The wettest summer on record – 10 years on from the 2007 floods – BBC News

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption This photograph of Tewkesbury Abbey became a defining image of the 2007 floods

The summer of 2007 was the wettest on record. There was 414mm of rainfall across England and Wales from May to July – more than in any period since records began in 1766. Across Yorkshire and the Midlands, thousands of people were rescued, whole towns cut off and families forced to flee their properties.

In late July, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire became the latest parts of England to be inundated. Flooding left 48,000 homes without power for two days, and 10,000 motorists were stranded on the M5 overnight.

In Tewkesbury, the whole town became cut off and the RAF and Army were drafted in to help with the relief effort. Three people died.

An aerial photograph of the town and its famous abbey, depicting an island surrounded by a sea of brown water, became one of the defining images of that most sodden of summers.

Ten years on, the BBC revisits some of those caught up in the flooding.

‘There was somebody coming up the road in a canoe’

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Sheila Heath ended up living in a caravan outside her flood-hit Tewkesbury home for seven months

The day – 20 July – had started off like any other.

But while at work, where she was a partner at a lettings firm in Cheltenham, Sheila Heath noticed the drains “bubbling” up with water from the torrential rainfall.

She knew immediately something was “seriously wrong”, so she sent her staff home and tried to make her way back to Tewkesbury but was forced to abandon her journey and stay with a friend.

When she made it home the following morning, Mrs Heath, now 63, arrived to find her house had been inundated. She had to wade through waist-deep water to get to her front door.

“The whole area was like a lake,” she recalls. “There was somebody coming up the road in a canoe; it was totally surreal.”

It was six days before the water subsided, during which time the family lived at a nearby bed and breakfast.

With their house uninhabitable, they bought a caravan and pitched it outside, remaining there for seven months.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Army transports emergency drinking water supplies in Tewkesbury on 24 July 2007

With many in the street doing the same, it became “like a caravan site”, she said.

The cost of the damage – which was covered by the insurers – was 98,000, but many treasured possessions were irreplaceable.

“It was what we had built up all our married life, it was our home, all of our personal possessions,” said Mrs Heath.

“It’s still upsetting to this day.

“Everything you’ve built up over your life is just gone. All the photographs have gone, all the memories, gifts from the children, all your personal things have gone.”

Image copyright Gavin Dickson
Image caption Sheila Heath says the flooding has had a lasting impact on her life

The summer 2007 floods – in numbers

  • Surface water and river flooding affected more than 55,000 homes and businesses across the country
  • 7,000 people were rescued
  • 17,000 families had to leave their homes
  • 13 people died
  • Estimates made shortly after the floods put the total losses at about 4bn, of which insurable losses were reported to be about 3bn

Source: Environment Agency

‘An icon of hope’

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Tewkesbury was cut off on 22 July 2007

It was after saying afternoon prayers on 20 July 2007, that the Reverend Canon Paul Williams, the vicar of Tewkesbury Abbey, first became aware something unusual was happening.

“I noticed that the rain hadn’t stopped all day,” he said.

“I felt an eerie feeling so I went out up to the borough council and the mayor was there. He said ‘we’ve been warned something serious is on the way and will we open the abbey to make sure it’s a place of refuge’.”

Drivers caught in the downpour slept in the abbey, with hundreds put up that Friday night.

Image copyright Gavin Dickson
Image caption Paul Williams says the community is moving forwards following the flooding

“People were sleeping on kneelers, one family was wrapped in an altar cloth,” he said.

“During that night lots of people were up and making sure that people using the abbey as refuge were looked after.”

The rain had cleared on Saturday and those stranded were able to leave the abbey, which was even able to host a wedding ceremony.

But on Sunday 22 July the rivers broke.

“The abbey changed from being an ark to being an icon of resilience,” said Canon Williams. “It was like a ship ploughing through the waters. It was an icon of hope.”

It was that Sunday the famous photographs of Tewkesbury Abbey, standing proudly above the floodwater, were taken. They went on to become some of the most enduring images of that summer’s floods.

“Someone once said it was one of the iconic images, like St Paul’s in the Blitz, it’s that type of image that will remain with people. You need icons to give you hope; the abbey gave us hope at that time,” said Canon Williams.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption It looks like a lake – but this is actually Tewkesbury’s flooded park

During the Gloucestershire town’s short spell as an “island”, the sense of community spirit shone through.

