Tag Archives: 2016 elections

It Shouldn’t Be a Big Deal When the President Gives a Holocaust Memorial Speech

Mother Jones

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Since 1982, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC has organized an annual remembrance ceremony in which Holocaust survivors, members of Congress, and community leaders gather to memorialize the millions of people murdered and persecuted during the Holocaust. For the last 24 years, the president has delivered the keynote address without controversy. But this year was different.

Before Trump took office, his campaign came under fire for overt and coded anti-Semitism and since becoming commander in chief, his administration has continued to face criticism for failing to mention Jews or anti-Semitism in its statement on International Holocaust Day and for not doing enough in response to anti-Semitic acts. There were calls to rescind Trump’s invitation and some on the museum’s board of trustees felt conflicted about whether to even attend.

“I’ve struggled with whether or not I should even go, or to stay away in protest,” board member Andrew J. Weinstein told the New York Times. He said he ultimately would attend despite his “deep concerns about the president and the people he’s surrounded himself with.”

But during the remembrance ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda, Trump called Holocaust deniers accomplices to the “horrible evil” and vowed to “confront anti-Semitism.” He then personally addressed the Holocaust survivors in attendance and explained its trauma to them at length.

“You witnessed evil, and what you saw is beyond description, beyond any description,” he said. “Many of you lost your entire family—everything and everyone you love, gone. You saw mothers and children led to mass slaughter.” Here’s the video of his remarks:

“You saw the starvation and the torture,” he went on. “You saw the organized attempt at the extermination of an entire people—and great people I must add. You survived the ghettos, the concentration camps and the death camps.”

Some Holocaust survivors have spoken out forcefully against Trump’s ban on immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, noting that the United States turned away Jews seeking refuge during the Holocaust. Others have noted similarities between Trump’s and Adolf Hitler’s nationalistic and xenophobic rhetoric as they rose to power. Some victims of the Japanese internment camps in the US have also issued similar warnings, saying Trump’s campaign promises and fear mongering about immigrants and Muslims echo sentiments that led to their imprisonment.

In closing, Trump told those gathered in the Capitol, “Your stories remind us that we must never ever shrink away from telling the truth about evil in our time…Each survivor here is a beacon of light, and it only takes one light to illuminate even the darkest space, just like it takes only one truth to crush 1,000 lies.”

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It Shouldn’t Be a Big Deal When the President Gives a Holocaust Memorial Speech

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With Nunes Out, the New Guys Running the Trump-Russia Probe Ain’t Much Better

Mother Jones

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On Thursday morning, the inevitable happened: Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House intelligence committee, announced he was yielding the reins on his panel’s derailed investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Nunes claims the reason for his retreat is that the House ethics committee is investigating whether he publicly revealed classified information—a charge he insists is “baseless.” Whatever happens with this ethics inquiry, his departure does not guarantee the investigation will fare any better than it has.

In his statement, Nunes curiously said nothing about Vladimir Putin’s secret political attack on the United States. Nor did he mention the question of contacts between Trump associates and Moscow. He only discussed one aspect of the committee’s probe: the leaking of classified information (mainly about Michael Flynn, who was fired from the national security adviser post after news reports showed he had lied about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the transition). “The charges…are being leveled just as the American people are beginning to learn the truth about the improper unmasking of the identities of US citizens and other abuses of power,” Nunes declared. So even as he said bye-bye to the probe, the congressman—who served on the Trump transition team and who delegitimized himself while trying to provide cover to President Donald Trump for his fact-free charge that Barack Obama had wiretapped him—was still promoting Trump’s distraction of choice: The big story is what happened when Trump and his team were possibly picked up by “incidental” intelligence collection, not Putin’s attempt to subvert an American election or the FBI’s investigation of Trump associates for possibly coordinating with Russia.

And the committee members Nunes designated as his heirs have been champions of the same diversionary tactic.

Nunes, who is retaining his post of committee chairman, assigned the task of running the Russia investigation to Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas). He also noted that Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) will assist Conaway. At the committee’s first hearing for its Russia probe—before Nunes ran the investigation into a ditch—his three designees, as they questioned FBI chief James Comey and National Security Agency head Mike Rogers, focused on the narrow issue of leaks and unmasking. (“Unmasking” is the term of art for when a senior US official cleared to handle top-secret reports based on intelligence intercepts of foreign targets requests an intelligence agency to disclose to him or her the identity of a US citizen referenced in a report.) Or they asked questions designed to raise doubts about the intelligence community’s assessment that Putin meddled in the election to assist Trump. That is, they stuck to the GOP’s political script.

