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5 ways we need to adapt to climate change — or pay the price

To avoid the worst consequences of global warming, report after report has stressed the importance of cutting emissions. But with unusually intense weather events wreaking havoc all over the world — from Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas to heat waves in Europe — new findings suggest that the world needs to devote an equally urgent effort to adapt to the changes that are already on the horizon.

The 81-page report, released Tuesday by the Global Commission on Adaptation, argues that big investments in adaptation measures will not only avert environmental catastrophe but also reap significant returns: Researchers found an investment of $1.8 trillion from 2020 to 2030 could generate $7.1 trillion in total net benefits.

“Mitigation and adaptation are actually two sides of the very same coin,” Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and a member of the adaptation commission, told the AP. “If we delay mitigation any further we will never be able to adapt sufficiently to keep humanity safe. And if we delay adaptation we will pay such a high price that we would never be able to look at ourselves in the mirror.”

So what kind of adaptation measures are we talking about? The new report recommends five specific areas in which to invest.

Early warning systems

Early warning systems are technologies that can accurately forecast when a storm, heatwave, or other adverse weather event is incoming. According to the report, just 24 hours’ warning can reduce the resulting damage by 30 percent, and investing $800 million in such systems in developing countries would prevent $3–16 billion per year in losses.

Climate-resilient infrastructure

The report’s authors suggest that upgrading living conditions in vulnerable communities — which might mean improving housing, water, sanitation, drainage, and waste management — will build resilience and strengthen their adaptive capacity. More climate-resilient infrastructure adds about 3 percent to upfront costs but provides $4 in benefits for every $1 of cost.

Improved dryland agriculture

Investing in drought-resistant crops and modernizing irrigation systems could help protect small-scale farms from rising temperatures. If nothing is done, the report says, global crop yields could shrink by 30 percent by mid-century.

Mangrove protection

Mangroves — trees that grow in coastal swamps — reduce the impact of storm surges that threaten coastal communities. According to the report, mangrove forests prevent more than $80 billion per year in losses from coastal flooding and protect 18 million people. They also contribute just over $40 billion annually to sustain local fisheries. (Incidentally, mangrove forests are also an incredible natural carbon sink.)

Making water resources more resilient

Investing in water infrastructure and natural watersheds could expand access to clean water. Today, 3.6 billion people don’t have enough water for at least one month out of the year. Failing to act could expose an additional 1.4 billion people to water shortages by 2050.

Who’s gonna foot the bill for all this, you may ask? The report recommends a combination of public sector, private sector, and international financial support in developing countries, though it adds that “money is not flowing at the pace or scale needed.”

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5 ways Puerto Rico is still struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Tropical Storm Dorian skirted Puerto Rico’s western corner on Wednesday, before heading north towards Florida, where it is expected to develop into a Category 3 hurricane. While the storm spared Puerto Rico of much damage, it raised attention to how the island is still in recovery mode — and ill-equipped for another natural disaster.

Hurricane Irma struck Puerto Rico in early September 2017. Two weeks later, on September 20, Hurricane Maria made landfall in the municipality of Yabucoa. When the debris settled, almost 3,000 people were dead, thousands more were displaced, and the island’s already aging infrastructure was severely weakened. The island’s antiquated power grid, which had been neglected for years, took an especially hard blow. Immediately after the storm, at least 1.5 million people were left without electricity, some for almost a year, casting the island into the longest blackout in U.S. history.

Efforts to rebuild the island have been slow, stymied by a mixture of colonial exploitation, government bureaucracy, partisan politics, civil unrest, and a president who’d rather blame Puerto Rico for inconveniencing him with another hurricane rather than providing actual leadership.

Making things even more volatile, just last month, former Governor Ricardo Rosselló stepped down following massive protests that called for his resignation. An unelected fiscal control board continues to run the island’s finances, implementing severe austerity measures in an effort to pay back the island’s roughly $70 billion debt.

