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30 Dec

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

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The president-elect plans to surround himself with enemies of the environment, billions of dollars in net worth and people who are against their own agencies

Barack Obama’s original cabinet was chockablock with historic firsts. The first African American attorney general. The first Nobel laureate upon appointment. The first female homeland security secretary, and the first African American to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Donald Trump’s cabinet, if confirmed, also would advance multiple historic firsts. It would be the first cabinet of multiple billionaires. It would be the first cabinet to give pride of place to climate deniers. It would be the first cabinet whose members want to eliminate their own agencies. And it would raise the bar – a lot – for conspiracy theorists.

Before Trump’s team faces closer scrutiny from Congress in January, here’s your guide to understanding how these four categories define many of Trump’s major nominees and advisers.

Climate deniers and enemies

These nominees would lead the four most important agencies in combatting climate change.

Pruitt

Scott Pruitt, EPA
Oklahoma state attorney general

Pruitt wrote in a May 2016 editorial in the National Review that there was a climate change “debate” that was “far from settled. Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind. That debate should be encouraged …” He was part of a “secretive alliance” with fossil fuel companies to fight Obama administration environmental regulations, according to 2014 New York Times reporting.

ryan-zinke

Ryan Zinke, Department of the Interior
Congressman from Montana

In a 2014 interview, Zinke blamed the buildup of greenhouse gases on volcanoes. “I’m a conservationist, but when there’s a volcano in the Philippines that erupts and produces more CO2 than humans have produced in 200 years – is CO2 really the problem?”

Rick Perry, Department of Energy

Former Texas governor

Perry wrote in a 2010 book that “we have been experiencing a cooling trend”. “I don’t believe that we have the settled science,” he said in a 2014 interview, continuing: “Calling CO2 a pollutant is doing a disservice the country, and I believe a disservice to the world … I’m not a scientist.”

mike-pompeo

Mike Pompeo, CIA
Congressman from Kansas

Pompeo has used congressional hearings to grandstand against “what you all call climate change today”. He told CSPAN in 2013: “There are scientists who think lots of different things about climate change. There’s some who think we’re warming, there’s some who think we’re cooling, there’s some who think that the last 16 years have shown a pretty stable climate environment.”

Rex Tillerson, secretary of state
CEO of ExxonMobil

Tillerson pays lip service to “risks of climate change” but runs the world’s biggest non-state oil and gas extraction company. Likewise, he has said ExxonMobil favors a climate tax and supports the Paris climate accords but has not backed those statements with action.

One-percenters

Trump’s billionaire cabinet could be the wealthiest administration ever. At least six appointees have net worths estimated in the nine figures. Collectively, they have more money than a third of American households combined, according to a Quartz calculation.

wilbur-ross

Wilbur Ross, Department of Commerce

Industrialist

Net worth: $2.5bn, according to Forbes. He made it the old-fashioned way: by buying, merging and selling large industrial concerns in steel, textiles and coal. He owns 40 Magrittes.

linda-mcmahon

Linda McMahon, Small Business Administration
Entertainment executive

Forbes pegs the net worth of her husband, Vince McMahon, at $1.14bn; the couple has been married 50 years. Together they founded and grew the entertainment juggernaut now known as World Wrestling Entertainment.

betsy-devos

Betsy DeVos, Department of Education
Philanthropist

Daughter-in-law of Richard DeVos, who co-founded the multi-level-marketing giant Amway, which specializes in beauty, home care and health products such as the dietary supplement Nutrilite.

Forbes pegs Richard DeVos’s family’s net worth at $5.1bn.

Steven Mnuchin

Steve Mnuchin, treasury secretary
Financier

Net worth: about $655m, according to Bloomberg. Former Goldman Sachs partner, hedge funder and Hollywood producer (Sully, American Sniper, The Legend of Tarzan).

Rex Tillerson

Net worth: around $365m, according to Bloomberg. Outgoing chairman of ExxonMobil after 41 years with the energy giant.

elaine-chao

Elaine Chao, Department of Transportation
Public servant

Her net worth has faced scrutiny because her husband is Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, who is subject to financial disclosure rules. Chao is a daughter of James SC Chao, a shipping magnate whose net worth PolitiFact had difficulty nailing down in 2014, except to note that the family foundation recently gave $40m to Harvard.

