Untangling the web of Trump Jr.'s Russia meeting - Axios
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Untangling the web of Trump Jr.'s Russia meeting

Kathy Willens / AP

This weekend's report that Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner attended a meeting at Trump Tower last June with a Kremlin-linked lawyer who promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton was another drip in the ever-expanding Russia story — and it led to Trump Jr. lawyering up for the Russia probe last night.

Looks like he needed it: The story exploded this afternoon when Trump Jr. tweeted the full email chain that led to the meeting, which explicitly called the meeting a "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."

Go deeper: From Rob Goldstone to the Agalarovs, the news surrounding this meeting has introduced a whole host of colorful new characters to the Trump-Russia web, many of whom hadn't been mentioned widely in previous reports.

Natalia Veselnitskaya, the lawyer at the Trump Tower meeting

Veselnitskaya is known for her lobbying against the Magnitsky Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2012 and designed to seize the assets of and deny visas to suspected Russian human rights abusers. The law so enraged Russian President Vladimir Putin that he halted the adoption of Russian children by American families. Veselnitskaya told the NYT that she "never acted on behalf of the Russian government," but her anti-Magnitsky campaign is obviously a cause that's deeply personal for Putin.

Rob Goldstone, the music publicist who linked up Trump Jr. and Veselnitskaya

Goldstone is a friend of Trump Jr., often involved in the Miss Universe pageant, who claimed to set up the meeting for Veselnitskaya to discuss the adoption issues caused by the Magnitsky Act, per a WaPo report. His social media pages show him interacting with President Trump as far back as 2013 — and include an Instagram of him wearing a shirt that simply says "Russia" just after Trump won the presidency in November.

Emin Agalarov, the Russian pop star who asked Goldstone to set up the meeting

Agalarov is a 37-year-old pop star who became close to Trump following the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. Emin has performed at Trump golf courses, received a videotaped birthday message from Trump in 2013, and even got Trump to cameo in one of his music videos, per Forbes' definitive Agalarov profile. He reportedly exchanged text messages with Trump Jr. around the inauguration, inquiring about the potential for new business deals.

Aras Agalarov, Emin's father and a billionaire real estate mogul in Moscow

According to Forbes, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant ended up in the Moscow — hosted at one of the Agalarovs' properties — after Aras and Emin made a concerted effort to reach out to Trump. Aras' bigger goal was a licensing deal with Trump to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, which Emin told Forbes was in the pipeline before Trump announced his campaign, putting the deal on ice.

(Left to right) Donald Trump, Aras Agalarov, Miss Universe 2012 Olivia Culpo, Emin Agalarov at Miss USA 2013 pageant.Jeff Bottari / AP

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Trump administration backs Obama-led climate effort

Obama and Trump meet at the White House after Trump's election. Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

A career State Department official speaking at a conference Thursday on behalf of the Trump administration backed a climate policy then-President Obama pursued shortly before he left office.

The policy phases down powerful greenhouse gases found in a range of everyday appliances. This is the most explicit and public the Trump administration has been about supporting it.

The big picture: The conference, held this week in Montreal, is about a recent amendment to the Montreal Protocol, a global treaty created 30 years ago to fix the hole in the Earth's ozone layer, which is now it's achieving its goal. World leaders, led by the Obama administration, agreed in October 2016 to the Kigali amendment, which would phase down emissions of powerful greenhouse gases in refrigerants called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). HFCs are used in many appliances from air conditioners to refrigerators.

Quoted: "The United States believes the Kigali Amendment represents a pragmatic and balanced approach to phasing down the production and consumption of HFCs, and therefore we support the goals and approach of the Amendment," said Judith Garber, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the State Department's Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

What's next: Rhetorical backing for the amendment is one thing, but to have it actually take effect, the administration needs to send it over to the Senate so it can vote on its official ratification, as the Senate has done on other amendments and the original treaty 30 years ago. "There is no timeline currently determined for these steps, but we have initiated the process to consider U.S. ratification of the Amendment," Garber said.

Fast facts: The Montreal Protocol is a treaty about the ozone layer, but this latest amendment from Kigali represents an evolution to concerns about climate change. The 2015 Paris climate deal, which is a non-binding treaty that didn't require congressional input, is mostly about cutting other greenhouse gases from energy and land use. It's wholly separate from the Montreal Protocol.

Bottom line: Process matters a lot here. One of the biggest complaints of Trump administration officials about the Paris deal is that Obama circumvented Congress (because he knew he wouldn't get support from the GOP-controlled Senate). The Kigali amendment backers, which include chemical makers like Honeywell and Chemours, are emphasizing how this is a collaborative process with Congress and is about the Montreal Protocol, not climate change per se.