Moreover, in early January, Conaway dismissed the issue of Russian involvement in the campaign with a wacky comparison. Speaking to a Dallas newspaper, he compared the Russian hacking-and-leaking assault to standard campaign moves: “Harry Reid and the Democrats brought in Mexican soap opera stars, singers and entertainers who had immense influence in those communities into Las Vegas, to entertain, get out the vote and so forth. Those are foreign actors, foreign people, influencing the vote in Nevada. You don’t hear the Democrats screaming and saying one word about that.” As the Dallas Morning News reported, “Asked whether he considers that on par with Russian cyber-intrusions that aimed to damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign, Conaway said: ‘Sure it is, it’s foreign influence. If we’re worried about foreign influence, let’s have the whole story.'”

This attitude was on full display during the hearing with Comey and Rogers—at which Comey declared the FBI had no evidence to support Trump’s Obama-wiretapped-me claim and revealed the FBI had been investigating Trump-Russia contacts since July. When Conaway was granted time for questioning, he dwelled on when and why the FBI and the NSA had reached the conclusion that the Russian operation was designed to help Trump. Conaway tried to make an issue out of the fact that the FBI hit this conclusion with more certainty a few weeks before the NSA did late last year. Comey had to point out, “To be clear, Mr. Conaway, we all agreed with that judgment.” And Rogers echoed him.

Conaway’s intent was clear: to attempt to show this damaging-to-Trump assessment was still iffy. This led him into a bizarre exchange with Comey over rooting for college football teams and whether a person can cheer for one team to lose and not really desire the other team to win. (Conaway referenced his wife’s favorite team, the Red Raiders of Texas Tech.) Comey noted that “logically, when Putin wanted Hillary Clinton to lose,” he wanted Trump to win. Conaway then tried to discredit a Washington Post story by noting that the anonymous sources who provided the newspaper information about the US intelligence community’s assessment of the Russian operation (before that evaluation was made public) had probably broken the law. It was not obvious what he was driving at. But Conaway had not bothered to express any outrage over the Russian intervention or to encourage the FBI’s ongoing investigations. He was in Trump-damage-control mode.

Rooney used his grilling time to pose to Rogers a long and detailed series of questions about incidental collection and unmasking. These are not unimportant subjects. But they have nothing to do with how Putin and Russian intelligence intervened in the election. (Rogers noted that only 20 senior-ranked officials at the NSA, including himself, are authorized to approve unmasking requests.) Then came the money shot. Rooney asked, “If the NSA obtained the communication of General Flynn while he was communicating with the surveillance target legally, would you please explain how General Flynn’s identity could be unmasked based on the exceptions that we discussed?” So this was all about targeting those current or past US officials who had leaked information on Flynn’s conversation with the Russian ambassador. Rooney was more concerned about the leaking than Flynn’s deceptions and back-channel communications (for which Flynn was fired). Rogers replied, “I’m not going to discuss even hypotheticals about individuals, I’m sorry.”

Nevertheless, Rooney decried the “serious crime” that had apparently been committed via a presumed act of unmasking. He noted he was worried that the intelligence community had broken a “sacred trust” with the American people. (There was not a word about Flynn violating any trust.) He did not once address the Russian intervention.

When Rooney was done, Gowdy picked up this line of questioning. Gowdy is best known for running the House special committee on Benghazi that went on endlessly—after other House committees had scrutinized the matter and blown apart the various anti-Clinton conspiracy theories of the right—and was marred by partisan moves and, yes, leaks from the GOP side of the committee. (Gowdy also declared during the campaign that he believed Clinton should be prosecuted for how she handled her official email when she was secretary of state.) Citing several newspaper stories about Flynn’s calls with the Russian ambassador—which referred to classified intercepts that had captured these communications—Gowdy said to Comey, “I thought it was against the law to disseminate classified information. Is it?” Comey replied, “Yes, sir. It’s a serious crime. I’m not going to comment on those particular articles because I don’t want to, in any circumstance, compound a criminal act by confirming that it was classified information, but in general, yes, it’s a serious crime.”