“There was an extraordinary feeling of camaraderie, particularly after the rivers broke – we were helping each other, making sure people were OK. There wasn’t fear, there was respect.

“You couldn’t get in or out. We were completely cut off. We got on with our business.”

Remarkably, the abbey came away relatively unscathed.

The same could not be said for the rest of Tewkesbury.

More than 800 properties were flooded that July – largely by surface water and some smaller tributaries, before the Rivers Avon and Severn rose to record levels.

During the same period, the Mythe Water Treatment Works also flooded, leaving half the homes in Gloucestershire without water for 17 days.

And while it took years for the town to fully recover, Canon Williams says the community is “moving forward together”.

“Of course that’s part of our history, but we are looking to the future.”

UK floods: Ten years on


Rainfall from May-July 2007


summer since records began in 1766

  • 4x average June rainfall in parts of North York moors and South Pennines

  • 30,000 people had to leave their homes in Hull

  • 40,000 lost power in Sheffield when a substation was inundated

  • 800 properties flooded in Tewkesbury


‘It devastated the whole town’

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Upton upon Severn, which is about seven miles north of Tewkesbury over the border in Worcestershire, was also badly hit by the floods

Grahame Bunn, landlord of the Kings Head pub in Upton upon Severn, was gearing up for the town’s blues festival when the rain started.

“The Environment Agency had said on the Wednesday that there was a possibility the river would flood, [but] this was the summer – we thought the Environment Agency was talking of their bottom,” he said.

The Worcestershire town was supposed to be protected by temporary flood barriers, he said, and thousands of pounds worth of stock was sitting in his cellar.

“They said the barriers would go up on Friday, [but the] rivers started rising late Thursday.”

It was too late to save his stock; the pub flooded waist-high with water.

His wife Claire, their son and three dogs were among those taken by boat through the floodwater.

Image copyright Grahame Bunn
Image caption Grahame Bunn’s wife Claire and their dogs were among those rescued by boat during the flooding in Upton upon Severn

The pub closed for four months and did not fully reopen until February 2008.

“It just devastated not only my business, but the whole of the town,” said Mr Bunn, 58. “I don’t think it has ever recovered.”

While the Bunn family, who lived above the pub, were able to remain there as repairs were carried out, hundreds of thousands of pounds of damage was caused. Mr Bunn got a job working on the gravel barges on the river as the family had no income while the Kings Head was closed.

“We bought the pub in 2000 and knew there was a possibility it was going to flood,” he said. “We had flooded many times before 2007, but this time it was different – we weren’t able to reopen.”

Mr Bunn, who now runs the nearby Ye Olde Anchor Inn, believes improved flood defences installed over the past decade mean the scenes of 2007 will not be witnessed again.

“Hopefully, the horrendous flooding of this town will be a thing of the past.”

Image copyright Grahame Bunn
Image caption Claire Bunn and her husband Grahame, pictured behind the pub, in July 2017

BBC reporter Catherine Mackie

Image caption Catherine Mackie reporting from the scene of flooding in Herefordshire in the summer of 2007

Anyone who experienced the great flood of July 2007 has a story to tell.

I was soaked to the skin, shivering with cold and stranded in a pub car park in Herefordshire.

Inside the pub there was a small crowd of people who’d abandoned their cars on the roads-turned-rivers, resigned to spending an uncomfortable night with strangers.

Our satellite truck had died after the last live broadcast so I bunked down with the crew Andy and Brian in a caravan kindly donated by the landlady.

The rain continued to hammer down on the roof with the noise occasionally drowned out by Brian’s snoring.

‘People were scared for their lives’

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Homes and businesses were badly damaged by the floods in Evesham

Floods had been a fairly frequent occurrence in the south-west Midlands, with fire stations in Evesham, Hereford and Worcester equipped with boats to cope with water rescues.

But nothing could prepare crews for the rain of July 2007.

Firefighter Dave Hunt was on duty when his team received the call that Sedgeberrow, near Evesham, was flooding.

“There was a lot of rain so we were having a number of calls and then the call came in to Sedgeberrow,” he said.

Two boats were sent to the village from Worcester fire station.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A water rescue is carried out in Evesham

Crews arrived to discover two men on the roof of a Ford Transit van.

“They were clinging on to the roof and the van was submerged,” recalls Mr Hunt. “We launched the boats and the priority was to save them and bring them back to land.”

Some rescues proved tricky, with crews unable to see house numbers or road names and, with lives on the line, decisions had to be made to prioritise those at greatest risk.

