Drain the swamp: coal baroness buys UN ambassadorship with GOP campaign donations

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More of Mitch McConnell’s corruption.

Kelly Knight Craft, the wife of billionaire coal baron Joseph Craft, and a longtime GOP fundraiser, including for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (who with her husband has donated considerable sums to the Republican Party), was approved by a vote in the Senate yesterday to become our next UN Ambassador.

Roll Call reports, Senate confirms wealthy GOP donor, McConnell friend as UN ambassador:

After seven months without a permanent U.S. representative to the United Nations and at a time of increasing turbulence in global affairs, the Senate on Thursday narrowly confirmed a new ambassador, a Republican Party fundraiser whose thin diplomatic résumé has come under harsh criticism from Democrats.

The confirmation vote, 56-34, of Kelly Knight Craft, who currently is U.S. ambassador to Canada, came hours after the Senate Foreign Relations Democrats published a report that harshly criticized her suitability for the role. The report asserted she was “unknowledgeable” about basic U.S. foreign policy issues and likely to be “outmatched” by her U.N. counterparts from Russia and China. It also lambasted her long record of unexplained absences during her time as envoy in Ottawa.

“During her limited diplomatic tenure, her unacceptable absences in Canada were nothing less than a dereliction of duty,” Foreign Relations ranking member Robert Menendez said in a statement. “Never in our nation’s history have we nominated such an underqualified person to this critical post.”

Craft spent nearly 60 percent of her time as ambassador outside of Canada, which amounted to 357 days, according to the report.

Though Republicans defended much of that away time as being related to her role as part of the U.S. negotiating team for the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, Democrats said only 40 of her travel days were related to trade meetings. Rather, she spent seven months in Kentucky or Oklahoma, where she and her billionaire husband, Joe Craft, have homes. The Democrats also noted she spent at least 29 days staying at the Trump International Hotel during her trips to Washington.

The eight-page report was compiled from news reports, travel records (including flight logs), calendars, Craft’s testimony to the committee and other official documents that Menendez requested and received.

Democrats criticized Craft for a weak Senate Foreign Relations confirmation performance.

“When asked about the most pressing issues the U.N. faces and how the United States can leverage the U.N. to pursue our national foreign policy priorities, Ambassador Craft did not mention the major crises or complexities facing the United States today,” the report states. “When asked about the two-state solution, which has been the cornerstone of U.S. policy concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for years, she could not articulate a coherent or succinct viewpoint.”

Prior to her confirmation as ambassador to Ottawa, Craft ran a small marketing firm, Kelly G. Knight LLC, and served for one session as an alternate U.S. delegate to the United Nations, a largely ceremonial position. She has been a longtime GOP fundraiser, including for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and her husband has donated considerable sums to the Republican Party.

Yeah, about her husband. McClatchy described Billionaire Joe Craft as Kentucky’s most powerful non-elected individual:

Craft lives in Tulsa, Okla., where his company, Alliance Resource Partners is based. But he’s here about 10 days a month, partly because most of his coal mines are in Kentucky, partly because he and his companion now wife, Kelly Knight, are the state finance co-chairs of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. Knight lives in Lexington and is a well-known Republican fund-raiser.

Craft’s name is well-known in Kentucky, even if his face is not. He sits at the nexus of three things about which Kentuckians care a lot: UK basketball, coal and politics. In all three venues, as his business empire has grown, so have his donations, spending and influence, making Craft one of the most powerful non-elected individuals in the state.

Politico reported earlier this year, Powerful coal executive edges closer to White House:

Joe Craft, the chief executive of one of the nation’s biggest coal companies and a major Republican bank roller, is on the verge of moving even closer into the White House inner circle.

President Donald Trump proposed in February that Craft’s wife, Ambassador to Canada Kelly Craft, become the next U.S. envoy to the United Nations, which would give her a front-row seat to the international climate talks that have huge implications for Joe Craft’s business.

As CEO of the Tulsa, Okla.-based coal empire Alliance Resource Partners, Joe Craft is already an active player in Washington when it comes to energy policy.

* * *

McConnell recommended Kelly Craft for the U.N. position. The couple gave $2 million to Trump’s political efforts through campaign donations and a share of his inauguration, according to OpenSecrets.org and Federal Election Commission filings.

