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Biden administration sends muddled message on Nord Stream 2 pipeline

The State Department on Wednesday waived sanctions on the corporate entity and CEO overseeing the construction of Nord Stream 2, a move widely interpreted as a signal that the U.S. will not stand in the way of the Russia-to-Germany pipeline's completion.

Yes, but: State Department officials told reporters that by listing several vessels and companies participating in the controversial project for sanctions, as mandated by Congress, they were in fact sending a "clear signal" to Russia — even contending that they would continue to employ sanctions "to try to stop this pipeline."


Between the lines: By waiving sanctions on the Swiss firm, Nord Stream 2 AG, and its German CEO, Matthias Warnig, a Putin crony, the Biden administration was prioritizing its relationship with Germany over its opposition to the natural gas pipeline, which one State Department official called "a Kremlin geopolitical project that threatens European energy security."

  • Sanctioning European firms to stop a pipeline into which Germany has sunk significant political capital would force an early confrontation with a key ally.
  • But the pipeline is loathed on Capitol Hill — particularly but not exclusively among Republicans — and the administration is sensitive to any accusations that it's going soft on Russia.
  • That's left the administration in an uncomfortable middle ground, arguing that the pipeline is a disaster and they want to stop it, while declining to take the one step that could actually endanger its completion.
  • Officials on Wednesday's briefing call repeatedly noted that the pipeline was 90% complete when President Biden took office, and one said that blocking it had "always been a long shot."

What they're saying: "There is no ambiguity in our position, and today's actions... show that we're determined to use the tools we have to support our trans-Atlantic energy security goals," a senior State Department official said in laying out a policy that, at least to some reporters on the call, seemed quite ambiguous.

What to watch: Germany's foreign minister welcomed the announcement and said Germany would work with the U.S. to attempt to ensure the sanctions waiver remains in place when the issue is revisited in 90 days.

  • The U.S. and Germany could potentially collaborate on ways to limit the vulnerability of Ukraine, which will be bypassed by Nord Stream 2 and views the pipeline as a critical threat to its energy security.

Axios first reported on Tuesday that Biden would be waiving sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG.

Reports: Trump DOJ subpoenaed Apple for records of WH counsel Don McGahn

Apple told former Trump administration White House counsel Don McGahn last month that the Department of Justice subpoenaed information about accounts of his in 2018, the New York Times first reported Sunday.

Why it matters: Although it's unclear why the DOJ took the action, such a move against a senior lawyer representing the presidency is highly unusual.

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Pelosi demands Barr and Sessions testify on data subpoenas she says go "beyond Richard Nixon"

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told CNN Sunday that former Attorneys General William Barr and Jeff Sessions should testify before Congress on reports that the Trump-era Department of Justice seized Democrats' and journalists' data records.

Driving the news: DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced Friday an internal investigation into the matter, and Pelosi expressed disbelief to CNN's Dana Brash at assertions that neither Barr nor Sessions knew of probes into lawmakers.

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Shipping giant CEO says business have to avoid global politics

The CEO of the world's largest container-shipping company cautions that international firms have to be careful of taking political stances.

  • What they're saying: "We cannot run a global business if we start to have views on politics in every single country that we are in," Maersk CEO Søren Skou tells "Axios on HBO."
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Chamber of Commerce CEO Suzanne Clark defends overture to Democrats

U.S. Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Suzanne Clark told me on "Axios on HBO" that the business group was right to endorse vulnerable House Democrats last year, despite the flak that resulted from Republicans.

  • Clark, who took over the top job in March, said those House Democrats "had really helped push business's number one priority, which was the free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, over the finish line."
  • "All of the Republicans that we work with on tax, on regulation — those people are really, really important to us," she added: "So we have to be willing to have a different coalition on every issue."
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Nuclear watchdog: “Essential” to have deal with Iran

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency tells "Axios on HBO" that it's "essential" to have a nuclear deal with Iran because otherwise "we are flying blind."

Driving the news: Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi sat down with "Axios on HBO" at IAEA headquarters in Vienna, ahead of Iran's June 18 presidential election and a June 24 extension on negotiations seeking to restore curtailed surveillance of Iranian nuclear sites and salvage the 2015 deal.

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U.N. ambassador Thomas-Greenfield sees tough Putin summit

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., told me on "Axios on HBO" that President Biden will be candid, frank — and tough — during this week's summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  • "The president will make clear to the Russians that they cannot harbor cyber terrorists and criminals in their country and not be held accountable for it," she added. "And they need to take the responsibility for dealing with this issue."
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Dems’ go-it-alone approach faces big hurdles as left’s frustrations spill over

If a bipartisan group of lawmakers fails to strike a deal on the infrastructure proposal it's negotiating with the White House, ramming through a package using the partisan reconciliation process isn't a guaranteed solution.

Why it matters: Getting 51 Democratic votes would be a long, uphill battle. And moderates within the party are balking at the cost of President Biden's spending — even as progressives openly lament that the "transformational" change they seek is slipping out of reach.

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America's U.N. ambassador: "I will always push for women to be part of negotiation teams"

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., has argued over her 39-year diplomatic career that educating and empowering women and girls is an investment in peace and security for their nations.

  • "I will always push for women to be part of negotiation teams," she told me in the State Department Treaty Room, during an interview for "Axios on HBO."
  • "I notice ... when they're not in the room. ... Sometimes I'm the only one," she added with a laugh. "And I will call it out."
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