By Robin Wright ~ The New Yorker
A day after the brawling and racist brutality and deaths in Virginia, Governor Terry McAuliffe asked, “How did we get to this place?” The more relevant question after Charlottesville—and other deadly episodes in Ferguson, Charleston, Dallas, Saint Paul, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, and Alexandria—is where the United States is headed. How fragile is the Union, our republic, and a country that has long been considered the world’s most stable democracy? The dangers are now bigger than the collective episodes of violence. “The radical right was more successful in entering the political mainstream last year than in half a century,” the Southern Poverty Law Center reported in February. The organization documents more than nine hundred active (and growing) hate groups in the United States.
America’s stability is increasingly an undercurrent in political discourse. Earlier this year, I began a conversation with Keith Mines about America’s turmoil. Mines has spent his career—in the U.S. Army Special Forces, the United Nations, and now the State Department—navigating civil wars in other countries, including Afghanistan, Colombia, El Salvador, Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan. He returned to Washington after sixteen years to find conditions that he had seen nurture conflict abroad now visible at home. It haunts him. In March, Mines was one of several national-security experts whom Foreign Policy askedto evaluate the risks of a second civil war—with percentages. Mines concluded that the United States faces a sixty-per-cent chance of civil war over the next ten to fifteen years. Other experts’ predictions ranged from five per cent to ninety-five per cent. The sobering consensus was thirty-five per cent. And that was five months before Charlottesville.
“We keep saying, ‘It can’t happen here,’ but then, holy smokes, it can,” Mines told me after we talked, on Sunday, about Charlottesville. The pattern of civil strife has evolved worldwide over the past sixty years. Today, few civil wars involve pitched battles from trenches along neat geographic front lines. Many are low-intensity conflicts with episodic violence in constantly moving locales. Mines’s definition of a civil war is large-scale violence that includes a rejection of traditional political authority and requires the National Guard to deal with it. On Saturday, McAuliffe put the National Guard on alert and declared a state of emergency.
Based on his experience in civil wars on three continents, Mines cited five conditions that support his prediction: entrenched national polarization, with no obvious meeting place for resolution; increasingly divisive press coverage and information flows; weakened institutions, notably Congress and the judiciary; a sellout or abandonment of responsibility by political leadership; and the legitimization of violence as the “in” way to either conduct discourse or solve disputes.
President Trump “modeled violence as a way to advance politically and validated bullying during and after the campaign,” Mines wrote in Foreign Policy. “Judging from recent events the left is now fully on board with this,” he continued, citing anarchists in anti-globalization riots as one of several flashpoints. “It is like 1859, everyone is mad about something and everyone has a gun.”
A draft government report on climate says the U.S. is already experiencing the consequences of global warming. The findings sharply contrast with statements by President Trump and some members of his Cabinet, who have sought to downplay the changing climate.
The document, which was leaked ahead of publication and reported by The New York Times on Tuesday, says Americans are seeing more heat waves and rainfall as a result of climate change.
The report, known as the Climate Science Special Report, is part of the National Climate Assessment, which is mandated by Congress every four years and provides a synthesis of the federal government’s knowledge about the state of the climate. Previous assessments have shown that climate change is already affecting the the United States’ weather and economy.
The draft report, by agencies such as NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, echoes that message. It finds that the world has warmed by about 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 150 years and that human activity is the primary cause for that warming. In the U.S., the report says the largest temperature increases have taken place in the West. It also found an increase in extreme precipitation events in the Northeast. The report concludes:
“Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gasses, are primarily responsible for observed climate changes in the industrial era. There are no alternative explanations, and no natural cycles found in the observational record that can explain the observed changes in climate.”
It concludes with high confidence that humans are responsible for effectively all observed warming since 1951.
That statement is directly at odds with statements from Trump and key Cabinet members. The head of Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, has said there is “tremendous disagreement” on the impact humans have had on the climate. And in June, Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from so-called Paris agreement on climate change, which is the main international effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Trump sent official notice of the U.S. intention to withdraw late last week.
