Scott Pruitt Before the E.P.A.: Fancy Homes, a Shell Company and Friends With Money

The E.P.A. chief is under scrutiny for high spending and interactions with lobbyists. Many of the pitfalls he has encountered in Washington have echoes in his past.

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Huawei, Failing to Crack U.S. Market, Signals a Change in Tactics

The Chinese telecom giant, which has been dogged by concerns about its ties to Beijing, dropped its top Washington liaison and other American employees.

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Op-Ed Columnist: Either a Conspirator or a Sucker


President Trump at the White House on Friday. Credit Tom Brenner/The New York Times

Robert Mueller, the special counsel, first indicted Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, the former chairman and deputy chairman of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, last October on charges including money laundering and conspiracy against the United States. At the time, the White House and its apologists argued that these alleged crimes pre-dated the campaign, and were thus unrelated to any putative election-related conspiracies with Russia. Tweeted Trump, “Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign.”

This wasn’t true then — multiple charges referred to crimes that were said to continue at least through 2016. But Mueller’s new indictments, released last week, render Trump’s defense even more ridiculous. They provide detailed evidence that Manafort and Gates’s alleged financial crimes continued while they were running Trump’s campaign. And despite the White House’s insistence otherwise, the felonies that Manafort is accused of, and the two that Gates pleaded guilty to on Friday, bear directly on the question of Russian collusion.

It’s certainly possible that Trump himself didn’t personally connive with Russia for campaign help. Perhaps, through a combination of carelessness and miserliness, he unwittingly allowed his campaign to be infiltrated at the highest levels by both alleged and admitted criminals with Russian ties. Such a scenario, however, would not be exculpatory.

Thanks to Mueller’s indictments and some revelatory journalism, we have a decent picture of the desperate straits Manafort was in when he joined Team Trump. In the charges unsealed last week, Mueller’s team described a two-part criminal scheme by Manafort and Gates. First, they laundered tens of millions of dollars while working for Viktor Yanukovych, then the Kremlin-aligned president of Ukraine, and his political allies.

In 2014, Yanukovych fled into exile in Russia, and according to Mueller’s indictment, Manafort and Gates’s “Ukraine income dwindled.” That’s when the second part of their scheme began. From 2015 to 2017, in what looks like a frantic scramble for cash, the indictment says, they “fraudulently secured more than $20 million” in bank loans by lying about their finances.

We don’t know why they needed all this money. But we do know that in 2014, lawyers for the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska filed a petition in the Cayman Islands claiming that Manafort and Gates couldn’t account for almost $19 million that a company controlled by Deripaska had given them to invest. Deripaska, who is reportedly very close to President Vladimir Putin, has been denied entry to the United States because of his suspected ties to Russian organized crime. One would not, presumably, want to owe him a debt that could not be paid.

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Trump Nominates a Coal Lobbyist to Be No. 2 at E.P.A.


Unloading coal at a power plant in Kentucky. The nominee, Andrew R. Wheeler, has worked as a lobbyist for Murray Energy, one of the largest coal companies in the United States. Credit Nicholas Kamm/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

President Trump on Thursday nominated Andrew R. Wheeler, a coal lobbyist with links to outspoken deniers of established science on climate change, to help lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

In announcing Mr. Wheeler, a former aide to Senator James M. Inhofe, to be deputy administrator of the agency, the White House tapped an experienced legislative hand reviled by environmental activists but hailed by industry as having the know-how to dismantle Obama-era fossil fuel regulations.

The nomination comes at a critical moment for the E.P.A. as the agency prepares to repeal a sweeping climate change regulation known as the Clean Power Plan. It would also fill a key high-level position at the agency, where many top offices remain vacant. If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Wheeler would become the most powerful person at the agency behind its administrator, Scott Pruitt.


The list shows dozens of environmental policies that the Trump administration has targeted, often in an effort to ease burdens on the fossil fuel industry.

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“It’s a solid choice,” said Thomas J. Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, a group that promotes fossil fuels and opposes most climate change policy. “Andrew is highly qualified, can work with Congress and understands what needs to be done to articulate President Trump and Administrator Pruitt’s vision of resetting our energy and environmental policies.”

Since 2009, Mr. Wheeler has been a leader in the energy practice of the law firm Faegre Baker Daniels. His clients at the firm have included Murray Energy, one of the nation’s largest coal mining companies. Before joining the firm, he worked on Capitol Hill for more than a decade, much of that time serving under Senator Inhofe as the Oklahoma Republican’s chief counsel and as the staff director for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.


Andrew R. Wheeler Credit Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting

“He has spent his entire career working to improve environmental outcomes for Americans across the country and understands the importance of providing regulatory certainty for our country,” Mr. Pruitt said in a statement.

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Internet Giants Face New Political Resistance in Washington

“There is much stronger agreement among me and my colleagues that there needs to be more aggressive enforcement action on tech companies like Google,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut and a sponsor of the sex trafficking bill.

The companies, recognizing the new environment in Washington, have started to fortify their lobbying forces and recalibrate their positions. In the last year, Amazon has added antitrust to its roster of issues, hiring a former senior Senate staff member who helped shape antitrust policies. Google has paid several outside lobbying firms to argue against the sex trafficking bill, according to recent federal filings.


Senator Rob Portman, Republican from Ohio. He and Mr. Blumenthal drafted a bill that would let state and local authorities prosecute websites that host content related to sex trafficking. Facebook and Google strongly oppose the bill. Credit Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

“We are disruptive, and that creates a lot of tension, concern, worry and jealousy and sometimes rightfully identifies real problems that need solutions,” said Ed Black, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, which represents Facebook, Google, Amazon and other tech companies.