“We made several rescues of people and pets, there were about 90 flooded homes and we made rescues from 30 of the houses,” added Mr Hunt.

“The most memorable rescue which we carried out was in liaison with the RAF helicopter of a pregnant lady and her toddler. They were trapped in floodwater.

“The RAF Sea King lowered and winched down. The toddler was rescued on a board. The winchman entered the bedroom and harnessed the pregnant lady and they both got winched up into the helicopter.”

He described the floods as on a scale never seen before.

“People were scared for their lives [and] I would say a number of them were in danger of losing their lives,” said Mr Hunt.

“We had never dealt with anything like it. That’s the worst I’ve ever seen.”

Read more:

I read about Bannon and Clinton so you don’t have to

(CNN)“Devil’s Bargain” — Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Joshua Green’s in-depth exploration of the mind and machinations of former Breitbart News boss and Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon — and “Shattered” — a painstaking account of Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful campaign by Jonathan Allen, also of Bloomberg, and Amie Parnes of The Hill — have both climbed the bestseller lists and monopolized the attention of the chattering classes since their releases. (“Shattered” was published in April; “Devil’s Bargain” hit shelves this past week.)

They’re both absorbing reading for anyone interested in better understanding the unlikely and unprecedented set of circumstances that put reality show multimillionaire Donald Trump into the White House. Both offer fascinating (and juicy) revelations; neither should be read on its own, since their access journalism roots make each a half-book at best, covering just one of the two campaigns, and always from the perspective of sources whose personal agendas make them eager to talk.
Here’s my scorecard of how they stack up.

    “Devil’s Bargain:” Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency

    Most compelling character:
    Given that the book reads like an odd hagiography of Steve Bannon, it’s impossible for him not to be its most compelling character: Brilliant, slovenly, gleefully opportunistic and given to profane eruptions and weird turns of phrase, proudly referring to Trump supporters as fellow “hobbits” and “grundoons,” and dismissing dumb and useless people as “schmendricks” and “mooks” (ironic, since Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager was, of course, Robby Mook). A close second: Robert Mercer, the eccentric right-wing billionaire who backed the Trump insurgency. Prior to backing Donald Trump, Mercer’s primary electoral investment had been in the unsuccessful congressional campaign of a quack scientist with an obsessive fixation on human urine.

      What you need to know about Steve Bannon

    Biggest revelation:
    Bannon conceived of activating the internet’s legions of disaffected, meme-addicted young males after investing (and losing his shirt) in IGE, a Hong Kong-based business that “farmed” gold and virtual items for resale to online gamers. Bannon realized that these underemployed and overeducated denizens of message boards like 4chan and Reddit were susceptible to misogynist and racist symbolism (when disguised with snark) and highly adept in launching viral campaigns. They became the digital shock troops for the booming growth of Breitbart News and, later, the Trump campaign.
    Most memorable quote:
    From Steve Bannon: “(House Speaker Paul Ryan is) a limp-d*** m***rf***er who was born in a petri dish at the Heritage Foundation.”
    Best anecdote:
    All the anecdotes that paint Bannon as larger-than-life even in his own mind, like the one about an oil painting of Bannon reimagined as Napoleon Bonaparte that hangs in his personal office — a gift from British ultranationalist and Brexit proponent Nigel Farage. Or the one about how Bannon recruited a strikeforce of “beautiful young women” to Breitbart News, whom he proudly referred to as his “Valkyries.”
    Best anecdote about Chris Christie:
    According to Green’s sources (or conjecture), Chris Christie’s exile from the Trump inner circle began when he dared to tell The Donald that when Clinton was ready to concede, President Obama would call the governor and Christie would hand his phone to Trump. Trump, a fanatical germophobe, was reportedly repulsed at the thought of having Christie’s mobile against his face and barked back, “Hey, Chris, you know my f***ing number. Just give it to the President. I don’t want your f***ing phone.”
    Key takeaway:
    Steve Bannon is a fascinating and monstrous character, who undoubtedly bears great responsibility for Donald Trump’s shocking victory. But the interesting revelations about Bannon are primarily constrained to the first half of the book, and focused mostly on his rise to power; by the book’s midpoint — when it begins to cover the campaign in earnest — Bannon feels oddly sidelined, and the narrative becomes much more of a by-the-numbers diary of Donald Trump’s slouch toward the Oval Office.