Gowdy subsequently followed up with this question: “Is there an exception in the law for reporters who want to break a story?” Comey answered, “Well that’s a harder question as to whether a reporter incurs criminal liability by publishing classified information and one probably beyond my ken.” But Gowdy suggested that a reporter could be prosecuted for publishing a story containing classified information. “You’re not aware of an exception in the current dissemination of the classified information statute that carves out an exception for reporters?” he asked the FBI chief. No, Comey said: “I’m not aware of anything carved out in the statute. I don’t think a reporter’s been prosecuted certainly in my lifetime, though.”

Gowdy did not ask anything related to how the Kremlin had targeted a political party and presidential campaign to subvert an election. Instead, he fixated on leaks and locking up journalists who receive and report classified secrets. He pressed Comey to investigate the Flynn leak, and he ticked off a list of Obama officials who might have had access to unmasked names—James Clapper, John Brennan, Susan Rice, Loretta Lynch, Sally Yates—as if to suggest one or more of them deserved to be investigated for the Flynn leak.

Toward the end of the hearing, Gowdy did speak one sentence about the FBI’s Russia investigation. He told Comey, “I want you to go find every single witness who may have information about interference, influence, motive, our response, collusion, coordination, whatever your jurisdiction is, wherever the facts may take you. Though the heavens may fall, go do your jobs because nature abhors a vacuum.” But Gowdy then cautioned people not to confuse “evidence” with “facts” and to be wary of hearsay. This seemed to be an indirect way of questioning media reporting regarding the Russian intervention in the election and the contacts between Trump associates and Russia. In any event, Gowdy had tried to turn the hearing into an inquiry about the Flynn leak and the once-obscure subject of unmasking—which matched the agenda of Trump defenders.

Acting in a partisan and puzzling manner, Nunes made a hash of the House intelligence committee’s investigation of the Trump-Russia scandal. After his botched stunt, his credibility was shot. Stepping aside was the correct action. Yet he has placed this important exercise in the hands of men who have indicated they are not fully concerned with the main issues, which, of course, are rather inconvenient for their party and its president. Conaway, Rooney, and Gowdy have not yet demonstrated they can mount an independent and vigorous investigation on this politically sensitive terrain. Nunes may be gone, but the challenges facing the committee remain.

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With Nunes Out, the New Guys Running the Trump-Russia Probe Ain’t Much Better

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Watch the Top Democrat on the Senate Intel Committee Explain the Trump-Russia Scandal

Mother Jones

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The US Senate intelligence committee on Thursday convened its first hearing in its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. In stark contrast to the House intelligence committee’s investigation—which has been brought to a halt by the partisan brinksmanship of the panel’s chair, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.)—the leaders of the Senate investigation say they are trying to keep things as bipartisan and transparent as possible. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the committee’s vice chairman, used his opening statement to sum up Russia’s election interference—and the ways that Trump associates may have been connected to this Kremlin operation. “We are seeking to determine if there is an actual fire, but there’s clearly a lot of smoke,” Warner said. Read his full statement below:

Today’s hearing is important to help understand the role Russia played in the 2016 presidential elections.

As the U.S. intelligence community unanimously assessed in January of this year, Russia sought to hijack our democratic process, and that most important part of our democratic process, our Presidential elections. As we’ll learn today, Russia’s strategy and tactics are not new, but their brazenness certainly was.

This hearing is also important because it is open, as the chairman mentioned—which is unusual for this Committee. Due to the classified nature of our work, we typically operate behind closed doors.

But today’s public hearing will help, I hope, the American public writ large understand how the Kremlin made effective use of its hacking skills to steal and weaponize information and engage in a coordinated effort to damage a particular candidate and to undermine public confidence in our democratic process.

Our witnesses today will help us to understand how Russia deployed this deluge of disinformation in a broader attempt to undermine America’s strength and leadership throughout the world.

We simply must – and we will – get this right. The Chairman and I agree it is vitally important that we do this as a credible, bipartisan, and transparent a manner as possible. As was said yesterday at our press conference, Chairman Burr and I trust each other, and equally important, we trust our colleagues on this committee that we are going to move together and we are going to get to the bottom of it and get it right.

As this hearing begins, let’s take a minute to review what we know: Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a deliberate campaign carefully constructed to undermine our election.