“He’s been a longtime supporter of Republican candidates and causes,” Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.), to whom Joe Craft has donated, told POLITICO. “I think Joe is pretty well-known by Cabinet members, by the president, by the vice president.”

* * *

Craft has also had sway at the EPA, which has been at the center of efforts to lessen the regulatory burden on coal. Craft regularly communicated with former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, with whom he bonded over their Kentucky roots and Oklahoma careers: Pruitt lived in Tulsa when he was the state’s attorney general. The New York Times reported last June that Pruitt secured prime tickets for a college basketball game at the University of Kentucky, where Craft is a major fan and booster. (The team’s practice facility bears his name.) [Louisville Courier Journal, Report: Coal exec Joe Craft, big UK donor, is ‘cozy’ to Scott Pruitt.]

Joseph Craft, who is not a government official, has previously directly intervened through his wife in government policy. Husband’s response to Kentuckian Kelly Craft’s government email complicates UN nomination:

The email went out from senior Environmental Protection Agency officials to Kelly Craft, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, responding to questions she had about a funding matter.

But the acknowledgment email the EPA got back a few hours later wasn’t from the ambassador. It was from her husband, coal magnate Joseph Craft, a wealthy GOP donor who had been taking part in a months-long press by the coal industry for access and regulatory relief from the EPA and the Trump administration in general.

The blurring of roles — and email accounts — by the Crafts this time and others since she began representing the U.S. is raising questions as senators consider her nomination by President Donald Trump to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. That post would give her a prime seat at international talks to fight climate change, in part by encouraging limits on the burning of coal, with its heat-trapping emissions.

“Thanks!!” the coal baron replied to the December 2017 email from EPA officials, which had been addressed to “Ambassador Craft.” The agency was following up on a briefing she had gotten from then-EPA head Scott Pruitt on federal funding for cleaning up the Great Lakes, an issue of great interest to Canada. (The Crafts and Pruitt are from Kentucky.)

Joseph Craft sent the acknowledgment on his work email for his Tulsa, Oklahoma-based coal company, Alliance Resource Partners LP.

His response ended with the breezy auto-tag from his cellphone: “Sent from my iPhone powered by coal!”

In a statement Monday, the State Department said Joseph Craft had been copied in on the EPA response to his ambassador wife after her Great Lakes discussion with Pruitt because he “had played a role in facilitating the exchange.” The statement did not elaborate, or say why his help was needed arranging a discussion between two government officials. “However, he does not play a role in official U.S. government business,” the State Department said.

EPA spokesman Michael Abboud noted that Kelly Craft separately responded to the email, a few hours after her husband.

The Sierra Club obtained the emails under the federal Freedom of Information Act and provided them to The Associated Press.

Virginia Canter, chief ethics counsel at the nonprofit watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, reacted strongly when told Joseph Craft responded to a government email sent to his wife in her capacity as U.S. ambassador.

“That’s highly unusual. I’ve never heard of that,” Canter said.

The topic of the email exchange may not have been sensitive, “but he should not be accessing her official emails under any circumstances,” however he came to reply to it, she said.

“It’s an indication that their interests are intertwined — his business interests and her government interests,” Canter said. She noted the conflict that could raise in the U.N. job, given the international focus on climate change and coal, an objection also raised by Democratic lawmakers and others.

The Sierra Club’s climate policy director, Liz Perera, said in a statement: “It is deeply concerning that a coal executive is receiving and responding to correspondence intended for U.S. diplomats. With Trump, it is impossible to see where the coal industry ends and where the administration starts.”

Back to Roll Call:

Democrats faulted Craft for not knowing at her confirmation hearing the full extent of her and her husband’s holdings in oil and gas interests, which they said could represent a conflict of interest for any U.N. climate change-related activities. Her husband leads Alliance Resources Partners, the second-largest coal producer in the eastern part of the country. While she was ambassador, her husband sat in on several of her official meetings with energy and oil company executives, according to the minority report.

In contrast to Craft’s largely partisan confirmation vote, her predecessor, Nikki Haley was confirmed as U.N. envoy in January 2017 by an overwhelming bipartisan vote, 96-4.

Unqualified, unfit to serve, and deeply conflicted. Of course Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump wanted her for UN Ambassador. Drain the swamp!




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