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EPA postpones Pruitt’s Israel trip, amid travel cost scrutiny

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Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s upcoming trip to Israel has been canceled, the agency confirmed Sunday to Fox News.

The EPA declined to provide an explanation, but the confirmation comes amid increasing scrutiny about Pruitt’s travel costs.

“We decided to postpone,” agency spokeswoman Liz Bowman told Fox News. “The administrator looks forward to going in the future.”

The Washington Post, which first reported on the EPA trip, suggested Pruitt made the decision to postpone the week-long trip.

Pruitt is one of several Trump administration officials who have drawn attention over travel costs, including Pruitt’s frequent travel at first-class rates. Pruitt last week said a “toxic environment politically” required first-class travel and protection from a 24-hour security detail. He also has said his security detail made the decision.

Pruitt and EPA staffers billed taxpayers nearly $200,000 for his trips over six months last year, according to travel vouchers obtained by an environmental organization.

The Environmental Integrity Project environmental group obtained the travel vouchers, which cover trips by Pruitt and 14 staffers from March to August, through open-records requests. Previous vouchers acquired by the group covered the EPA chief’s travel over a shorter period.

Most of at least 10 expensed trips involving stops in his home state of Oklahoma were into the Tulsa airport, including for events in or closer to Oklahoma City, the state’s capital and site of the biggest state airport.

The EPA has said all the charter flights were necessary and previously approved by ethics lawyers.

Most of the reported expenses did not appear to include travel costs of the unknown number of security guards traveling with Pruitt.

In addition, CBS News reported last week that Pruitt flew round-trip business class to Italy in June, which cost $7,000. He also flew on his return trip on Emirates Airlines, after receiving special permission to fly on a foreign airline to arrive on time for a Cabinet meeting back in the United  States.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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NHS chief admits UK 'looking at' Covid quarantine extension over infectious strain fears

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JENNY HARRIES has confirmed the Government is considering extending the quarantine period due to data on an infectious coronavirus strain.

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Biden’s CIA pick tells Senate confronting China will be his top priority

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden‘s pick to become the next CIA director told senators Wednesday that confronting the threat from China will be his top priority, underscoring a bipartisan consensus that China has become a top national security focus.

If confirmed by the Senate, as seems likely, former Amb. William Burns would be the first career diplomat to lead the CIA, an agency with a paramilitary arm that has often butted heads with the State Department. But the CIA also cooperates regularly with State, and Burns worked closely with agency operators when he served as the U.S. ambassador to Russia and Jordan.

During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee Wednesday, Burns drew praise from both conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats.

“I can’t think of anybody that has the breadth of experience that you’ve had in the world,” said Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas.

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, arguably the panel’s most liberal member, said the session risked becoming “a full-fledged bouquet tossing contest,” before praising Burns for his focus on human rights.

Burns was introduced to the committee by two foreign policy luminaries, former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican, and former CIA director and defense secretary Leon Panetta, a Democrat. Both men urged his confirmation.

After four years in which the Trump administration was accused of seeking to politicize intelligence, Burns pledged to present unvarnished, unbiased findings to the president and other top policymakers.

“I’ve known President Biden for almost a quarter of a century,” Burns said. “When he told me…He expected me and CIA to deliver intelligence to him straight, I know that he meant it.”

He later added that, as a longtime consumer of intelligence from the CIA, “what mattered most to me was that I get their honest judgment on issues, even when it might be inconvenient or unwelcome in some ways.”

Former CIA Director Leon Panetta speaks via video conference on behalf of William Burns at his confirmation hearing for CIA director on Feb. 24, 2021.Tom Brenner / Pool via Getty Images

On policy matters, Burns called China “the biggest geopolitical challenge that we face.”

In that, he agreed with the ranking Republican, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who said that “no challenge we face rivals the holistic threat posed by China, and more specifically the Chinese Communist Party. As we look to shift our emphasis from counterterrorism to threats from ascendant authoritarian nation states, the threat from China is the most existential to the United States.”

Burns pledged to get to the bottom of a series of mysterious brain injuries suffered by American spies and diplomats overseas, dubbed “Havana Syndrome,” because they were first noted in Cuba.

As NBC News was first to report, the National Academies of Sciences Engineering and Medicine concluded in December that the symptoms experienced by the American victims are consistent with the effects of directed microwave energy, and that Russia had done the most research on that technology. Previously, American officials told NBC News that Russia is the leading suspect in what they believed were attacks, but that hard evidence was scant.

“I do commit to you I will make it an extra high priority to get the bottom of who is responsibility for the attacks that you just described,” Burns told Intelligence Committee chairman Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, ” and to insure that colleagues get the care that they deserve.”

Burns, who speaks Arabic and Russian, said he did not believe Iran should ever be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. On the issue of the CIA’s past treatment of al Qaeda detainees, he said he believed water boarding was torture and was illegal. But he also promised not to take administrative action against or impede the promotion of any CIA officer who participate in the interrogation program because it was sanctioned as legal at the time by since-repudiated Justice Department guidance.

Asked about his approach to Russia, Burns said, “There’s no substitute for firmness and consistency in dealing with Putin’s Russia.”

As long Putin is in charge, Burns said, the U.S.-Russia relationship will range from “the very sharply competitive to the very nastily adversarial.”



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Brexiteer John Redwood issues warning to Rishi Sunak: ‘Tax rises will backfire horribly’

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RISHI Sunak has been warned tax increases could “backfire horribly” – and jeopardise the UK’s ability to bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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