As Puerto Ricans prepare themselves for another hurricane season, under shifting local leadership and in a world with increasingly unstable weather, here are five numbers that highlight just how vulnerable Hurricane Maria left the island:

$139 billion in damages

That’s how much former Governor Ricardo Rosselló estimated it would cost, in a report he filed to congress last August, for the island to fully recover from Hurricane Maria and Irma’s destruction. The former governor sought money from the federal government as well as foundations, other nonprofits, and Puerto Rico’s general budget to help cover this hefty cost. The federal government allocated not even half of that, only $42.6 billion, for rebuilding efforts, according to federal data. And Puerto Rico has received only $13.8 billion so far.

30,000 blue tarps

According to Rosselló’s report, approximately 90 percent of the island’s nearly 1.23 million households asked for relief and housing assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency immediately after Hurricane Maria. Seventy-eight percent of those households experienced damage to their home’s structure. FEMA provided blue tarps to residents whose roofs had been torn off by the storm, and today, the tarps are still widely visible on the island. Around 30,000 households still take shelter under these tarps instead of permanent roofs, AP reporter Danica Coto told PBS Newshour this week.

470,000 fewer people

While Puerto Rico’s population was declining long before Hurricane Maria made landfall, the storm accelerated an exodus of people moving off the island, many to the United States mainland. According to a report by the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, between the time right before the storms to the end of this year, Puerto Rico may lose more than 470,000 residents, or 14 percent of its total population. This depopulation has severe impacts on the island’s economy, causing a shortage of school-aged children, an aging population, as well as a loss of the island’s most educated people in a phenomenon known as “brain drain.” According to Roselló’s report, this continuing loss has “added to the stress on [Puerto Rico’s] economy and created a shortage of professional workers in many sectors.”

2.4 million trees needed

It is estimated that Hurricane Maria and Irma damaged anywhere between 20-40 million trees, causing serious environmental harm. In his recovery plan, Rosselló said at least 2.4 million trees needed to be replanted throughout the island to undo many of these negative impacts, including landslides which he said had increased by the “tens of thousands,” as well as serious threats to ecosystems. According to a 2018 report by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the damage to Puerto Rico’s forests had far-reaching effects:

Trees stabilize soil on slopes with their roots. The loss of trees, plus the accumulation of downed branches, can contribute to landslides, debris flows, and increased erosion. Those problems can, in turn, lead to poor water quality in streams and rivers where excess sediments build up.

24% of communities with poor communication

During Hurricane Maria, many people couldn’t call 911 because both cell and landline services weren’t working, and they couldn’t be reached by family members on the mainland who were trying to help. As of last June, 24 percent of municipalities on the island reported that half or less of their community still did not have cell phone or landline coverage. As of this week, according to the New York Times, “the government has not purchased the technology that would allow a 911 dispatcher to pinpoint a caller’s location, and has not replaced the dozens of dispatchers who have quit and left the island since 2017, according to Aramis Cruz, president of the local union.”

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5 ways Puerto Rico is still struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria

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Insurance experts rank climate change as top risk for 2019

It’s no secret that climate change comes at a cost — so much so that even the insurance industry has flagged it as a priority. According to a new industry survey, actuaries (the people who calculate insurance risks and premiums based on available data) ranked climate change as the top risk for 2019, beating out concerns over cyber damages, financial instability, and terrorism.

When actuaries correctly measure and manage climate risks, they can help nudge societies away from poor planning — such as overbuilding in high-risk coastal flood zones — and towards better choices — like building more resilient infrastructure designed to withstand anticipated sea level rise.

“The survey shows actuaries are engaged and tackling this risk frontier,” Steve Kolk, actuary and climate data scientist, told Grist. “It thrills me to see actuaries join the effort and help us all build a sustainable planet more quickly.”

The survey, published by the Joint Risk Management Section and two other organizations that represent professional actuaries, found that out of 267 actuaries surveyed, 22 percent identified climate change as their top emerging risk. It was also the top-ranked choice for combination risk and tied with cyber/interconnectedness of infrastructure for top current risk. It’s a dramatic shift from previous years, when climate change lagged well behind other dangers to people and property. In last year’s survey, only 7 percent of respondents rated climate change as the top emerging risk.