My thought bubble: If/when you see this process unfold further, don't expect congressional Republicans and the administration to focus at all about the climate change angle. It'll be all about collaboration and protecting the environment and creating business opportunities for industry.


Go deeper:

  • Read my two Harder Line columns on this topic: Why industry is backing the policy, and how your air conditioner is caught up in all this.
  • The amendment is set to go into force (for those that have officially signed onto it) in January 2019, thanks to Sweden just recently signing on and meeting the ratification threshold, per the NYT.
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A new bird species is seen emerging in real-time

A medium ground finch, one of the two Galapagos finches that led to the new lineage.

Photo: Uwe-Bergwitz / iStock

Scientists have directly documented a new species evolving in the wild for the first time, according to the BBC. Fittingly, the event was seen in Galapagos Island finches, the same group of birds that helped Darwin solidify his theory of evolution. The research, published Thursday in the journal Science, started in 1981, when a single male from a different finch species came to the tiny island of Daphne Major.

Why it matters: This is the first time the formation of a new species has been observed in real-time in the wild. More than that, it shows how just a single individual can breed with one from another species, leading to the creation of a new species.

For several decades, scientists have been meticulously documenting minute changes in different finch species on the Galapagos Islands, an archipelago that's been referred to as a "natural laboratory for evolution."

How it started: The initial hybridization event happened in 1981 on the Galapagos island of Daphne Major, where evolutionary biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant conducted most of their research. They studied the group so closely that they noticed when a male large cactus finch, native to a different island 65 miles away, arrived on the island and began breeding with a local population.

What happened: Native females didn't recognize the songs of the new hybrid males, so instead of breeding with the local population as expected, the hybrids bred within their population. This paper shows that after just two generations, they stopped breeding with other populations and have remained reproductively isolated ever since.

Taking off: "In most cases, the offspring of cross-species matings are poorly adapted to their environment," writes Rory Galloway for the BBC. But the large size of these hybrids has allowed them to exploit resources the native birds weren't using, so the birds have flourished.

Go deeper: It just so happens that Darwin's personally annotated copy of The Origin of Species is up for auction. The Guardian has the story.

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Swedish power plant burning H&M clothes instead of coal

Frenzied customers grab clothes, shortly after H&M opened a new store in Los Angeles. Photo: Damian Dovarganes / AP

A Swedish power plant is burning H&M clothing as a way to move closer to becoming "a fossil-fuel free facility by 2020," according to Bloomberg.

Why it matters: Per Bloomberg, Sweden runs on "an almost entirely emission free-power system," and moving plants to burning only trash and biofuels will hopefully "edge out the last of its fossil fuel units."

  • Head of Communications for H&M in Sweden, Johanna Dahl, told Bloomberg: "H&M does not burn any clothes that are safe to use...However it is our legal obligation to make sure that clothes that contain mold or do not comply with our strict restriction on chemicals are destroyed."
  • The Swedish plant has reportedly burned 15 tons of H&M clothing in 2017 thus far.
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More young people are becoming farmers

Photo: LM Otero / AP

"For only the second time in the last century, the number of farmers under 35 years old is increasing, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's latest Census of Agriculture," the WashPost's Caitlin Downey reports in a front-pager with the lovely headline, "A growing movement":

  • 69% of the surveyed young farmers had college degrees — significantly higher than the general population.
  • Why it matters: "This new generation can't hope to replace the numbers that farming is losing to age. But it is already contributing to the growth of the local-food movement and could help preserve the place of midsize farms in the rural landscape."
  • Where it's happening: "In some states, such as California, Nebraska and South Dakota, the number of beginning farmers has grown by 20 percent or more."
  • The millennials are "far more likely than the general farming population to grow organically, limit pesticide and fertilizer use, diversify their crops or animals, and be deeply involved in... farmers markets."
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Uber's data breach cover-up could be the last straw for some riders

Photo: Richard Vogel / AP

Uber's "latest misbehavior involving a data breach cover-up revealed this week could be the impetus for people to ride elsewhere," according to AP's Tom Krisher in Detroit and tech writer Barbara Ortutay:

  • "[R]iders have fled from the service before, but enough have stayed because of the Uber's convenience."
  • "[T]his week the state of Colorado fined Uber $8.9 million for allowing employees with serious criminal or motor vehicle offenses to drive for the company. Then came the stolen data, which has touched off more government inquiries."
  • Why it matters: Polling by Brand Keys Inc., a New York-based customer research firm, "found that in 2015 Lyft passed Uber as the most trusted of ride-hailing brands, and trust in Uber has been eroding ever since."
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How Trump risked a key intel relationship