A noticeable Trump innovation in picking a cabinet: appointing leaders who have said they would like to destroy the agencies they’re supposed to lead. A variation is appointing leaders whose careers have undercut the agencies they’re supposed to lead.

Scott Pruitt

Pruitt has been involved in multiple lawsuits against the EPA. He is currently part of a legal action waged by 28 states against the EPA to halt the Clean Power Plan, an effort by Obama’s administration to curb greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. Pruitt has said the American people “are tired of seeing billions of dollars drained from our economy due to unnecessary EPA regulations”, and he boasted on his LinkedIn page that he was “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda”.

rick-perry

Rick Perry

Perry famously suffered a memory lapse during a presidential debate in trying to name the Department of Energy as one of three federal agencies he would eliminate if elected. “Oops,” he said. Perry’s background in nuclear issues, which is the energy department’s main charge, appears to be limited to an effort to privatize the disposal of radioactive waste in Texas. Perry’s two immediate predecessors in the job were both nuclear physicists.

andrew-puzder

Andrew Puzder, Department of Labor
Fast food executive

Puzder is a vehement critic of government regulation and staunch opponent of minimum wage laws and the Fight for $15 movement. He blames Obamacare for increased labor costs and has diagnosed a “government-mandated restaurant recession”.

rex-tillerson

Rex Tillerson

As ExxonMobil’s main dealmaker around the world, Tillerson had interests that sometimes ran up against US interests. He continued (legally) to do business with Russia after the country became the target of continuing sanctions. During the Obama years, Tillerson defied the state department to cut an oil deal with the Iraqi Kurds, the New Yorker pointed out.

Betsy DeVos

DeVos has been an advocate for school vouchers, which critics say undercut public schools.

Conspiracists

Trump traffics in conspiracy theories and fake news – Barack Obama was born outside the US and sympathizes with terrorists, the election was rigged, Hillary Clinton is a criminal – so it’s only proper that his cabinet should too. Here are the three Trump nominees in competition for the tinfoil hat trophy.

ben-carson

Ben Carson, Department of Housing and Urban Development
Retired neurosurgeon

Carson believes pyramids were built by the biblical Joseph to store grain, that Vladimir Putin, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Abbas attended school together in Moscow in 1968, that Jews with firearms might have been able to stop the Holocaust, that he personally could stop a mass shooting and that Osama bin Laden enjoyed Saudi protection after 9/11.

stephen-bannon

Photograph: Carlo Allegri

Stephen Bannon, chief strategist
Former CEO of Breitbart and Sirius XM radio host

Breitbart ran stories linking Hillary Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin to the Muslim Brotherhood in addition to stories stoking antisemitism, white supremacy and misogyny. As a Sirius host, Bannon made the “case that House speaker Paul Ryan is a liberal globalist trying to sell out the American worker to foreign Islamist shills”, the Daily Beast reported.

michael-flynn

Michael Flynn, national security adviser
Retired general

Flynn tweeted that Hillary Clinton had ties to “money laundering, sex crimes with children, etc”. He told his Twitter followers to buy the book of a far-right troll who said Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta was part of a sex cult and the Orlando nightclub shooter did not act alone.

He once said there were signs in Arabic along the Mexican border, which he had seen pictures of, to guide “radicalized Muslims” into the United States. “On three occasions, Flynn tagged in his tweets Jared Wyland, an ‘alt-right’, antisemitic commentator who has tweeted about the ‘Liberal Jewish media’,” CNN reported.

Vladimir Putin talks to Barack Obama during a meeting at the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China on 5 September 2016.

Vladimir Putin talks to Barack Obama during a meeting at the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China, on 5 September 2016. Photograph: Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik/Kremlin/EPA

The Obama administration on Thursday announced its retaliation for Russian efforts to interfere with the US presidential election, ordering sweeping new sanctions that included the expulsion of 35 Russians.

US intelligence services believe Russia ordered cyber-attacks on the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Hillary Clinton’s campaign and other political organizations, in an attempt to influence the election in favor of the Republican candidate, Donald Trump.