    “shattered:” Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign

      Authors: Hillary Clinton didn’t grasp populism

    Most compelling character:
    Not Hillary Clinton — but that’s by design, as Allen and Parnes’ thesis about the campaign’s failure depends on Clinton’s being framed as simultaneously world-weary and naive, controlling and remote, distracted and obsessive, but most of all, incredibly boring. Bernie Sanders comes off as far more interesting, though he’s also firmly presented as unelectable. Though a minor character, the most memorably described figure in the book comes early: Clinton true-believer Adam Parkhomenko, whose desire to see her elected president was so passionate that it led him to found the scrappy grassroots movement Ready for Hillary and spend a full decade tirelessly fighting to make her POTUS.
    Biggest revelation:
    Hillary Clinton was far closer to picking Elizabeth Warren as her running mate than anyone suspected — in part because they connected so deeply on the girl-wonk level. Would making the surprise pick of the popular — and populist — Warren have turned things around for Clinton? Quite possibly. The roadblock to Warren’s selection? She’d run afoul of President Obama, calling him out for nominating a banker to a key Treasury Department role. “It’s safe to say she’s not a favorite person in this building,” one White House official observed.
    Most memorable quote:
    “When you’re done with a condom, you throw it out.” — unnamed Democratic insider, whom Green describes as “familiar with Mook’s thinking,” discussing Robby Mook’s attitude toward the grass-roots zealots of Ready for Hillary.
    Best anecdote:
    In May 2016, when Hillary Clinton was being pressured to give a high-profile public interview in the face of the rise of Bernie Sanders and the relentless drip-drip-drip story of her private email server, she was asked by her communications chief what journalist she’d most prefer for a one-on-one TV conversation. Her team thought she said “Brianna,” and reached out to CNN’s Brianna Keilar as a result; Clinton had actually said “Bianna,” referring to Bianna Golodryga of Yahoo! News, the wife of former Clinton administration economic aide Peter Orszag. The interview — brutally intense, rather than softball — turned out to be “a disaster” for Clinton.
    Best anecdote about Bernie Sanders:
    Sanders was asked to film a TV ad to seal the deal of his endorsement of Clinton. He was fine with everything that the Clinton campaign asked him to say — putting a stamp of approval on her positions regarding education, health care and the minimum wage — but refused to say the script’s final words, “I’m with her.” “It’s so phony!” he griped. “I don’t want to say that.” He didn’t. The ad ultimately never ran.

    Join us on Twitter and Facebook

    Key takeaway:
    “Shattered” appears to have been written with a key assumption in mind: that Hillary Clinton was almost entirely responsible for her own defeat, and that this defeat was predestined because of her personal history and prior political choices she’d made. That makes it a strangely off-key read in an era where new revelations about Russian interference in the campaign and potential collusion (perhaps the true “devil’s bargain”) are erupting on a daily basis. But it also seems to put a capstone on Clinton’s political career, having her declare to her “Hillaryland” team after her loss that 2016 is the “last campaign” of her life. Fact, or wishful thinking on the part of the authors? We’ll undoubtedly see as the gears of 2020’s campaign begin to grind.

    Read more:

    Spicer’s exit will not lift White House siege as walls close in

    Washington (CNN)In a White House under siege, something had to change.