“Just because we pulled out of the Paris accord doesn’t mean we believe in climate production,” Trump’s ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said on NBC’s Today show. “What we’re saying is, we’re not going to sell out American businesses to do that.”
At the time it was leaked, the draft report had been completed for months and was awaiting the administration’s approval ahead of publication. However, key positions involved in vetting the report, such as the presidential science adviser, have gone unfilled by Trump.
The Times was the first to report on the draft report’s conclusions.
On Tuesday, a White House official noted that “drafts of this report have been published and made widely available online months ago during the public comment period. The White House will withhold comment on any draft report before its scheduled release date.”
By Bob Dreyfuss RollingStone
By now, it’s clear: Robert Mueller, the special counsel looking into Russiagate and related matters, is a determined, relentless inquisitor whose investigation could lead to criminal charges against a wide range of Donald Trump’s staff, associates, former campaign officials and members of his immediate family. And, when its work is complete, it isn’t out of the question that Mueller’s team could deliver a report triggering Trump’s impeachment.
Trump, of course, is lashing out at Mueller, the congressional panels, his own attorney general and Department of Justice, the FBI and the media over what he called, in a tweet, “the single greatest witch hunt in American political history – led by some very bad and conflicted people.” He’s warned that any move by Mueller to investigate his or his family’s business dealings might be a red line that could lead him to fire Mueller. He’s toyed with ousting Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from Russiagate because of his own set of questionable meetings with Russian officials in 2016, since by firing Sessions he might be able to appoint a replacement who could order the firing of Mueller. And he’s reportedly considered using the power of presidential pardons to prevent Mueller from prosecuting any members of his team – including, remarkably, seeking to pardon himself. None of this, according to numerous experts, sounds like the way someone who’s innocent of any wrongdoing would act.
From the start, Mueller had a broad mandate – and it isn’t limited to the question of Russia. The statement appointing Mueller authorized him to investigate “any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Trump,” along with “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation,” plus “any other matters within the scope” of the law. That statement also gave Mueller the job of looking into efforts by Trump or others to impede or block the inquiry.
What that means, and what’s scariest for the White House, is that Mueller isn’t limited just to the question of collusion between Trump and Moscow. Mueller might suspect that the ties between the Trump organization and the allied financial and real estate empire run by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to Russian banks and various Putin-linked oligarchs, even going back years, might help explain Trump’s ties to Russia – making that fair game for the special counsel’s office. In addition, should any evidence of other crimes emerge while looking into the Trump-Kushner businesses – such as financial misdeeds, involvement in money-laundering or improper real estate deals, for instance – well, that too could lead to indictments.
And then there’s the question of obstruction of justice. Even if Mueller can’t prove collusion with Russia and doesn’t find any financial or real estate wrongdoing, he can still nail the president if he determines Trump tried illegally to obstruct the investigations that are underway – not only by the special counsel, but by the FBI itself, the Department of Justice and the several congressional committees that are looking into Russiagate.
Though Mueller’s office is mostly independent of the Department of Justice and the White House, Mueller still operates under the oversight of Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, who controls the special counsel’s budget and who, under certain circumstances, can overrule his decisions. On the other hand, the department’s regulations covering the work of a special counsel say explicitly that the counsel isn’t “subject to the day-to-day supervision of any official in the department,” and it adds that Rosenstein must give “great weight” to decisions taken by Mueller. If Rosenstein acts to block something that Mueller is doing, he’d be required to explain why he’s doing so to Congress. Rosenstein has stated publicly, and in testimony before Congress, that he intends to give Mueller wide latitude to carry out the investigation and not to interfere with it except under extraordinary circumstances.
Theoretically, Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller, could fire him. However, he told Congress he would only fire Mueller for “good cause,” adding, “I am required to put that cause in writing. If there were good cause I would consider it. If there were not good cause, it wouldn’t matter to me what anybody says.”
Above: An Andes mountain range and a cross headstone are seen from Cementerio Municipal De Huaraz in Huaraz, in the Ancash region of Peru, on July 13.