The survey results align with several current and future projections of climate change’s impact on the global economy. According to one estimate, natural disasters caused about $340 billion in damage across the world in 2017, with insurers paying out a record $138 billion. The insurance industry plays a huge role in the U.S. economy at $5 trillion (Insurance spending in 2017 made up about 11 percent of America’s GDP). Climate change can make a sizable dent on economic growth by disrupting supply chains and demand for products, and creating harsh working conditions, among other issues.

“Actuaries, on the whole, are recognizing not only the magnitude of rising climate-related risks but, more importantly, that they can play a positive role in helping society actively manage those risks,” said Robert Erhardt, associate professor of statistics at Wake Forest University.

While the report could signal a potential change in risk awareness, it may also have come down to timing: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was released in October 2018, a few weeks before the survey.

“The effects of climate change became a common front-page story in the past year — and risk managers are taking notice,” Max Rudolph, a fellow with the Society of Actuaries who prepared the report, told E&E News.

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Insurance experts rank climate change as top risk for 2019

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That green study you shared may have been funded by fossil fuels

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The Wellcome Trust, one of the world’s wealthiest private philanthropies, has funded multiple studies in the field of environmental science. With $29.3 billion in assets, you’d think the United Kingdom-based organization could even afford to take fossil fuel companies to task for contributing to climate change…right? Wrong.

Though the Wellcome Trust touts itself as a philanthropy that supports research to investigate “what makes cities healthy and environmentally sustainable,” its offshore investments tell a different story. According to an investigation published today in Science, a significant chunk of the Wellcome Trust’s $1.2 billion handouts in recent years has come from “companies that contribute to the same problems the philanthropy wants to solve.”

For example, the Trust funded a study on the sobering reality of air pollution in Hong Kong that found elderly residents exposed to smog and especially soot were more likely to die of cancer than people who breathed cleaner air. Science found that some of the money that the philanthropy used to fund the air pollution research was tied to Varo Energy, a company that sells bunker fuel (an oil refining residue that is a major source of soot pollution) to shipping firms. These particulates billow from ship stacks and can have deadly outcomes, such as those found by the Wellcome Trust-funded study. Researchers estimate soot pollution contributes to the premature deaths of 250,000 people annually.

This funding revelation comes from a trove of documents called “The Paradise Papers,” which were leaked to Science by a law firm that managed some of the deals. Large foundations and other nonprofits commonly use offshore companies and undisclosed investments to maximize returns, and yet the nature of these accounts controversially obscure exactly how organizations’ tax-exempt dollars are flowing.

“Many of the best-performing funds have offshore domiciles,” Wellcome Trust wrote in a statement to Science. “Our successful long-term investment strategy is based on exposure to a globally diversified range of asset classes.”

It goes to show that even do-good organizations are not immune from the Machiavellian principles of investing. Like other businesses, they need the highest return possible when looking for money to invest in the myriad of social and environmental issues facing the world today. And although it could be argued that, unlike unscrupulous gazillionaires, foundations will likely use their offshore dollars to do some greater good, critics say that by lending their pristine reputations to offshore strategies, these organizations are “helping to legitimize tactics that others widely use to bend or break the law.”

The thinking that “if you invest for social good you’re going to lose return is no longer valid,” Dana Lanza, who heads the nonprofit Confluence Philanthropy, which encourages foundations to align philanthropic mission with investment choices, told Grist. But there are other options. Even though fund managers (not foundations) choose investments, some organizations opt to bar certain types of investments that could pose conflicts of interest. According to Lanza, research shows that when companies invest with a climate risk lens, they tend to outperform over time compared to a non-green strategy.

“Given the urgency and the severity of the climate crisis, it’s really important that foundations pay attention,” Lanza told Grist. “They have a moral imperative to align their investment strategy around climate risk and sustainability outcomes, given where we’re at right now.”

