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Groups sue Trump administration for “harassing” whales with seismic blasting

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There’s one kind of “gun” control that many south Carolinians seem to agree on — stopping the use of seismic airguns to search for oil and gas deposits in the Atlantic ocean.

OK fine, airguns are actually a kind of horn, but that doesn’t mean they’re harmless. Even before any new offshore drilling can take place in the Atlantic, this type of oil and gas exploration could be devastating to coastal communities and marine life — including endangered right whales.

Seismic airgun blasting works like this: a ship tows an array of airguns, which release powerful bursts of compressed air through the water and into the seabed approximately every 10 seconds. The blasts can continue 24 hours a day for weeks at time. By documenting the reverberations sent back up to the ship, surveyors can figure out what’s beneath the sea floor.

In November, the National Marine Fisheries Service, a federal agency responsible for conserving resources and preventing lost economic potential associated with unsustainable fishing practices, authorized five geophysical services companies to use sonic blasting off the shores of east coast states stretching from New Jersey to Florida. The permits give the companies permission to “incidentally, but not intentionally harass marine mammals” as they use airguns to search for fossil fuels along the ocean floor.

That harassment has a lot to do with the deafening noise associated with the blasts. “Imagine a hand grenade going off around your house every 10 to 15 seconds,” says Scott Kraus, vice president and chief scientist of marine mammal conservation at the New England Aquarium. The blasts can continue to raise noise levels even miles away, he says.

The North Atlantic right whale could be extinct in as little as two decades. Scientists fear that allowing seismic airgun blasting now — which hasn’t been done in the region for over 30 years — could keep the species from bouncing back. Right whales are already under stress from ship strikes, commercial fishing (they get tangled in fishing lines), and climate change. “We need to minimize all potential stressors for it to recover and noise is a significant stressor,” says Kraus.

There were no calves born during right whales’ last breeding season. Kraus points to recent research from Syracuse University that shows that communication between mother right whales and their calves is extremely quiet, and a change in ambient noise levels could disrupt that communication.

Humans with a close relationship to the sea could also be harmed by the airgun blasts. It could disrupt the fishing industry and reduce catch by up to 80 percent, according to a statement released by the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber is also concerned that the blasting could “release toxic chemicals from deteriorating canisters of conventional and chemical munitions and drums of radioactive waste that have been dumped along the Atlantic Coast, including South Carolina’s, for decades.”

In response to the newly issued airgun permits, two lawsuits were filed this month against the National Marine Fisheries Service. One was filed by the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce and 16 cities along the state’s coast. Several leading environmental groups also filed suit, including the Sierra Club and the National Resources Defense Council.

The lawsuits allege that the Fisheries Service violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act when it granted the permits. The Fisheries Service is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the federal government’s scientific agency charged with “conserv[ing] and manag[ing] coastal and marine ecosystems and resources.”

On Thursday, Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh announced that he and eight other attorneys general from Maryland, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and Virginia will file their own complaint against NOAA Fisheries.

“While the administration continues to place the interests of the fossil fuel industry ahead of our precious natural resources, attorneys general up and down the Atlantic coast will fight efforts to open the waters off our shores to #offshoredrilling. #blocktheblast.” Attorney General Frosch tweeted.

NOAA declined to comment on the suits, but said in a press release that its authorizations require “monitoring, reporting, and mitigation measures to reduce the impacts of survey activities on marine mammals.” The plaintiffs, however, say that it’s not enough.

“It’s hard to believe that NOAA, the agency charged with protecting species… would find a way to issue these permits,” says Catherine Wannamaker, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “To find a way to authorize these permits against that backdrop is pretty incredible and pretty typical of what seems to go on the environmental world with the Trump administration.”

The seismic airgun survey permits are all part of the president’s larger proposed plan to open up 90 percent of U.S. waters to offshore oil drilling.

“All of this is needless harm. And completely out of step with coastal communities who have the most to lose from dangerous seismic airgun blasting,” says Diane Hoskins, campaign director at the advocacy group Oceana — another plaintiff in one of the suits. She adds that it’s a precursor to a larger threat: “Seismic airgun blasting is the first step to offshore drilling. When they drill they spill. We cannot afford another disaster like BP’s Deepwater Horizon.”