LAKE PALCACOCHA, Peru
After a day of bright sunshine, a chunk of ice the size of a dump truck broke off the glacier on Mount Pucaranra a few weeks ago. It plunged into the lake below and kicked up a wave nine feet high.
Victor Morales, a small, catlike man with a tattered ski cap who is the lake’s solitary watchman, scrambled up to a stone hut on the side of the mountain and got on the radio. The wave had damaged an emergency drainage system meant to reduce the volume of the lake. But to his great relief, the earthen dam holding back the water was intact.
“It wasn’t a big avalanche,” Morales said.
Lake Palcacocha is a mile long and 250 feet deep, and the effect of a large avalanche would be similar to dropping a bowling ball in a bathtub. Modeling scenarios predict a 100-foot wave so powerful it would blow out the dam. Three billion gallons of ice water would go roaring down the mountain toward the city of Huaraz, burying its 200,000 residents under an Andean tsunami of mud, trees and boulders.
So far, it’s not going very well.
“For countries like Peru that are trying to climb out of poverty, there are major social, cultural and economic obstacles to adaptation,” said Nelson Santillán, a researcher at Peru’s national water authority. “Identifying risks is one thing, but doing something about them is another.”
In the weeks since President Trump announced the United States would renege on its commitment to the Paris climate accord, scientists have pointed to new signs the planet is edging closer to a precipice. Maximum temperature records continue falling. New cracks are opening at the polar ice caps.
Peru’s high-altitude glaciers are tiny by comparison, but millions of people depend on their runoff for water, food and hydroelectricity.
Some of Peru’s glaciers have lost more than 90 percent of their mass. While much of the water trickles harmlessly down the mountainside, in places like Lake Palcacocha, it is pooling in great big puddles of melted ice. Many of these new lakes are held back by glacial moraines, which are essentially mounds of compressed sediments. They may be structurally weak, and as the volume of water pushing on them increases, some will collapse.
“We have glaciers across 19 — no, 18 — mountain ranges,” said Marco Zapata, a top scientist at Peru’s institute for glacier research, correcting himself to reflect the latest monitoring data.
“They’re all shrinking.”
For Peruvian authorities, this is becoming more of an engineering problem than an environmental lament. Without reliable glacial runoff, the country’s water and irrigation systems will need to be retooled. New dams and reservoirs will be needed to more effectively store water. Investments in agriculture and other water-intensive industries will need to be recalculated.
“The glacier used to come down to there,” said Tomás Rosario, 45, who farms in the shadow of 22,000-foot Huascaran, Peru’s highest peak. He pointed at a ridge above his village, where bare rock was exposed. “Now the snow is gone and we’re running out of water.”
In the age of Trump, the Agnew case, with its history of lies, greed, kickbacks, and the self-regard of its central actor, might seem the better predictor of what could come next.
Photograph by David Hume Kennerly / Getty
By Jeffrey Frank , The New Yorker
On August 7, 1973, the Wall Street Journal published a startling story: Spiro Agnew, elected in 1968 as Richard Nixon’s Vice-President, was under investigation for tax evasion, bribery, and various corrupt practices, most dating back to 1967, when Agnew became the governor of Maryland. Agnew’s first reaction was a relatively restrained statement: “I am under investigation for possible violations of the criminal statutes,” he said, adding, “I am innocent of any wrongdoing.”
Then, at a press conference a day later, Agnew called the allegations “damned lies,” as well as “false and scurrilous and malicious”; he certainly wasn’t going to resign. A few days after that, he said, “I will fight, I will fight to prove my innocence,” and over the next sixty-five days he never stopped attacking leaks and fighting what he called “smear publicity.” The Agnew case, briefly, got as much attention as the Watergate scandal, which was then closing in on President Nixon following the start of televised Senate Watergate hearings, in mid-May, and the revelation, in mid-July, that a voice-activated taping system had been installed in the White House.