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That green study you shared may have been funded by fossil fuels

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5 Simple Ways to Reduce Dangerous Toxins in Your Home

After a long day, there?s nothing like taking a deep breath and relaxing at home. But don?t get too comfortable. That air you?re breathing might be making you sick.

We face countless pollutants each day, and some of the worst can be in our home environments. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports indoor air often has more pollution than outdoor air, even in populated cities. And because many of us spend the majority of our days indoors, that can pose some serious health hazards.

So what can you do to make your indoor air cleaner? Here are five simple and inexpensive ways to reduce indoor toxins and breathe a little easier in your home.

1. Plant some houseplants

Plants are nature?s air filter. And despite mixed research on their effectiveness of reducing indoor air pollution, one thing is for sure: It can?t hurt to bring some greenery into your space.

According to Healthline, plants remove toxins either by trapping them in their tissue or breaking them down into benign byproducts. It?s ideal to have one potted plant per 100 square feet indoors. That might not be enough to totally clear the air of toxins, but it will provide some mild air-scrubbing effects.

Besides reducing toxins, indoor plants also can help make you an overall healthier person. For one, the humidity plants release boosts our ability to fight allergies and infections. Plus, research has shown being around plants makes people calmer, more focused and generally happier.

2. Invest in an air purifier

There are many shapes and sizes of indoor air purifiers. And unless you have a health issue that necessitates an industrial-sized unit, you likely can reap some benefits from the cheaper, portable purifiers.

The devices work to remove particle and gaseous pollutants in the air, though they have their limitations, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. For instance, purifiers with mechanical filters are good at capturing airborne particles; however, larger particles tend to settle in the environment before the filter can pick them up. Thus, using an air purifier should put a dent in your home?s pollutants, but it likely won?t be enough for completely healthy air.

3. Increase ventilation

Image credit: Blair_witch/Thinkstock

Opening a window for some “fresh air” is a pretty appropriate description. Building materials, furniture, cleaning products and moisture are just a few sources of indoor air pollution. And your home needs a way for those to vent out before they accumulate to dangerous levels.

According to the World Health Organization, improving ventilation has been estimated to reduce lung-related illnesses by up to 20 percent. Increasing ventilation also promotes moisture control, which helps to hinder mold growth, according to the CDC. So open your doors and windows whenever possible, and use outdoor-venting fans to maintain a healthy air flow.

4. Limit off-gassing

You spend months picking out a new couch. You get it home, position it exactly where you want it, sit down and take a breath. What?s that smell? Toxic compounds.

Many new products we bring into our homes ? including furniture, carpets and construction materials ? contain volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. And those VOCs tend to evaporate, or off-gas, into the air, sometimes over the course of years. Pressed-wood products are major off-gassing offenders, often containing formaldehyde among other chemicals. According to the EPA, formaldehyde can cause eye, nose, throat and skin irritation, as well as cancer.

To combat off-gassing, limit the products you buy with VOCs. Shop for secondhand furniture that has completed its off-gassing process. And if you must bring something with VOCs into your home, allow it to off-gas with plenty of ventilation.

5. Remove your shoes

Your mom was right when she told you to take off your shoes at the door. It?s not just muddy footprints you?re tracking in. Think of everywhere you go in a day. During your trek, your shoes can pick up bacteria, parasites, allergens, pesticides and countless other nasty materials.

One study found the outside of shoes averaged 421,000 units of bacteria, including E. coli. According to the study, the bacteria could survive on shoes over long distances, and they would easily transfer to previously uncontaminated floors. But there?s a silver lining. Washing the shoes according to manufacturer instructions reduced the bacteria by 99 percent. In between washes, just leave those dirt traps at the door.

Related Stories:

7 Sources of Indoor Air Pollution
6 Houseplants That Will Thrive in Your Bathroom
20 Houseplants That Clear Toxins From Your Home

Main image credit: imnoom/Thinkstock

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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Uber and Lyft passengers are ultra-wealthy. Will this keep cities from investing in transit?

