward supporting facts, take on public comments and then respond to them, he said.

Such a process could take months if not years. It would probably get bogged down in lawsuits from left-leaning groups arguing that the Trump administration was not fulfilling a legal obligation to curb the effects of climate change on public health.

“The Clean Power Plan generated over 3m public comments and you could anticipate that a rule to withdraw or revise it would generate the same number of comments,” Mr Lorenzen said.

Earlier this week Al Gore, the former vice-president and advocate of action on climate change, visited Mr Trump for a meeting that was reportedly facilitated by his daughter Ivanka.

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NYT: Why I Will Not Cast My Electoral Vote for Donald Trump

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By Christopher Suprun

Dec. 5, 2016

DALLAS — I am a Republican presidential elector, one of the 538 people asked to choose officially the president of the United States. Since the election, people have asked me to change my vote based on policy disagreements with Donald J. Trump. In some cases, they cite the popular vote difference. I do not think presidents-elect should be disqualified for policy disagreements. I do not think they should be disqualified because they won the Electoral College instead of the popular vote. However, now I am asked to cast a vote on Dec. 19 for someone who shows daily he is not qualified for the office.

Fifteen years ago, as a firefighter, I was part of the response to the Sept. 11 attacks against our nation. That attack and this year’s election may seem unrelated, but for me the relationship becomes clearer every day.

George W. Bush is an imperfect man, but he led us through the tragic days following the attacks. His leadership showed that America was a great nation. That was also the last time I remember the nation united. I watch Mr. Trump fail to unite America and drive a wedge between us.

Mr. Trump goes out of his way to attack the cast of “Saturday Night Live” for bias. He tweets day and night, but waited two days to offer sympathy to the Ohio State community after an attack there. He does not encourage civil discourse, but chooses to stoke fear and create outrage.

This is unacceptable. For me, America is that shining city on a hill that Ronald Reagan envisioned. It has problems. It has challenges. These can be met and overcome just as our nation overcame Sept. 11.

The United States was set up as a republic. Alexander Hamilton provided a blueprint for states’ votes. Federalist 68 argued that an Electoral College should determine if candidates are qualified, not engaged in demagogy, and independent from foreign influence. Mr. Trump shows us again and again that he does not meet these standards. Given his own public statements, it isn’t clear how the Electoral College can ignore these issues, and so it should reject him.

I have poured countless hours into serving the party of Lincoln and electing its candidates. I will pour many more into being more faithful to my party than some in its leadership. But I owe no debt to a party. I owe a debt to my children to leave them a nation they can trust.

Mr. Trump lacks the foreign policy experience and demeanor needed to be commander in chief. During the campaign more than 50 Republican former national security officials and foreign policy experts co-signed a letter opposing him. In their words, “he would be a dangerous president.” During the campaign Mr. Trump even said Russia should hack Hillary Clinton’s emails. This encouragement of an illegal act has troubled many members of Congress and troubles me.

Hamilton also reminded us that a president cannot be a demagogue. Mr. Trump urged violence against protesters at his rallies during the campaign. He speaks of retribution against his critics. He has surrounded himself with advisers such as Stephen K. Bannon, who claims to be a Leninist and lauds villains and their thirst for power, including Darth Vader. “Rogue One,” the latest “Star Wars” installment, arrives later this month. I am not taking my children to see it to celebrate evil, but to show them that light can overcome it.

Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s pick for national security adviser, has his own checkered past about rules. He installed a secret internet connection in his Pentagon office despite rules to the contrary. Sound familiar?

Finally, Mr. Trump does not understand that the Constitution expressly forbids a president to receive payments or gifts from foreign governments. We have reports that Mr. Trump’s organization has business dealings in Argentina, Bahrain, Taiwan and elsewhere. Mr. Trump could be impeached in his first year given his dismissive responses to financial conflicts of interest. He has played fast and loose with the law for years. He may have violated the Cuban embargo, and there are reports of improprieties involving his foundation and actions he took against minority tenants in New York. Mr. Trump still seems to think that pattern of behavior can continue.

The election of the next president is not yet a done deal. Electors of conscience can still do the right thing for the good of the country. Presidential electors have the legal right and a constitutional duty to vote their conscience. I believe electors should unify behind a Republican alternative, an honorable and qualified man or woman such as Gov. John Kasich of Ohio. I pray my fellow electors will do their job and join with me in discovering who that person should be.

Fifteen years ago, I swore an oath to defend my country and Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. On Dec. 19, I will do it again.