First, Russia struck at our political institutions by electronically breaking into the headquarters of one of our political parties and stealing vast amounts of information. Russian operatives also hacked emails to steal personal messages and other information from individuals ranging from Clinton campaign manager John Podesta to former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

This stolen information was then “weaponized.” We know that Russian intelligence used the “Guccifer 2.0” persona and others like WikiLeaks and seemingly choreographed times that would cause maximum damage to one candidate. They did this with an unprecedented level of sophistication about American presidential politics that should be a line of inquiry for us on this committee and candidly, while it helped one candidate this time, they are not favoring one party over another, and consequently should be a concern for all of us.

Second, Russia continually sought to diminish and undermine our trust in the American media by blurring our faith in what is true and what is not. Russian propaganda outlets like RT and Sputnik successfully produced and peddled disinformation to American audiences in pursuit of Moscow’s preferred outcome.

This Russian “propaganda on steroids” was designed to poison the national conversation in America. The Russians employed thousands of paid Internet trolls and bot-nets to push-out disinformation and fake news at high volume, focusing this material onto your Twitter and Facebook feeds and flooding our social media with misinformation.

This fake news and disinformation was then hyped by the American media echo chamber and our own social media networks to reach – and potentially influence – millions of Americans.

This is not innuendo or false allegations. This is not fake news. This is actually what happened to us, and understanding all aspects of this attack is important.

Russia continues these sorts of actions as we speak. Some of our close allies in Europe are experiencing exactly the same kind of interference in their political processes. Germany has said that its Parliament has been hacked. French presidential candidates right now have been the subjects of Russian propaganda and disinformation. In the Netherlands, their recent elections, the Dutch hand-counted their ballots because they feared Russian interference in their electoral process.

Perhaps, most critically for us, there is nothing to stop them from doing this all over again in 2018, for those of you who are up, or in 2020, as Americans again go back to the polls.

In addition to what we already know, any full accounting must also find out what, if any, contacts, communications or connections occurred between Russia and those associated with the campaigns themselves.

I will not prejudge the outcome of our investigation. We are seeking to determine if there is an actual fire, but there’s clearly a lot of smoke. For instance:

• An individual associated with the Trump campaign accurately predicted the release of hacked emails weeks before it happened. This same individual also admits to being in contact with Guccifer 2.0, the Russian intelligence persona responsible for these cyber operations.
• The platform of one of our two major political parties was mysteriously watered-down in a way which promoted the interests of President Putin — and no one seems to be able to identify who directed that change in the platform.
• A campaign manager of one campaign, who played such a critical role in electing the President, was forced to step down over his alleged ties to Russia and its associates.
• Since the election, we have seen the President’s national security advisor resign — and his Attorney General recuse — himself over previously undisclosed contacts with the Russian government.
• And, of course, in the other body, on March 20th, the Director of the FBI publicly acknowledged that the Bureau is “investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russian efforts.”

I want to be clear, at least for me: This investigation is not about whether you have a “D” or an “R” next to your name. It is not about re-litigating last fall’s election. It is about clearly understanding and responding to this very real threat.

It’s also, I believe, about holding Russia accountable for this unprecedented attack against our democracy. And it is about arming ourselves so we can identify and stop it when it happens again. And trust me: it will happen again if we don’t take action.

I would hope that the President is as anxious as we are to get to the bottom of what happened. But I have to say editorially, that the President’s recent conduct — with his wild and uncorroborated accusations about wiretapping, and his inappropriate and unjustified attacks on America’s hard-working intelligence professionals — does give me grave concern.

This Committee has a heavy weight of responsibility to prove that we can continue to put our political labels aside and get to the truth. I believe we can get there. I have seen firsthand, and I say this to our audience, how seriously members on both sides of this dais have worked so far on this sensitive and critical issue.

As the Chairman and I have said repeatedly, this investigation will follow the facts where they lead us .If at any time I believe we’re not going to be able to get those facts, and we’re working together very cooperatively to make sure we get the facts we need from the intelligence community, we will get that done.

Mr. Chairman, I thank you for your commitment to this serious work and your commitment to keeping this bipartisan cooperation, at least, if not all across the hill, alive in this committee. Thank you very much.

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Watch the Top Democrat on the Senate Intel Committee Explain the Trump-Russia Scandal

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Donald Trump Is "an Existential Threat to Public Schools"

Mother Jones

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On the day President-elect Donald Trump announced Michigan billionaire philanthropist Betsy DeVos as his pick for education secretary, the heads of the country’s two largest teachers unions jumped to condemn the choice. American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten called DeVos “the most ideological, anti-public education nominee put forward since President Carter created a Cabinet-level Department of Education.” National Education Association (NEA) president Lily Eskelsen García noted the administration’s choice “demonstrated just how out of touch it is with what works best for students, parents, educators, and communities.”