In a statement issued two weeks after the president said he would respond to cyber-attacks by Moscow “at a time and place of our choosing”, Obama said Americans should “be alarmed by Russia’s actions” and pledged further action.

“I have issued an executive order that provides additional authority for responding to certain cyber activity that seeks to interfere with or undermine our election processes and institutions, or those of our allies or partners,” Obama said in the statement, released while he was vacationing with his family in Hawaii.

“Using this new authority, I have sanctioned nine entities and individuals: the GRU and the FSB, two Russian intelligence services; four individual officers of the GRU; and three companies that provided material support to the GRU’s cyber operations.

“In addition, the secretary of the treasury is designating two Russian individuals for using cyber-enabled means to cause misappropriation of funds and personal identifying information.” He also announced the closure of two Russian compounds in the US.

Obama added that more actions would be taken, “some of which will not be publicized”.

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Foreign minister recommends expulsions to Vladimir Putin, one day after US sanctions announced over allegations of interference in election

TV crews outside the Russian embassy in Washington

TV crews outside the Russian embassy in Washington. Photograph: Xinhua/Barcroft Images

Russia’s foreign ministry has announced plans to expel 35 US diplomats in a tit-for-tat response to the US decision to kick out the same number of Russian officials over allegations of interference in the US presidential election.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said he was recommending the expulsions to President Vladimir Putin. Lavrov said 31 diplomats would be removed from the Russian embassy in Moscow, and four from the country’s consulate in St Petersburg, agencies reported.

There was no immediate confirmation that Putin had accepted the proposal from the foreign ministry.

In response to US authorities denying Russia access to two compounds allegedly used for espionage activities, Lavrov also suggested cutting off US use of a warehouse building in Moscow and an embassy dacha on the outskirts of the Russian capital.

In contrast to the huge Russian recreational compound in Maryland, with bungalows, swimming pools and numerous tennis courts, the US dacha at Serebryanny Bor is a modest affair, according to people who have visited.

“It was like a 1970s scouts hut, not at all luxurious,” said one person who attended a private party at the dacha. “It had a grubby pine floor and a couple of bedrooms, it didn’t look remotely like an embassy-level building. I can’t imagine many diplomats will miss it.”

The compound includes an outdoor, wooded area where diplomats and affiliated US organisations often hold summer parties.

US intelligence services believe Russia ordered cyber-attacks on the Democratic National Committee, Hillary Clinton’s campaign and other political organisations, in an attempt to influence the election in favour of the Republican candidate, Donald Trump.

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Related:

State department voices surprise after PM’s spokesman says US secretary of state’s comments on settlements were ‘inappropriate’

Theresa May

Theresa May is thought to be keen to build a close relationship with the Trump administration. Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

Theresa May has distanced the UK from Washington over John Kerry’s condemnation of Israel, in comments that appear to be designed to build bridges with the incoming Trump administration.

Kerry, the outgoing secretary of state, delivered a robust speech this week that criticised Benjamin Netanyahu’s government as the “most rightwing coalition in Israeli history” and warned that the rapid expansion of settlements in the occupied territories meant that “the status quo is leading toward one state and perpetual occupation”.

The prime minister’s spokesman said May thought it was not appropriate to make such strongly worded attacks on the makeup of a government or to focus solely on the issue of Israeli settlements.

“We do not believe that it is appropriate to attack the composition of the democratically elected government of an ally,” he said. “The government believes that negotiations will only succeed when they are conducted between the two parties, supported by the international community.”

The UK backed the UN resolution passed last week that condemned the continued expansion of settlements. But May’s spokesman said she was concerned about the language Kerry had used.

“We continue to believe that the construction of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is illegal, which is why we supported UN security council resolution 2334 last week.

“But we are also clear that the settlements are far from the only problem in this conflict. In particular, the people of Israel deserve to live free from the threat of terrorism, with which they have had to cope for too long.”

However the US state department last night reacted with some bluntness to May’s statement.

A spokesperson said: “We are surprised by the UK Prime Minister’s office statement given that Secretary Kerry’s remarks—which covered the full range of threats to a two state solution, including terrorism, violence, incitement and settlements—were in-line with the UK’s own longstanding policy and its vote at the United Nations last week.”

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