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Groups sue Trump administration for “harassing” whales with seismic blasting

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The EPA’s coal plan is a ripoff for Americans, according to the EPA

The Trump administration’s newest proposal to weaken regulations on coal-fired power plants is called the Affordable Clean Energy rule, or ACE. But a close reading of the administration’s own analysis suggests that the acronym more accurately stands for Asthma, Climate Change, and Emphysema.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s new rule would amend the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, making it easier for old coal power plants to stay open. The EPA considered the impact and found that if the plan leads coal-fired plants to start cleaning up their act, it would still cause more hospital visits, more sick days away from work and school, and the early deaths of up to 1,400 people each year, by 2030.

What’s remarkable is that the agency’s analysis doesn’t attempt to make the case that the new policy’s benefits to society outweigh the steep costs. Instead, the EPA’s figures show that the savings for coal plants are relatively trivial compared to the costs of rising pollution from coal-fired plants. Under every scenario the EPA ran, it found the proposed ACE rule would cost Americans at least $1.4 billion a year more than it saved, when compared with simply leaving the Clean Power Plan alone.

“When an agency wants to do something that’s harmful to the American people, it typically tries to hide it,” said Richard Revesz, director of the Institute for Policy Integrity at the New York University School of Law. “What’s unusual here is that the EPA just comes out and says it.”

You have to do some digging to find these numbers. EPA’s press officers aren’t exactly highlighting the findings that the proposal would leave Americans worse off. In a fact sheet, for example, the EPA trumpets its finding that ACE could save power-plants up to $6.4 billion in compliance costs. But wade into the details to look up that scenario (check out table 18 on page 165), and you see that the EPA weighs that $6.4 billion against health costs that run between $16.6 billion and $75 billion.

That the EPA’s own analysis suggests the proposal will do more harm than good creates a legal vulnerability, according to Revesz, because federal agencies have an obligation to make policies that are not arbitrary or capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act, the 1946 law governing the regulatory and rule-making powers of federal agencies. “The administration is skating on very thin ice with this proposal,” Revesz said.

A coalition of 19 states and cities, including New York, California, and Massachusetts, has formed to defend the Clean Power Plan in court. And shortly after the EPA unveiled ACE on Tuesday, New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood announced she’d sue to challenge the plan if it’s adopted.

“The fingerprints of the coal industry are all over this plan,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement. “It’s written to enrich the fossil fuel industry by poisoning our air and our climate.”

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The EPA’s coal plan is a ripoff for Americans, according to the EPA

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What would Governor Gavin Newsom mean for California’s green leadership?

In California’s primary election Tuesday, voters all but picked statewide politicians and decided who would face off in the races that might flip the House of Representatives. But the environment was also on the ballot. And the results look like a win for the type of green who thinks a 100-percent renewable path is the best bet.

Xavier Becerra, the attorney general who has filed at least 17 environmental lawsuits against President Donald Trump, placed first. An effort to give state Republicans some say over cap-and-trade money failed. Democrats like the environmental lawyer Mike Levin, who campaigned with a clean energy platform, emerged as legitimate challengers for traditionally safe Republican seats in Congress. But when it comes to climate policy, California’s most important decision might have been it’s choice of gubernatorial candidates.

The election cued up the former mayor of San Francisco (and hair-gel power user), Gavin Newsom, for a leisurely stroll to the governor’s mansion. Newsom will face a Republican whose odds in deep-blue California are so long that we’re not even going to mention his name at this point.

After the election of President Donald Trump, California gained a special salience. With its cap-and-trade laws, its Governor Jerry Brown conducting international climate negotiations, and its France-sized economy churning out new innovations, California has been a leading force for climate action at a time when the federal government is actively fighting against it.

Newsom could easily slide into current Governor Brown’s shoes in a couple of ways. He talks a lot about climate change and likes renewable energy as a fix. And like Brown, he wants to shut down California’s last nuclear plant — a major source of low-carbon electricity.

In other ways, Newsom is likely to change course. Brown didn’t have any time for the activists telling him to kill California’s fossil fuel industry. He figured that the state might as well profit from petroleum while its residents were still pulling cars up to a gas pump instead of a battery charger. And Brown worked closely with petroleum companies to shape carbon regulations industry lobbyists helped push through the Legislature. Newsom, on other hand, has made aggressive noises toward the fossil fuel industry and said he wouldn’t take contributions from oil companies.