    Press secretary Sean Spicer’s resignation Friday let off a pressure valve, allowing an administration that is being pummeled on multiple and multiplying fronts the chance, at least for once, to dictate its own story.
    But Spicer’s departure after the most fraught six months of antagonism between the press and a West Wing that anyone can remember, is just one move in a shuffle of personnel and tactics that augurs an aggressive White House fightback that is likely to intensify the current discord in Washington.
      Trump has beefed up his legal team and escalated his rhetoric in an apparent attempt to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller, and any results of his probe into alleged collusion between his campaign team and Russian officials.
      Trump appears to be trying to revive his organization in an attempt to break out of a prolonged funk that has to a great extent wasted the first six months of his term — a time when presidents are usually at the apex of their power.
      But the reshuffle will not address what many critics see as the root of the crises that are assailing the White House the behavior and political conduct of the President himself. Scaramucci made that much clear.
      “The President himself is always going to be the President. I was in the Oval Office with him earlier today, and we were talking about letting him be himself, letting him express his full identity,” he said.
      “I think he’s got some of the best political instincts in the world, and perhaps in history.”
      Trump’s own behavior in recent days, in which he has all but declared war on both Mueller and his own Attorney General Jeff Sessions as well as revived questions over the Russia investigation in an astonishing interview with the New York Times, appeared at the least to call Scaramucci’s assessment of his political sense into question.
      His heated interventions also appear to be betraying the rising pressure inside the White House at the expanding allegations and investigations marching inexorably closer to the administration and the Trump family.
      News broken by CNN Friday that Mueller’s investigators asked the West Wing staff to preserve documents relevant to a meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer last year confirmed that the White House itself is now in Mueller’s crosshairs.
      Mueller is also moving inexorably closer to the thing Trump cares about most — his family — with both his son-in-law Jared Kushner and Donald Jr. under scrutiny over their past history of meetings with Russian intermediaries.
      Trump’s warning in the Times interview that it would be a “violation” if Mueller probed his personal finances, could indicate that he believes the special counsel is targeting tax returns he has refused to release.
      Trump’s position is that his and his family’s financial dealings are off limits, even though Mueller might view them as a possible tool to see whether his business history poses any conflicts of interests to the President’s current role.
      “The President’s point is that he doesn’t want the special counsel to move beyond the scope and outside of its mission,” Sanders told reporters after Scaramucci had vacated the podium. “And the President’s been very clear, as have his accountants and team, that he has no financial dealings with Russia.”
      The Russia pressure is not going to relent next week either.
      Key members of the Trump campaign team, including Donald Jr., Kushner and former campaign chair Paul Manafort have been asked to give testimony on Capitol Hill that would send Russia fever into overdrive.
      Meanwhile, the White House is still struggling for the kind of “wins” that Trump promised. Despite introducing new measures to curtail illegal immigration, there are few other obvious successes for the new communications team to trumpet. While jobs creation has remained steady and strong, the economy has not yet exploded into growth. And though the stock market has been on a bull run, many presidents find that tying their performance to the markets is a perilous practice.
      Scaramucci’s first job, in his first appearance at the podium in the White House Briefing Room on Friday, was to insist that the walls are not closing in around Trump. And he appeared to be performing as much for the President as the journalists in front of him and the audience watching at home.
      “I’ve seen this guy throw a dead spiral through a tire, I’ve seen him at Madison Square Garden with a topcoat on, standing in the key and hitting foul shots and swishing them — he sinks three-foot putts,” Scaramucci said.
      “I don’t see this as a guy who’s ever under siege. This is a very, very competitive person. Obviously there’s a lot of incoming that comes into the White House. But the President’s a winner and what we’re going to do is we’re going to do a lot of winning.”
      Scaramucci’s attitude to his new job appears, for public consumption at least to be that Trump is actually doing a great job as president, but that his successes have simply not been properly communicated to the nation.
      “When you look at the individual state by state polls, you can see the guy’s doing phenomenally well,” Scaramucci said. “It’s indicating to me that the president is really well loved. There seems to be a disconnect in terms of some of the things that are going on and we want to connect that.”
      Scaramucci’s smooth, urbane performance was in contrast to the antagonistic and defensive performances from the podium that characterized much of Spicer’s tumultuous tenure as White House spokesman.
      But it was a contrast in style more than it was a contrast in substance.
      He punted on the question of Trump’s unproven assertion that millions of illegal votes cost him victory in the popular vote against Hillary Clinton in last year’s election. But he was careful not to contradict the President in one of his most infamous falsehoods, suggesting that questions of credibility and truthfulness will continue to be an issue once he is running the show.
      “If the president says it, … let me do more research on it, My guess is that there’s probably some level of truth to that,” Scaramucci said.

      Read more:

      Jeff Sessions discussed Trump campaign with Russian ambassador report

      US intelligence intercepts show Sergey Kislyak told supervisors he discussed Trump campaign and policy issues during meetings with attorney general

      Jeff Sessions discussed Donald Trumps White House bid with the Russian ambassador to Washington in 2016, according to reported US intelligence intercepts which contradict the US attorney generals assurances that the campaign was not discussed.

      Sergey Kislyak told his superiors in Moscow he talked about campaign-related matters and significant policy issues during two meetings with Sessions, according to current and former US intelligence officials, the Washington Post reported on Friday.

      The ambassadors accounts of the meetings which US spy agencies intercepted clash with those of Sessions and pile fresh pressure on the attorney general just days after the president publicly criticised him.