Trump meets with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, left, and Russian Ambassador Kislyak at the White House in May. Photo: Russian Foreign Ministry Photo via AP

Astonishing reporting from Vanity Fair's The Hive, by Howard Blum ... "What Trump ... told Kisylak after Comey was canned ... During a May 10 meeting in the Oval Office, the president betrayed his intelligence community by leaking the content of a classified, and highly sensitive, Israeli intelligence operation to two high-ranking Russian envoys, Sergey Kislyak and Sergey Lavrov":

  • Israeli spies and counterterrorism forces had discovered that "ISIS terrorists were working on transforming laptop computers into bombs that could pass undetected through airport security." That led to new U.S. and British restrictions on flights from abroad.
  • "[T]he Israeli mission was praised by [the American espionage community] as a casebook example of a valued ally's hard-won field intelligence being put to good, arguably even lifesaving, use."
  • "Yet this triumph would be overshadowed ... when ... Trump revealed details about the classified mission" to the Russian officials in the Oval.
  • Why it matters: "[F]resh blood was spilled in [Trump's] long-running combative relationship with the nation's clandestine services. Israel ... would rethink its willingness to share raw intelligence, and pretty much the entire Free World was left shaking its collective head in bewilderment."
  • Listen in.

P.S. Paul Manafort took at least 138 trips to Ukraine between 2004 and 2015 while consulting for Russian and pro-Russian oligarchs, McClatchy'sPeter Stone and Greg Gordon report:

  • "As the GOP platform committee drew up party positions a week before the Republican National Convention, a plank calling for the United States to provide 'lethal weapons' for Ukraine's defense was altered in a controversial and mysterious move."
  • An "American consultant in Ukraine said that Manafort ... had boasted he played a role in easing the language."
  • "Charlie Black, a onetime partner of Manafort's, says he remains baffled by the change. 'It was inexplicable to me that a majority of platform members would have taken a pro-Russian position on Ukraine.'"
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More than 620,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar

Photo: Bernat Armangue / AP

This aerial photo shows the Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh, housing Rohingya Muslims who fled across the border to escape violence. More than 620,000 Rohingya have fled from Myanmar into Bangladesh since Aug. 25, when the army began what it called "clearance operations" following an attack on police posts by a group of Rohingya insurgents.

Go deeper: The big picture on the crisis

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Black Friday sales expected to grow due to healthy economy

Antsy shoppers wait for a Best Buy to open on Thanksgiving in Overland Park, Kansas. Photo: Charlie Riedel / AP

"With the jobless rate at a 17-year-low of 4.1% and consumer confidence stronger than a year ago, analysts project healthy sales increases ... The National Retail Federation ... expects sales ... to at least match last year's rise of 3.6% and estimates online spending and other non-store sales will rise 11 to 15%," per AP.

  • "Black Friday has morphed from a single day ... into a whole season of deals, so shoppers may feel less need to be out."
  • Stunning stat: "Analysts at Bain say Amazon is expected to take half of the holiday season's sales growth."
  • AP reports that Hatchimals are hot:
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Franken apologizes over latest claims, cites "warm" personality

Al Franken at The BookExpo2017 in New York City. Photo: Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx

Democratic Sen. Al Franken has issued a statement about the latest allegations that he groped women while posing for photographs, saying he has taken "thousands of photographs" and is a "warm person," but acknowledging he "crossed a line for some women." He says he is sorry he made "some women feel badly."

Why it matters: Franken is in survival mode after four allegations of unwanted contact, and facing an Ethics investigation and some calls to resign. He's walking a tightrope here, not denying the individual accusations while portraying them as rare missteps resulting from his "warm" personality, rather than a pattern of creepy behavior. He says he plans to win back the "trust" of his constituents.

Full statement

"I've met tens of thousands of people and taken thousands of photographs, often in crowded and chaotic situations. I'm a warm person; I hug people. I've learned from recent stories that in some of those encounters, I crossed a line for some women — and I know that any number is too many. Some women have found my greetings or embraces for a hug or photo inappropriate, and I respect their feelings about that.

"I've thought a lot in recent days about how that could happen, and recognize that I need to be much more careful and sensitive in these situations. I feel terribly that I've made some women feel badly and for that I am so sorry, and I want to make sure that never happens again. And let me say again to Minnesotans that I'm sorry for putting them through this and I'm committed to regaining their trust."

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Trump's morning tweets: NFL protests, Middle East "mess" and golf

President Trump took to Twitter early on the Friday after Thanksgiving:

Worth noting: This White House treats golf as a clandestine operation, never saying whether or not Trump is actually playing, so this is a rare bit of candor.