Newsom has also been dubious of Brown’s big projects: the high-speed rail line and the massive pipes to carry water from wet northern California to the parched south. The public tends to sour on big infrastructure projects as they inevitably seem to go over budget, but California will need to build a lot of big things — new transmission lines, new forms of housing, new transit systems, new power plants — to get to a carbon-free future.

Finally, it’s unclear if climate change is a top priority for Newsom in the way it is for Brown. Will he be willing to call in political favors and twist arms to advance climate legislation? Pundits think he may have his eyes elsewhere, like Washington, D.C.

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What would Governor Gavin Newsom mean for California’s green leadership?

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Exxon’s Shareholders Just Forced the Oil Giant’s Hand on Climate Change

Mother Jones

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In a landmark victory in the fight against climate change by corporations, Exxon Mobil shareholders on Wednesday voted to approve a plan that could force the oil company to release more information concerning its efforts to combat global warming.

The 62.3-to-37.7 landmark vote, which took place at Exxon’s annual meeting in Dallas, comes amid mounting investor pressure for management to be more accountable when working to prevent worldwide temperatures from rising 2 degrees Celsius—a goal stipulated in the Paris climate accord. The energy giant has been notoriously resistant to such calls, with some board members claiming the company already produces enough reporting on the issue.

Last year, when the same measure was called to a vote, only 38.1 percent of shareholders supported it. In the interim, several new lawsuits against Exxon, including ones from the attorney generals in New York and Massachusetts, have been launched, accusing the world’s largest oil company of knowingly misleading the public about the effects of global warming for decades. In a twist, Exxon and its former head, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, are among those urging the Trump administration to remain in the accord.

The unprecedented resolution on Wednesday was announced just hours after multiple news outlets reported President Donald Trump intends to withdraw from the historic Paris climate agreement, although the president himself remained coy on Twitter about his final decision.

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli recently told CNN that Exxon’s defense of the Paris accord amounted to “empty words unless the company backs them up with action.” On Wednesday, DiNapoli applauded the shareholder vote as an “unprecedented victory,” noting the onus was now on Exxon to meet the demands of its investors and take climate change “seriously.”


Exxon’s Shareholders Just Forced the Oil Giant’s Hand on Climate Change

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Team Pope to Team Trump: Please Just Stay in the Paris Climate Deal

Mother Jones

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Pope Francis used the opportunity of President Donald Trump’s Vatican visit on Wednesday to urge the United States to stay in the landmark Paris climate accord. It’s a decision the new president has been kicking down the road ever since assuming office, despite a campaign pledge to withdraw from, or “cancel,” US involvement in the deal.

According to CNN:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, briefing reporters on Air Force One after the meeting, said terrorism and climate change came up. He said the Vatican’s secretary of state raised climate change and encouraged Trump to remain in the Paris agreement.

Tillerson said the President “hasn’t made a final decision,” and likely will not until “after we get home.”

My colleague Rebecca Leber has been tracking the White House’s public hemming and hawing over the deal—and the administration factions competing to influence the president’s thinking.

From earlier this month:

We’ve heard for months that Trump’s Cabinet is split on what to do about both climate change policy and the Paris agreement. Ivanka Trump, now in her official role at the White House, represents those who want to stay. We’re told that she’s “passionate about climate change,” and she is joined by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and economic adviser Gary Cohn, who are also in favor of staying in the Paris agreement. Energy Secretary Rick Perry wants to “renegotiate.” Secretary of Defense James Mattis sees climate change as a national security threat and likely favors staying involved, as does Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

On the other side of the debate, Scott Pruitt is leading the “leave” team, echoing the president in calling the accord a “bad deal.” Team Pruitt also includes senior adviser Steve Bannon and White House Counsel Don McGahn. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has not publicly weighed in, but he opposed the deal as a senator.

During the Vatican meeting on Wednesday, the Pope gave Trump a copy of his influential 2015 “encyclical” on climate change, in which Francis warned that “the Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”

According to pool reports, Trump promised the leader of the world’s Catholics, “Well, I’ll be reading them.” But the official White House readout of the president’s meeting sent to reporters made no mention of climate change.

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Team Pope to Team Trump: Please Just Stay in the Paris Climate Deal

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Special Counsel Appointed for Trump-Russia Investigation

Mother Jones

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And then there was a special prosecutor. Late Wednesday afternoon, the Justice Department announced that Robert Mueller, who preceded James Comey as FBI director, would be appointed special counsel to investigate ties between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia.