All this comes to mind when considering questions surrounding President Trump, his family, and his business associates. As the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and the team he’s hired investigate Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign, the Watergate investigation is often invoked. But what’s known so far seems to bear more resemblance to the Agnew investigation. Bloomberg News recently reported that Mueller is looking at a “broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates,” and that the inquiry “also has absorbed a money-laundering probe” begun by Preet Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, who was fired by Trump, in March. As Paul Waldman wrote recently in the Washington Post, “While the possibility of campaign collusion is what started this scandal, the financial connections between Trump and Russia may wind up being just as important.”
Mueller has impanelled at least two grand juries. One, in Alexandria, Virginia, is looking at Michael Flynn, a retired general who was briefly Trump’s national-security adviser and whose consultancy was paid, ostensibly by a private businessman, to support Turkish government positions during the Presidential campaign. One point in the investigation, reportedly, is whether the money Flynn took actually came from the Turkish government or associated entities, and whether Flynn, who has denied any wrongdoing, properly disclosed his work for foreign interests. The work of another grand jury, in Washington, D.C., first reported by the Journal,“is growing in intensity and entering a new phase.” A Trump lawyer told the Journal that he hadn’t known about the second grand jury, adding, “Grand jury matters are typically secret.” That secrecy brings with it the possibility that more grand juries are looking into other questions.
The Agnew investigation had been under way for more than six months when U.S. Attorney George Beall informed Agnew’s lawyer of the allegations and, without issuing a formal subpoena, asked for Agnew’s bank statements, cancelled checks, deposit tickets, and savings-account books dating back to 1967. Mueller’s team appears to be taking a similarly thorough approach; investigators so far have asked the White House for documents connected to Flynn, and to preserve communications concerning a meeting, in June, 2016, that included Donald Trump, Jr.; Jared Kushner, the President’s son-in-law and senior adviser; and Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer. It may not be possible to learn what’s going on inside a grand-jury room, but the credentials of Mueller’s expanding legal team carry strong hints. One recent addition, Greg Andres, a defense lawyer who specializes in white-collar crime, had been a former deputy assistant attorney general in the criminal division of the Justice Department; there, as Reuters reported, he was in charge of a program focussed on foreign bribery.
A Trump lawyer, John Dowd, told Bloomberg News that Trump’s businesses lie beyond the bounds of Mueller’s mandate, but Mueller’s mandate is Russian collusion, and Trump’s companies have had ties to Russia for at least thirty years. While Trump has made a number of untrue statements on that subject, the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, recounting that history, reminded readers that, in 2008, Donald Trump, Jr., said that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.” That’s why investigators might want to look deeply at Trump’s businesses, an area that Trump, in an interview with the Times, suggested might be his “red line” in deciding whether Mueller had gone too far. Trump, meanwhile, has repeatedly called the Mueller probe a “witch hunt,” and, certainly, investigators might conclude that nothing untoward took place.
On September 29, 1973, Agnew flew to Los Angeles, where he played golf with Frank Sinatra, and gave a speech to a cheering crowd—a sort of West Virginia moment. He didn’t use the term “witch hunt” but he complained about “malicious leaks” and “perjured” testimony, and said that the Justice Department was trying to frame him. “I will not resign if indicted,” he said—twice—to loud applause. Eleven days later, Agnew pleaded no contest to tax evasion, saying that he did so to avoid a “long, divisive, and debilitating struggle in the Congress and the courts.” In a plea deal worked out with the Attorney General, Elliot Richardson, Agnew resigned the Vice-Presidency; in return, all other charges were dropped, he was fined ten thousand dollars, he was given three years of probation—and he avoided jail. As for a successor, Nixon chose the popular House Minority Leader, Gerald Ford, of Michigan, described by the Journal as “pleasant but plodding party wheelhorse who often speaks and apparently thinks in clichés”—in other words, not anyone’s first choice as a potential President. The Watergate scandal, meanwhile, continued for ten more months, ending with Nixon’s resignation, under threat of impeachment, on August 9, 1974—forty-three years ago this week—a narrative that’s become the template for removing Presidents who behave badly. In the age of Trump, the Agnew case, with its history of lies, greed, kickbacks, and the self-regard of its central actor, might seem the better predictor of what could come next. But then, as now, the constitutional question of whether a President, or a Vice-President, can be indicted was asked; it has never been answered.