Educators have worried that DeVos, a prominent Republican fundraiser, and her support for “school choice” and the use of vouchers would endanger public education. With the billionaire’s confirmation hearing slated for Wednesday, the nation’s two biggest teachers’ unions have gone on the offensive with grassroots campaigns to challenge DeVos’ nomination.

Neither group anticipated Donald Trump to win the election. “We did everything in our power to get Hillary Clinton elected. We didn’t have a plan B,” Weingarten says. “We always thought Donald Trump would be as dangerous as he’s showing he is.” But both unions say they were unsurprised by Trump’s selection of DeVos, whose past work in Michigan align with the president-elect’s proposals to direct federal dollars toward private and charter schools. “We have many, many years of experience with her and her undermining of the public education system in Michigan. We have frontline stories about what her agenda and the Trump agenda has meant to communities and to students,” says Mary Kusler, senior director of the NEA Center for Advocacy. “She was not somebody who was plucked out of thin air for us.”

Education historian Diane Ravitch, who founded the advocacy group Network for Public Education in 2013, described unions as “shocked and worried” by the DeVos selection in an email to Mother Jones. “The previous Republican administrations did not threaten the very existence of public education and teachers unions,” she added. “This coming four years is an existential threat to a basic Democratic institution: public schools. Trump has picked a Secretary who is hostile to public schools. This is unprecedented.”

In the weeks following the election, the unions at the national and local levels turned their attention to trying to disqualify DeVos by emphasizing her lack of experience in public education and her work in Michigan. Last month, the AFT, which has 1.6 million members, went on an education campaign, unveiling fact sheets on DeVos and other Cabinet picks like Labor Secretary-designee and fast-food executive Andrew Puzder and Health and Human Services Secretary-designee Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.). At these agencies, Weingarten says, are “people who have been appointed whose ideology seems antithetical to the mission of these agencies.”

On December 6, the AFT and NEA released a joint open letter condemning Trump’s pick, stating that her “sole ‘qualification’ for the job is the two decades she has spent attempting to dismantle the American public school system.” The letter has amassed more than 130,000 signatures from parents, teachers, and other supporters. Representatives from both unions say that members have been arranging meetings with senators. Meanwhile, local affiliates for both unions have encouraged members to flood senators with calls, emails, and letters in opposition.

Though activity settled down leading up to the holidays, the NEA—the nation’s largest union with 3 million members—expects to ramp up calls from members to speak on behalf of students in the next week to senators on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, which will oversee DeVos’ hearing. When asked if current efforts to organize around the confirmation hearing was enough to oppose DeVos, Kusler said the union’s members were doing what they could. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to remember: Our members are teaching kids during the day,” she added, likening the current grassroots efforts to that of 2015, when both unions engaged in separate campaigns during the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, now known as the Every Student Succeeds Act. “We’ve never been in this situation around the confirmation for a secretary of education that has looked like this,” Kusler says. “So engaging our members using the tactics we use anyway for a legislative fight around a confirmation of a secretary is unprecedented.”

Katharine Strunk, an associate professor of education at the University of Southern California who studies teachers’ unions, noted that unions would be able to activate their base of support, but that they may have less sway in lobbying efforts, given Republicans’ firm control of the Senate. “If you don’t have the majority,” the AFT’s Weingarten says, “it’s a pretty uphill battle.” Voters who sided with Trump may have wanted to shake up the system, Weingarten adds, but she doesn’t believe that they “voted to end public education as we know it.”

Carol Burris, executive director of Ravitch’s Network for Public Education, says she anticipates a difficult four years for teachers’ unions. The organization engaged in its own campaign, urging its supporters to send letters to senators over the holidays and to call and visit their offices. This week, the network called on members to make phone calls to senators in each state, particularly those on the committee overseeing DeVos’ hearing. “Betsy DeVos and the people who believe what she believes have no patience for unions in any form and certainly not teachers’ unions,” she says. “They see teachers’ unions not as partners in providing a good education for kids, but as adversaries.”

