As the search for evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government enters its second year, a senior congressional Republican sees mounting evidence that Russia has been engaged in a long-term campaign to disrupt the energy agenda now promoted by Donald Trump. Today the House Science Committee sent this column the following statement from Chairman Lamar Smith:
If you connect the dots, it is clear that Russia is funding U.S. environmental groups in an effort to suppress our domestic oil and gas industry, specifically hydraulic fracking. They have established an elaborate scheme that funnels money through shell companies in Bermuda. This scheme may violate federal law and certainly distorts the U.S. energy market. The American people deserve to know the truth and I am confident Secretary Mnuchin will investigate the allegations.
He’s referring to Trump Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. On Friday Mr. Smith released a letter that he and Energy Subcommittee Chairman Randy Weber sent to Mr. Mnuchin asking for an investigation of “what appears to be a concerted effort by foreign entities to funnel millions of dollars through various non-profit entities to influence the U.S. energy market.” The two Texas Republicans added:
According to the former Secretary General of NATO, “Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engaged actively with so-called nongovernmental organizations – environmental organizations working against shale gas – to maintain dependence on imported Russian gas.” Other officials have indicated the same scheme is unfolding in the U.S.
The letter from Messrs. Smith and Weber also says that according to public sources, including a 2014 report from Republican staff on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, “entities connected to the Russian government are using a shell company registered in Bermuda, Klein Ltd. (Klein), to funnel tens of millions of dollars to a U.S.-based 501(c)(3) private foundation,” which supports various environmental groups.
In response to an inquiry from this column, Roderick M. Forrest of Bermuda’s Wakefield Quin Limited says in an emailed statement:
The allegations are completely false and irresponsible. Our firm has represented Klein since its inception, and we can state categorically that at no point did this philanthropic organization receive or expend funds from Russian sources or Russian-connected sources and Klein has no Russian connection whatsoever.
Leaving aside the specific question of which vehicles Putin’s government uses to conduct influence campaigns, the two Texas Republicans aren’t the only ones who have made the more general accusation that Russia has been funding green front groups to disrupt energy supplies that would compete with Russian oil and gas. If a document posted last year on WikiLeaks is to be believed, Clinton campaign staff summarized in an email attachment Hillary Clinton’s remarks on the subject during a private speech:
Clinton Talked About “Phony Environmental Groups” Funded By The Russians To Stand Against Pipelines And Fracking. “We were up against Russia pushing oligarchs and others to buy media. We were even up against phony environmental groups, and I’m a big environmentalist, but these were funded by the Russians to stand against any effort, oh that pipeline, that fracking, that whatever will be a problem for you, and a lot of the money supporting that message was coming from Russia.” [Remarks at tinePublic, 6/18/14]
Reading further into the speech summaries in the WikiLeaks document, this column is struck by how much more sensible Mrs. Clinton’s private remarks were compared to her public positions:
Clinton Discussed Promoting Oil Pipelines and Fracking In Eastern Europe. “So how far this aggressiveness goes I think is really up to us. I would like to see us accelerating the development of pipelines from Azerbaijan up into Europe. I would like to see us looking for ways to accelerate the internal domestic production. Poland recently signed a big contract to explore hydraulic fracturing to see what it could produce. Apparently, there is thought to be some good reserves there. And just really go at this in a self interested, smart way. The Russians can only intimidate you if you are dependent upon them.” [International Leaders’ Series, Palais des Congrès de Montréal, 3/18/14]
Hillary Clinton obviously knows the terrain and perhaps Mr. Mnuchin (whose department holds expertise in tracking international financial flows) should start his inquiry by interviewing the former secretary of State. He might also gain some insights into Russia’s strategy to handicap competing sources of fossil fuels by talking to former Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta.
Mr. Podesta has been back in the news lately after President Trump oddly tweeted from Germany to report that “everyone” at the G20 was talking about the former Clinton and Obama aide’s response to last year’s theft and disclosure of Democrats’ emails.
More relevant to the issue of Russian efforts to undermine U.S. oil and gas, Mr. Podesta served on the board of a solar energy start-up where he invested alongside a fund backed by the Russian government. Last year a Clinton campaign spokesman said that when Mr. Podesta returned to the White House in 2014, he “transferred the entirety of his holdings” in the solar company “to his adult children.” Last month he didn’t seem any more eager to discuss the details with Fox Business Network ’s Maria Bartiromo than Mr. Podesta’s adult daughter was when your humble correspondent called her last year.
Perhaps Mr. Mnuchin can get the full story as he seeks Mr. Podesta’s insights on Russia’s energy investment strategy.