WASHINGTON — Whit Ayres, a Republican political consultant, likes to tell his clients that there are “three keys to credibility.”
“One, never defend the indefensible,” he says. “Two, never deny the undeniable. And No. 3 is: Never lie.”
Would that politicians took his advice.
Fabrications have long been a part of American politics. Politicians lie to puff themselves up, to burnish their résumés and to cover up misdeeds, including sexual affairs. (See: Bill Clinton.) Sometimes they cite false information for what they believe are justifiable policy reasons. (See: Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam.)
But President Trump, historians and consultants in both political parties agree, appears to have taken what the writer Hannah Arendt once called“the conflict between truth and politics” to an entirely new level.
From his days peddling the false notion that former President Barack Obama was born in Kenya, to his inflated claims about how many people attended his inaugural, to his description just last week of receiving two phone calls — one from the president of Mexico and another from the head of the Boy Scouts — that never happened, Mr. Trump is trafficking in hyperbole, distortion and fabrication on practically a daily basis.
In part, this represents yet another way that Mr. Trump is operating on his own terms, but it also reflects a broader decline in standards of truth for political discourse. A look at politicians over the past half-century makes it clear that lying in office did not begin with Donald J. Trump. Still, the scope of Mr. Trump’s falsehoods raises questions about whether the brakes on straying from the truth and the consequences for politicians’ being caught saying things that just are not true have diminished over time.
One of the first modern presidents to wrestle publicly with a lie was Dwight D. Eisenhower in May 1960, when an American U-2 spy plane was shot down while in Soviet airspace.
The Eisenhower administration lied to the public about the plane and its mission, claiming it was a weather aircraft. But when the Soviets announced that the pilot had been captured alive, Eisenhower reluctantly acknowledged that the plane had been on an intelligence mission — an admission that shook him badly, the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said.
“He just felt that his credibility was such an important part of his person and character, and to have that undermined by having to tell a lie was one of the deepest regrets of his presidency,” Ms. Goodwin said.
In the short run, Eisenhower was hurt; a summit meeting with the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev collapsed in acrimony. But the public eventually forgave him, Ms. Goodwin said, because he owned up to his mistake.
In 1972, at the height of the Watergate scandal, President Richard M. Nixon was accused of lying, obstructing justice and misusing the Internal Revenue Service, among other agencies, and resigned rather than face impeachment. Voters, accustomed to being able to trust politicians, were disgusted. In 1976, Jimmy Carter won the presidency after telling the public, “I’ll never lie to you.”
White resentment put Donald Trump in the White House. And there is every indication that it will keep him there, especially as he continues to transform that seething, irrational fear about an increasingly diverse America into policies that feed his supporters’ worst racial anxieties.
If there is one consistent thread through Mr. Trump’s political career, it is his overt connection to white resentment and white nationalism. Mr. Trump’s fixation on Barack Obama’s birth certificate gave him the white nationalist street cred that no other Republican candidate could match, and that credibility has sustained him in office — no amount of scandal or evidence of incompetence will undermine his followers’ belief that he, and he alone, could Make America White Again.
The guiding principle in Mr. Trump’s government is to turn the politics of white resentment into the policies of white rage — that calculated mechanism of executive orders, laws and agency directives that undermines and punishes minority achievement and aspiration. No wonder that, even while his White House sinks deeper into chaos, scandal and legislative mismanagement, Mr. Trump’s approval rating among whites (and only whites) has remained unnaturally high. Washington may obsess over Obamacare repeal, Russian sanctions and the debt ceiling, but Mr. Trump’s base sees something different — and, to them, inspiring.
Like on Christmas morning, every day brings his supporters presents: travel bans against Muslims, Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in Hispanic communities and brutal, family-gutting deportations, a crackdown on sanctuary cities, an Election Integrity Commission stacked with notorious vote suppressors, announcements of a ban on transgender personnel in the military, approval of police brutality against “thugs,” a denial of citizenship to immigrants who serve in the armed forces and a renewed war on drugs that, if it is anything like the last one, will single out African-Americans and Latinos although they are not the primary drug users in this country. Last week, Mr. Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions put the latest package under the tree: a staffing call for a case on reverse discrimination in college admissions, likely the first step in a federal assault on affirmative action and a determination to hunt for colleges and universities that discriminate against white applicants.