“If the Special Counsel believes it is necessary and appropriate, the Special Counsel is authorized to prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation of these matters,” the letter appointing Mueller says.

The decision was made by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The responsibility fell to him because Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself from matters involving the Russia scandal after it was revealed that Sessions failed to disclose his meetings with the Russian ambassador during his Senate confirmation hearings.

Mueller was appointed to the FBI by former President George W. Bush; he led the bureau from 2001 to 2013.

“He’s totally incorruptible,” Dave Gomez, a former FBI agent who served nearly 30 years in the agency, says of Mueller. “And the agents and the executives at the FBI know and trust him to finish the job.”

Mueller assumes control of an investigation already well underway. NBC News reported Wednesday evening that there are now multiple grand jury subpoenas relating to Michael Flynn, Trump’s former National Security Advisor, and Paul Manafort, Trump’s ex-campaign manager.

“Special Counsel Mueller will have all appropriate resources to conduct a thorough and complete investigation,” Rosenstein said in a statement, “and I am confident that he will follow the facts, apply the law and reach a just result.”

Rosenstein reportedly didn’t clear the decision with the White House in advance, only giving Trump’s staff a 30-minute warning that the announcement was forthcoming.

The White House issued a brief statement from Trump following Wednesday’s announcement. (The president’s Twitter account, so far, has been unusually silent.)

This is a developing story that has been updated.

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Special Counsel Appointed for Trump-Russia Investigation

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Another Trump Bombshell Hits: New York Times Reports He Asked FBI Chief to Drop Flynn Investigation

Mother Jones

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President Donald Trump asked former FBI Director James Comey to drop the FBI’s investigation of former national security adviser Mike Flynn, according to a bombshell report published by the New York Times that was based on a memo Comey wrote following the conversation.

“I hope you can let this go,” Trump told Comey in a private one-on-one meeting at the White House in February, the day after Flynn was fired for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, the Times reports. Comey supposedly felt uncomfortable with the exchange and wrote a memo detailing the discussion. From the Times:

The memo was part of a paper trail Mr. Comey created documenting what he perceived as the president’s improper efforts to influence an ongoing investigation. An F.B.I. agent’s contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations.

Mr. Comey shared the existence of the memo with senior F.B.I. officials and close associates. The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo, which is unclassified, but one of Mr. Comey’s associates read parts of the memo to a Times reporter.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey, according to the memo. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey that Mr. Flynn had done nothing wrong, according to the memo.

Mr. Comey did not say anything to Mr. Trump about curtailing the investigation, only replying: “I agree he is a good guy.”

The Times included a denial from the White House:

While the president has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn. The president has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.

After the Times published the story late Tuesday afternoon, the White House sent the same statement to members of the White House press corps.

The Times notes that Andrew McCabe, Comey’s deputy and the current acting director of the FBI, told a Senate panel last week that there hadn’t been any interference in the FBI’s investigation so far.

The story also reported that Trump had asked Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to leave the room so he could speak to Comey by himself. In this private conversation, Trump also reportedly pressed Comey to prosecute reporters for publishing classified information.

The Times‘ explosive story came at the end of a day that was already full of White House chaos, with Flynn’s successor, retired Lt. General H.R. McMaster trying to defend Trump in the face of the previous day’s Washington Post‘s report that Trump had disclosed highly sensitive classified information during his Oval Office meeting with Kislyak and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

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Another Trump Bombshell Hits: New York Times Reports He Asked FBI Chief to Drop Flynn Investigation

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Yeah, the Comey Firing Was All About Russia

Mother Jones

Politico has a big “inside” look at the Comey firing tonight, and it is bananas:

Trump had grown enraged by the Russia investigation, two advisers said, frustrated by his inability to control the mushrooming narrative around Russia. He repeatedly asked aides why the Russia investigation wouldn’t disappear and demanded they speak out for him. He would sometimes scream at television clips about the probe, one adviser said.

….Trump had grown angry with the Russia investigation — particularly Comey admitting in front of the Senate that the FBI was investigating his campaign — and that the FBI director wouldn’t support his claims that President Barack Obama had tapped his phones in Trump Tower.