Turns out, a lot of Uber and Lyft users are rich. And not just a little rich: According to a new report, 45 percent of their customers in dense urban areas make over $200,000 per year. Eek. Only around 13 percent of Uber and Lyft passengers have incomes below $50,000. That could be bad for public transit — and the climate.

For years, ride-hailing companies have claimed their services will be a net-positive for energy use, traffic congestion, and urban planning. But research over the last year has suggested otherwise. Uber and Lyft pull riders away from public transit – rather than just away from their personal cars – and according to the same study, all those extra vehicles are choking up city streets.

In New York City subway ridership has fallen for the second year in a row, and transit authorities are blaming the rise of Uber and Lyft. And, given the new study, it could mean that it’s higher income transit riders that are increasingly avoiding mass transit.

The danger of this trend is that the most affluent city residents won’t see any reason to invest in — and vote for — big transit projects, which are essential to lowering transport emissions and creating more livable cities. “If the affluent voter or the swing voter is not taking the bus anyway, it’s really easy for people to just say: ‘Oh, we can just take Uber and forget about any kind of public transport,’” says Nicole Gelinas, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute who researches transportation. Meanwhile, low-income residents who depend most on mass transit could be left behind.

Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers-funded conservative lobbying group, has used ride-hailing to attack public transit projects around the country. Organizers often use Uber, Lyft, and autonomous vehicles as examples of the future of public transit, ignoring the fact that these services will be out of reach for many low-income residents.

“If you’re wealthier and your subway doesn’t work [well], it’s not as much of a burden to take an Uber instead. But if you’re less wealthy and trying to get to work, you could easily lose half a day’s pay trying to find a different way of getting around,” Gelinas says.

And right now, no one using ride-hailing services is paying full price. “TNCs [transportation network companies] are at the moment still pretty heavily subsidized by venture capital,” says Carter Rubin, mobility and climate advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “These companies don’t make money, so everyone is getting a nice discount.”

For the time being, that means that Uber and Lyft are more accessible to low-income residents than they would be otherwise — but it also means that prices could shift at any time.

In some ways, Uber and Lyft have been a boon to low-income and minority communities. A recent study shows that their cars service areas that taxis have traditionally avoided, and that people of color face less discrimination when hailing a Lyft or Uber than a taxi.

But it’s worrisome that what some view as the transportation method of the future is, at the moment, mostly accessible to the ultra-rich among us.

And ride-sharing can’t save us from climate change: only high-density public transit can. As Rubin tells Grist: “The idea that TNCs and autonomous vehicles will get us out of our transit problems — it just doesn’t square with the geometric realities of our climate goals.”

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As Pruitt gets buried in scandal, Andrew Wheeler is one step closer to taking charge of the EPA.

In a statement about the decision, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder said that the city’s water has tested below the federal action level for lead and copper for the last two years. But Mayor Karen Weaver doesn’t agree that the free bottled water should stop, and many Flint residents aren’t so sure their tap water is OK to use.

“My water stinks. It still burns to take a shower,” Melissa Mays, a Flint activist and plaintiff in a lawsuit that forced the replacement of water lines, told the Associated Press. “There’s no way they can say it’s safe.”

Resident Ariana Hawk doesn’t trust the water, either. “Everything that me and my kids do from cooking to boiling their water for a bath, we’re using bottled water,” she told the local ABC-affiliate news station.

The New York Times reports that about 6,000 of Flint’s lead or galvanized steel pipes have been replaced, but there could be 12,000 more lines to go. According to the World Health Organization, there is no known safe level of lead exposure.

“This is wrong,” tweeted Mona Hanna-Attisha, a Flint doctor whose research exposed lead poisoning in the city. “Until all lead pipes are replaced, [the] state should make available bottled water and filters to Flint residents.”

But after the remaining free bottles are collected, only water filters and replacement cartridges will be provided.

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As Pruitt gets buried in scandal, Andrew Wheeler is one step closer to taking charge of the EPA.