Tech companies have faced political pressure in Europe for years. That is expected to continue, with regulators prepared to push a new set of proposals to get the tech companies to pay more in taxes.

The politics for the companies in the United States began to change after the 2016 presidential election, when attention turned to the role social media sites play in shaping public opinion. The scrutiny grew after companies struggled to eliminate fake content from their sites, raising fears that the platforms were too big to manage.

After Facebook revealed to Congress that it had accepted money for political ads from fake accounts linked to Russia, Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, started calling for new disclosure laws for the companies. He plans to begin writing a bill this week that requires Facebook and other social media companies to release funding sources for political ads, as is required for television broadcasters.

“This is uncharted territory,” Mr. Warner said in an interview. “The growth in political advertising is in the digital world, and if this is the most targeted and potentially most effective way into politics, the paid advertising rules that broadcasters rely upon should also apply in the social media world.”

Perhaps no issue in Washington has exposed the vulnerability of the tech companies as much as the sex trafficking bill. At the heart of the debate for the tech companies is a change to a 20-year-old law that prevents people from suing internet companies for things people post on websites. The companies, supported by some civil liberties groups, say the existing law has protected free speech and allowed internet companies to grow without fear of lawsuits.

The bill being debated, written by Senator Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, and Mr. Blumenthal, would allow state and local authorities to prosecute sites that host content related to sex trafficking. Their bill, which has bipartisan support from dozens of members in the Senate, would also enable people to sue websites.


How Facebook Is Changing Your Internet

Behind the scenes, Facebook is involved in high-stakes diplomatic battles across the globe that have begun fragmenting the internet itself.

By JONAH M. KESSEL and PAUL MOZUR on Publish Date September 17, 2017. Photo by Albert Gea/Reuters. Watch in Times Video »

Companies like Google and Facebook vehemently opposed the law when it was introduced, warning that it would expose web companies to numerous lawsuits because the actions of users are hard to police. The bill had provisions that would shield companies like Google and Facebook that have policies to combat sex trafficking, but the companies pushed back nonetheless.

Starting about two weeks ago, as politicians stepped up their attacks against their businesses, Facebook and Google realized that the political landscape had changed, according to two people with knowledge of the decisions who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the internal corporate decisions were private. So instead, the companies began trying to negotiate changes to the bill with Mr. Portman and other senators instead of trying to stop it entirely.

As of Tuesday, Facebook and Google were still trying to negotiate changes with Senate staff members. One effort, by Google, would block state attorneys general from prosecuting web platforms for hosting any third-party sites that aided sex trafficking. Google said the Justice Department should be the sole agency in charge of enforcing sex trafficking laws.

Mr. Portman has viewed enforcement by state attorneys general as the centerpiece of the legislation. He will not agree to weakening the enforcement role of local and state prosecutors, according to his spokesman, Kevin Smith.

“We’ll continue to engage members of Congress, anti-trafficking organizations and the industry to try and get to a resolution that addresses the problem without creating unintended side effects,” Susan Molinari, Google’s vice president of public policy, said in a statement.

Facebook appeared more eager to reach a deal with lawmakers, according to two Senate staff members and a tech industry official, who all said the company had expressed a willingness to allow state law enforcement. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because Facebook’s discussions with the lawmakers were private.

“We strongly believe that there is a legislative solution that can address this terrible problem while ensuring that the internet remains open and free and that responsible companies can continue to work to stop sex trafficking before it happens,” Erin Egan, a vice president of public policy at Facebook, said in a statement.

Senators have not held back their continued frustration with the tech industry, even as the position of the companies has changed somewhat. On Tuesday, the Senate commerce committee held an emotional hearing on bill, called the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, that included the mother of a teenage victim of trafficking.

The Senate invited Facebook and Google to testify but they declined, according to a member of the committee staff, instead sending their trade group, the Internet Association, to represent them.

“Silicon Valley holds itself out as being more than just an industry but a movement to make the world a better place,” Mr. Portman said in the hearing. “But selling human beings online is the dark side of the internet.”

Other issues related to tech companies have gained less traction. The earliest criticism of big tech companies came from left-leaning politicians and economists, whose ideas were largely dismissed by Washington lawyers and regulators as fringe ideas. But there are signs that the companies are starting to take them more seriously now as well.

The New America Foundation, a left-leaning research group in Washington that is financed by Google and Eric Schmidt, the chairman of its parent company, recently fired a division of antitrust scholars who had been critical of the company. Google has denied playing a role in the split. In California, big tech companies joined internet service providers like AT&T and Comcast — their adversaries on many policy issues — to fight a state broadband privacy law, fearing that it could embolden other states and federal regulators to write broader internet privacy rules.

Even Amazon’s recent move to buy Whole Foods Market for $13.4 billion generated political attention. Amazon and Whole Foods have a small portion of the overall grocery market, an important measure in antitrust decisions, and the deal quickly passed an antitrust review by the Federal Trade Commission.

But some lawmakers raised questions about Amazon’s deep pockets and its ability to undercut the prices of smaller competitors.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, pressed F.T.C. officials to justify their decision, arguing that the agency should have looked at longer-term competition factors. She has also introduced a bill that would force companies to prove that their deals would not be anticompetitive in the future.

We need to start adjusting to a world where we are right now,” said Ms. Klobuchar. “Antitrust laws haven’t been updated since the 1950s. In the 1950s, they didn’t envision a major search engine dominating the internet. They didn’t even have the internet.”

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