….Trump received letters from Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, and Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, calling for Comey’s dismissal…A White House spokesman said Trump did not ask for the letters in advance, and that White House officials had no idea they were coming. But several other people familiar with the events said Trump had talked about the firing for over a week, and the letters were written to give him rationale to fire Comey.

Summary: The Comey firing had nothing to do with the Hillary Clinton email investigation. It was all because Trump was outraged over Comey’s public acknowledgement that the FBI was investigating his Russia ties. He wanted the investigation to disappear, and he began obsessing about firing Comey—presumably in hopes that this was all it would take to kill the case. And apparently Trump was shocked when Democrats didn’t line up behind him. They hate Comey too, don’t they?

Trump’s astronomical ignorance has finally caught up with him. He seems to have had no idea that firing Comey wouldn’t stop the investigation—nor that a new FBI director wouldn’t dare quash it. In fact, all the firing does is make the investigation untouchable. And Trump’s astronomical narcissism has caught up with him too. He has so little insight into other humans that he simply couldn’t conceive of anyone hating Comey but still defending his right to serve out his term. In Trump’s world, you reward your friends and punish your enemies and that’s that.

This is hardly unexpected from Trump, whose ignorance and narcissism are legendary. But does he really have nobody on his staff to warn him about this stuff? Reince Priebus surely knew how this would play out. Ditto for Mike Pence.

And one final thing: once again, we learn that many of Trump’s advisors are perfectly willing to portray him as an idiot. The Politico story is based on conversations with insiders who were happy to confirm that the Comey firing was all about Russia. This directly contradicts the White House narrative that it was about the fact that everyone had lost confidence in Comey because of the way he mistreated poor Hillary Clinton. Who are these people who work for Trump (?) but are happy to undermine him to the press on a regular basis?

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Yeah, the Comey Firing Was All About Russia

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It’s Crunch Time for the Republican Party

Mother Jones

How the world works, 2017 edition:

July 2016: Republicans are united in outrage when James Comey declines to recommend charges against crooked Hillary Clinton despite mountains of evidence that she is totally guilty.

Today: Republicans are united in disappointment at Comey’s decision to harm poor Hillary Clinton by breaching agency guidelines against commenting on investigations and interfering with an upcoming election. Thank God he’s finally been fired.

The official story about Comey’s firing goes something like this. On April 25, Rod Rosenstein was confirmed as deputy attorney general. It takes him less than two weeks to put together a memo arguing that: Comey was wrong to usurp the attorney general’s prosecutorial authority. He was wrong to hold a “derogatory” press conference about Clinton. He was wrong three months later to claim that keeping quiet about the Huma Abedin emails amounted to “concealing” them. He shouldn’t have said anything on October 28. Rosenstein concludes by saying that everyone from the janitor to the pope agrees that this was obviously egregious behavior on Comey’s part. Within hours, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recommends Comey be fired and Trump immediately announces Comey’s termination. Comey hears about it on TV.

Needless to say, there is precisely nothing new in any of this. As Rosenstein says, these criticisms of Comey have been obvious from the start, and Trump could have used them as justification for firing Comey at any time. But he didn’t. Until now.

The difference between then and now, of course, is that then Comey was helping bury Hillary Clinton, and now Comey is investigating ties between Russia and Trump. So only now is it time for Comey to go.

So far, there are a tiny handful of Republicans who are “troubled” by Comey’s firing. Will they go any farther? Will any more Republicans join them? Or is everyone going to take one for the team and pretend that Comey really was fired because of how badly he treated Hillary Clinton?

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It’s Crunch Time for the Republican Party

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News Report Undermines Trump’s Claim About Michael Flynn

Mother Jones

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With the Senate hours away from hearing testimony about former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to preempt the testimony with his own version of events:

Unfortunately for Trump, news broke later on Monday morning that undermined his argument. NBC News reported that President Barack Obama had warned Trump against hiring Flynn during their meeting in the Oval Office on November 10—two days after Trump was elected and months before he appointed Flynn as his national security adviser.

Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates is set to testify before a Senate subcommittee today about her warnings to the White House about Flynn’s ties to Russia. Yates is expected to tell the committee that she warned White House Counsel Don McGahn several weeks before Flynn was forced to resign that Flynn had lied when he denied discussing US sanctions in his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

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News Report Undermines Trump’s Claim About Michael Flynn

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