That so many of these policies are based on perception and lies rather than reality is nothing new. White resentment has long thrived on the fantasy of being under siege and having to fight back, as the mass lynchings and destruction of thriving, politically active black communities in Colfax, La. (1873), Wilmington, N.C. (1898), Ocoee, Fla. (1920), and Tulsa, Okla. (1921), attest. White resentment needs the boogeyman of job-taking, maiden-ravaging, tax-evading, criminally inclined others to justify the policies that thwart the upward mobility and success of people of color.
The last half-century hasn’t changed that. The war on drugs, for example, branded African-Americans and Latinos as felons, which stripped them of voting rights and access to housing and education just when the civil rights movement had pushed open the doors to those opportunities in the United States.
Similarly, the intensified war on immigrants comes, not coincidentally, at the moment when Latinos have gained visible political power, asserted their place in American society and achieved greater access to schools and colleges. The ICE raids have terrorized these communities, led to attendance drop-offs in schools and silenced many from even seeking their legal rights when abused.
The Donald is a master of these four techniques of misinformation.
On April 16, 2015, one month after Russian soldiers entered eastern Ukraine and joined Moscow-backed separatists in the slaughter of more than 130 Ukrainian troops in a town called Debaltseve, Russian President Vladimir Putin continued to perpetuate a claim that was growing increasingly ludicrous. “I can tell you outright and unequivocally that there are no Russian troops in Ukraine,” he declared in a broadcast to the Russian people.
The denial was a classic propaganda move. “The first Russian approach to negative reporting or comment is to dismiss it, either by denying the allegations on the ground, or denigrating the one who makes them,” writes Ben Nimmo, a British-based analyst of Russian information warfare and strategy. Specifically, this approach is an example of dismissal, one of four distinct ways the Putin government tries to spin facts and misinform the public, as identified by Nimmo. He calls it the 4D Approach: dismiss, distract, distort, and dismay.
Though Putin has put these tactics to good use, he did not invent them. Nor is he the only image-conscious, scrutiny-averse world leader to employ them. Over the past months, President-elect Donald Trump has also proved adept at using the propaganda techniques Nimmo describes. “The fact that the Trump campaign is doing the same kind of thing does not necessarily mean that they got it from Russia. These techniques are pretty universal; it’s just there’s a commonality of approach,” Nimmo says.
Some examples of The Donald’s mastery of the four Ds of propaganda:
Dismiss: Dismissing uncomfortable allegations or facts is second nature to most politicians. When nine women accused Trump of groping or kissing them without their consent, he first accused Hillary Clinton’s campaign of orchestrating the allegations. A day later, during the third presidential debate, he claimed, falsely, “Those stories have been largely debunked.”
Throughout his campaign, Trump repeatedly dismissed the press as “scum,” “horrible people,” and “dishonest.” In the week since winning the election, he has taken to Twitter on six occasions to excoriate the New York Times and its coverage, casting it as “very poor” and “highly inaccurate.” Unsurprisingly, as Philip Bump of the Washington Post points out, Trump’s complaints about the New York Times are most commonly about stories that have proved true. But, dismissal plays well with Trump’s supporters, who are already inclined to distrust the mainstream media. “Why would you listen to your critic if he is intrinsically not worth listening to?” notes Nimmo.
Distract: Another way propagandists dodge facts is to throw out distracting stories or counterclaims.
On July 20, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spoke at a closed-door meeting of conservative state legislators and lobbyists, raising questions about his stated goals of transparency in federal government. Zinke, a former Montana congressman, spoke in Denver at the annual meeting for the American Legislative Exchange Council, an industry organization backed by Koch Industries and ExxonMobil and devoted to “limited government, free markets and federalism.”