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An erupting Indonesian volcano may alter global climate.

After Puerto Rico canceled its controversial contract with the small Montana company last month, Whitefish had agreed to continue repairs on the island’s devastated grid until Nov. 30. But on Monday, the company paused work 10 days early. According to Whitefish, PREPA, Puerto Rico’s government-owned utility, owed it $83 million.

“It may have not been the best business decision coming to work for a bankrupt island,” Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski told CNN. PREPA was $9 billion in debt before Hurricane Maria.

Whitefish claims that some of its contractors and subcontractors are going unpaid due to PREPA’s delayed payments. Meanwhile, PREPA says it paused payment to Whitefish on Nov. 16 at the request of a subcontractor claiming Whitefish owed it money. Sounds like a chicken-and-egg situation?

Congress and the FBI are currently investigating the $300 million Whitefish contract, which drew scrutiny for its anti-auditing measure and unusually high fees, among other things. A congressional hearing last week found that PREPA ignored lawyers’ advice in signing the deal in the first place. Soon after the hearing, PREPA’s CEO resigned.

Puerto Rico could use an end to the Whitefish drama — and the power outages. Two months after Hurricane Maria, less than half of the power has been restored and entire communities are still living without electricity.

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An erupting Indonesian volcano may alter global climate.

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After farmed salmon break-out, Washington state says: “Please, go fishing.”

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative announced yesterday that it plans to curb power plant emissions by 30 percent between 2020 and 2030.

The participating states — Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont — will finalize the agreement on Sept. 25. According to the Washington Post, Massachusetts wanted to set the bar higher by “reducing carbon emissions 5 percent a year. But Maryland balked and threatened to pull out of the pact, saying it would lead to higher energy costs for consumers.”

The agreement caps the emissions from the power generation only (unlike California’s system, it does not include other industry, transportation, or agriculture), and allows those electricity generators to buy and sell emissions rights. This latest move simply lowers the cap.

Even though Washington, D.C., tends to suck up all the oxygen in the conversation, local and regional leaders are trying different approaches to suck all the carbon out of the economy. In these statehouses, it’s a lot less hot air, and a lot more action.


After farmed salmon break-out, Washington state says: “Please, go fishing.”

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Top Intel Official Won’t Deny Reports That Trump Pressured Him to Push Back on FBI Investigation

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Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats on Tuesday refused to tell Senators whether President Donald Trump had asked him to push back against against the FBI investigation into potential links between Trump’s associates and Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election, an allegation that was reported by the Washington Post Monday night.

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) asked about the accuracy of Post‘s report that Trump had asked Coats and NSA director Michael Rogers to “publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election.” According to the Post’s sources, both Coats and Rogers felt Trump’s request was “inappropriate” and refused to comply. Coats declined to answer McCain’s question.

“As the president’s principal intelligence adviser, I’m fortunate to be able and need to spend a significant amount of time with the president discussing national security interests and intelligence,” said Coats. “As it relates to those interests, we discuss a number of topics on a very regular basis. I have always believed that given the nature of my position and the information which we share, it’s not appropriate for me to comment publicly on any of that. So on this topic, as well as other topics, I don’t feel it’s appropriate to characterize discussions and conversations with the president.”

Trump’s alleged request to Coats and Rogers came after then-FBI Director James Comey confirmed publicly on March 20 that the FBI was investigating possible links between Trump campaign associates and the Russian government, and whether any coordination between them existed during the 2016 campaign.

According to the Post, an internal NSA memo written by a “senior NSA official” documented Trump’s request at the time he made it. Of course, that memo wouldn’t be the only time a senior intelligence official apparently documented an inappropriate request made by Trump regarding the Russia investigation. As the New York Times revealed last week, Comey wrote a series of memos documenting his communications with Trump, including one in which he apparently wrote that Trump had asked him to drop the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

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Top Intel Official Won’t Deny Reports That Trump Pressured Him to Push Back on FBI Investigation

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