Future challenges from the unions will largely depend on the policies the Trump administration chooses to pursue. In a speech at the National Press Club on Monday, Weingarten warned that DeVos’ nomination threatened the bipartisan agreement around the federal government’s role in shaping education and could undermine the public education system DeVos would be charged with overseeing.

“Betsy DeVos lacks the qualifications and experience to serve as secretary of education,” Weingarten told the audience. “Her drive to privatize education is demonstrably destructive to public schools and to the educational success of all of our children.”

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Donald Trump Is "an Existential Threat to Public Schools"

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19 Billion Reasons Why Rick Perry Can’t Wait to Give Your Money to Energy Companies

Mother Jones

This story originally appeared on ProPublica.

Donald Trump’s selection of Rick Perry to lead the Department of Energy has prompted many Democrats to question Perry’s qualifications for the position. While he governed a state rich in fossil fuels and wind energy, Perry has far less experience than President Barack Obama’s two energy secretaries, both physicists, in the department’s primary work, such as tending the nuclear-weapons stockpile, handling nuclear waste and carrying out advanced scientific research. That’s not to mention, of course, that Perry four years ago called for doing away with the entire department.

However, there’s one realm in which Perry will have plenty of preparation: doling out taxpayer money in the form of government grants to the energy industry.

What often gets lost in all the talk of the Texas job boom under Perry is how much economic development strategy was driven by direct subsidies to employers who promised to relocate to the state or create jobs there. Of course, many states have for years engaged in the game of luring companies with tax incentives. But by the count of a 2012 New York Times investigation, Texas under Perry vaulted to the top, giving out $19 billion in incentives per year, more than any other state.

Perry’s economic development largesse came in many forms, but among the most high-profile were two big pots of money that he created while in office. In 2003, he founded the Texas Enterprise Fund, which he pitched as a way to help him close the deal in bidding wars for large employers thinking of moving to the state. Over the course of Perry’s tenure, which ended in early 2015, the fund gave out more than $500 million. In 2005, Perry created the Emerging Technology Fund, which was intended for startups. It gave out $400 million before being shuttered last year by his Republican successor, Greg Abbott.

Disbursements from both funds were controlled by Perry, the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House. The technology fund had a 17-member advisory board, all appointed by Perry. With such scant oversight, it did not take long for political favoritism and cronyism to creep into the programs. In 2010, the Texas Observer reported that 20 of the 55 Enterprise Fund grant recipients up to that point had contributed directly to Perry’s campaign or the Republican Governor’s Association, of which he became chairman in 2010. Also in 2010, the the Dallas Morning News reported that some $16 million from the Emerging Technology Fund had gone to firms backed by major donors to Perry. For instance, after Joe Sanderson received a $500,000 Enterprise Fund grant to build a poultry plant in Waco in 2006, he gave Perry $25,000. And the Emerging Technology Fund gave $4.75 million to two firms backed by James Leininger, a hospital bed manufacturer and school voucher proponent who had helped arrange a last-minute $1.1 million loan to Perry in his successful 1998 run for lieutenant governor and contributed $239,000 to his campaigns over the ensuing decade.

In theory, companies receiving Enterprise Fund grants were accountable for their job creation pledges and had to make refunds when they fell short. In practice, the numbers proved hard to quantify and few companies had to make refunds. The watchdog group Texans for Public Justice determined that by the end of 2010, companies had created barely more than a third of the jobs promised, even with Perry’s administration having lowered the standard for counting jobs. And in 2014, the state auditor found that $222 million had been given out to companies that hadn’t even formally applied for funds or made concrete promises for job creation. “The final word on the funds is that they were first and foremost political, to allow Perry to stand in front of a podium and say that he was bringing jobs back to Texas,” said Craig McDonald, the director of Texans for Public Justice. “From the very start those funds lacked transparency and accountability.”

This being Texas, it was not surprising that many of the leading beneficiaries of the taxpayer funds were in the energy industry. Citgo got $5 million from the Enterprise Fund when it moved to the state from Tulsa in 2004, even though it made clear that it had strategic reasons to move there regardless of the incentive. Chevron got $12 million in 2013 after agreeing to build a 50-story office tower in downtown Houston—a building that three years later remained unbuilt.