ALEC, whose initiatives include a push for state control over federal lands, provides model bills for state legislatures and influences bills going through Congress. Because of the group’s funding sources and its interest in states holding public lands, conservationists see Zinke’s association with the group as problematic.
Throughout his congressional confirmation process for the Department of Interior position, and in the early months of his job, Zinke has reiterated that he does not favor land transfers. “The things that Zinke has claimed he stood for, in terms of public lands, ALEC are the ones driving against that all these years,” says Aaron Weiss, media director at the Center for Western Priorities.
After the election of Donald Trump, ALEC published a triumphant missive touting the increased influence that would come thanks to “the incoming presidential administration’s focus on rolling power back to the states and the sheer number of ALEC alumni in the new administration.” Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, now the Secretary of Energy, and Vice President Mike Pence both spoke at ALEC’s 2016 conference.This year’s meeting featured high-profile speakers like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and others. While the majority of the speakers were in a recorded forum, Zinke’s speech was not; neither are there transcripts of it. According to tweets from ALEC’s Twitter account, vaguely confirmed by the Interior Press Secretary Heather Swift, Zinke focused on the development of U.S. energy sources and the importance of states’ roles in regulation. “We aim to always bring high profile speakers from all sectors who support limited governments, free markets and federalism to our meetings,” Taylor McCarty, a spokeswoman for ALEC, says. (In fact, there are no other examples in recent years of Cabinet members attending ALEC meetings.)
While there is no public list of legislators who are members, ALEC says nearly a quarter of the nation’s state legislators hold membership, as well as “alumni” that push its agenda in Washington. With Republicans in control of Congress and the presidency, ALEC is working with an administration that favors its agenda much more so than in years past. That has big implications for the West, especially in relation to the long-standing GOP platform plank that explicitly seeks state control of public lands. Indeed, Zinke’s ongoing review of national monuments to examine whether states had enough say is predated by ALEC model bills critiquing the Antiquities Act dating back to 2000.
ALEC’s model legislation, which advances conservative, pro-industry policies, often finds its way into state legislatures. Due to a lack of transparency, it is difficult to come up with a comprehensive list of state lawmakers who are members of the group.
According to Common Cause, a nonpartisan organization that tracks ALEC, Bill Cadman, the former president of Colorado Senate, served as state chair and national board member for the group. “ALEC’s current Colorado state chairs are Sen. Kevin Grantham, R-2nd District, and Rep. Lori Saine, R-63rd District,” Common Cause says in a recent report. “ALEC also has influence in Colorado’s congressional delegation; U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, and Reps. Scott Tipton (R-3rd District), and Rep. Doug Lamborn (R- 5th District) are all alumni of ALEC.”
Among other prominent Western supporters are Arizona State Sen. Deb Lasko, who is also the state chair for ALEC. Lasko led a delegation of 19 state legislators to this year’s conference— a third of the state’s legislators—with all expenses paid by ALEC, according to Arizona Central. Earlier this year, she sponsored a bill to break up the 9th Circuit Court, often criticized by conservatives for its decisions on the kinds of environmental cases that are adjudicated in the West.
Another prominent ALEC supporter is Utah Rep. Ken Ivory, past chairman of ALEC’s Federalism Task Force. Ivory is a vigorous advocate for the transfer of federal lands to the states. He founded the American Lands Council in 2012 to promote the land transfer movement through county commissioners, successfully passing a law that seeks the transfer of 30 million acres of federal land to the state of Utah. (He has also been critical of Zinke, calling him a “very bad pick” because of his unwillingness to pick up the land transfer cause, according to emails released by the Western Values Project, a public lands conservation advocacy group.) Another Utahn, State Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, is both president of the Utah Senate and a member of ALEC’s Board of Directors. Niederhauser co-sponsored Utah’s resolution to rescind Bears Ears National Monument.
The effects of an administration so closely tied to ALEC may take some time to be seen. “When ALEC starts in on something, you don’t see results for months or years,” says Weiss, who thinks ALEC and other Koch-funded initiatives like the Heritage Foundation, may gain more mainstream steam with national lawmakers. “During the Obama administration, ALEC turned towards state legislatures; is that going to change now?”