Most revealing of the problems associated with the Perry model of taxpayer-funded economic development, though, may have been a $30 million grant in 2004 to a lesser-known outfit called the Texas Energy Center. The center was created in 2003 to be a public-private consortium for research and innovation in so-called clean-coal technology, deep-sea drilling, and other areas. Not coincidentally, it was located in the suburban Houston district of Rep. Tom DeLay, the powerful House Republican, who, it was envisioned, would steer billions in federal funding to the center, with the help of Washington lobbyists hired by the Perry administration, including DeLay’s former chief of staff, Drew Maloney.

But the federal windfall didn’t come through, and the Enterprise Fund grant was cut to $3.6 million, which was to be used as incentives for energy firms in the area. Perry made the award official with a 2004 visit to the Sugar Land office of the Greater Fort Bend Economic Development Council, one of the consortium’s members, housed inside the glass tower of the Fluor Corporation. In 2013, when I visited Sugar Land for an article on Perry’s economic development approach, his administration still listed the Texas Energy Center as a going concern that had nearly reached its target of 1,500 jobs and resulted in $20 million in capital investment.

There was just one problem: There was no Texas Energy Center to be found. Here, from the 2013 article in the New Republic, is what I discovered:

The address listed on its tax forms is the address of the Fort Bend Economic Development Council, inside the Fluor tower. I arrived there late one Friday morning and asked for the Texas Energy Center. The secretary said: “Oh, it’s not here. It’s across the street. But there’s nothing there now. Jeff handles it here.” Jeff Wiley, the council’s president, would be out playing golf the rest of the day, she said. I went to the building across the street and asked for directions from an aide in the office of DeLay’s successor, which happened to be in the same building. She had not heard of the Texas Energy Center. But then I found its former haunt, a small vacant office space upstairs with a sign on an interior wall—the only mark of the center’s brief existence.

Later, I got Wiley on the phone. There has never been any $20 million investment, he said. The center survives only on paper, sustained by Wiley, who, for a cut of the $3.6 million, has filed the center’s tax forms and kept a tally of the jobs that have been “created” by the state’s money at local energy companies. I asked him how this worked—how, for instance, was the Texas Energy Center responsible for the 600 jobs attributed to EMS Pipeline Services, a company spun off from the rubble of Enron? Wiley said he would have to check the paperwork to see what had been reported to the state. He called back and said that the man who helped launch EMS had been one of the few people originally on staff at the Texas Energy Center, which Wiley said justified claiming the 600 jobs for the barely existing center.

In at least one instance, this charade went too far: In 2006, a Sugar Land city official protested to Wiley that, while it was one thing to quietly claim the job totals from a Bechtel venture in town, it was not “appropriate or honest” to assert in a press release that the Texas Energy Center had played a role. “There is a clear difference between qualifying jobs to meet the Energy Center’s contractual requirement with the state and actively seeking to create a perception of it as an active, successful, going concern,” wrote the official, according to Fort Bend Now, a local news website. In this case, reality prevailed, and Wiley declined to count the Bechtel jobs.

Today, the $20 million in capital investment from the Texas Energy Center has vanished from the state’s official accounting of Enterprise Fund impact, but the 1,500 jobs remain, part of the nearly 70,000 jobs that the state claims the fund has generated.

Drew Maloney, the former DeLay chief of staff who lobbied for federal funds for the Texas Energy Center, is now the vice president of government and external affairs at the energy giant Hess Corporation.

And Perry is on the verge of being put in charge of vastly larger sums of taxpayer dollars to disburse across the energy industry. (Requests for comment from the Trump transition team went unanswered, as did a request to Jeff Miller, an unofficial Perry spokesman who now works for Ryan, a Dallas-based tax consultancy that helps clients, including ExxonMobil, get tax incentives from Texas and other states.) The Department of Energy has a budget of around $30 billion, oversees a $4.5 billion loan guarantee program for energy companies, and distributes more than $5 billion in discretionary funds for clean-energy research and development. (The loan guarantee program was the source of the $535 million loan that solar-panel maker Solyndra defaulted on in 2011, but it has had plenty of successes as well.) Many of the department’s programs have well-established standards for disbursement, but as secretary, Perry would have a say over at least some of the flow of dollars.

Trump himself, in announcing his nomination of Perry, said he hoped Perry would bring his Texas strategies on energy and economic development to Washington. “As the governor of Texas, Rick Perry created a business climate that produced millions of new jobs and lower energy prices in his state,” Trump said, “and he will bring that same approach to our entire country as secretary of energy.”

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19 Billion Reasons Why Rick Perry Can’t Wait to Give Your Money to Energy Companies

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