      Sessions was a senator and senior foreign policy adviser to Trump during the presidential race. After being tapped to run the justice department, he initially failed to disclose his encounters with Kislyak and then said the meetings were not about the Trump campaign.

      Read more:

      Trump ‘Loved’ His New Communications Director’s Feud With CNN

      Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director, recalled his own personal incident with CNN on Friday when the networks White House correspondent asked about the relationship he wants with the media.

      I thought I handled it well, he said of a now-retracted CNN story about him. You guys said something about me that was totally unfair and untrue. You retracted it and issued me an apology. And I accepted the apology immediately.

      Scaramucci, a financier and savvy pundit who has developed close relationships over the years with journalists, has lately become one of President Donald Trumps best advocates on television, repeatedly dismissing the Russia scandal dogging his presidency as nonsense.

      He also reportedly scored major points with Trump after pushing back successfully against CNNsflawed June articlelinking Scaramucci to a Russian investment fund an editorial debacle that led to the resignations of three prominent journalists.

      Trump advisers say that Scaramuccis stock climbed further after retracted CNN story, Politico reporter John Dawsey tweeted Friday. Trump just loved it and still talks about it.

      Trump hasrepeatedly attacked CNN as fake news in response to critical coverage of his administration, especially pertaining to links between his campaign and Russias interference in the 2016 election. He reportedly delighted in the networks black eye over the Scaramucci story.

      Trump talked a lot about the CNN story on Twitter, seizing the screwup to attack Russia-related coverage more broadly.

      Wow, CNN had to retract big story on Russia, with 3 employees forced to resign, Trump tweeted on June 27. What about all the other phony stories they do? FAKE NEWS!

      Days later, Trump tweeted that he was extremely pleased to see that @CNN has finally been exposed as #FakeNews and garbage journalism.

      Scaramucci, who the New York Post reported was considering a $100 million lawsuit against CNN for the story, quickly acceptedthe networks apology when the story was retracted on June 24 and said he was moving on.

      Anthony Scaramucci discussed CNN incident during several Fox News appearances in recent weeks. 

      But the CNN debacle unsurprisingly kept resurfacing during Scaramuccis subsequent appearances on rival Fox News and Fox Business.

      Scaramucci recalled during an appearance last month onTrump-favorite Fox & Friendsthat he made it very clear to [CNN] that the story was not accurate and that it was a defamatory story.He said reports of lawsuit threats were overblown, but acknowledged reminding CNN about my legal background.

      He wouldnt get into specifics about his conversations with Trump about the CNN story. But Scaramucci said on Fox & Friends that theres some level of vindication not just for the president, but for the entire team, that this is just a bunch of nonsense.

      Scaramucci discussed his dispute with CNNlater on Fox News Media Buzz, and described the media broadly as having an an existential crisis over Trumps victory.

      Last week on Fox Business, Scaramucci said the experience with CNN has been part of learning how to play the game here in Washington.

      And he suggested Trumps defenders could push back more aggressively against flawed coverage.

      I think Donald Trump Jr. will have to use the same tactics, the same skill set, Scaramucci said. This nonsense going on about Russia is, in my opinion, completely nonsense.

      Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
      Anthony Scaramucci took questions Friday from the press corps after being named White House Communications Director. 

      Scaramucci acknowledged on Friday that he has never been a journalist, but has played a journalist on television. He used the same line in recent Fox appearances discussing the CNN incident.

      Scaramucci is a former host of Fox Businesss Wall Street Week, a role he said gives him empathy for journalists in terms of sometimes theyre going to get stories wrong.

      But I sort of dont like the fake news, he said, adding that it feels liketheres a little bit of media bias in coverage of Trump.

      And so what we hope we can do is de-escalate that and turn that around and lets let the message from the president get out to the American people, he said.

      Read more:

      It’s flavourful as hell: welcome to Hawaiis annual Spam festival

      In Britain its a joke. In Hawaii its a delicacy. Why does the luncheon meat have such a cult following?

      Not even the drizzle can deter the crowds unspooling along Hawaiis Waikiki Beach. As late April showers fall upon Kalakaua Avenue, the roads are lined three-deep with sunburned tourists, surfer bros and silver-haired pensioners. Their colourful T-shirts, flower garlands and fancy dress costumes are soaked by rain, but eagerly they wait. Suddenly, a chorus of tiny ukuleles starts to play. The procession begins. Are they waiting to pay homage to a visiting dignitary or religious leader? No. Theyre here to celebrate Hawaiis favourite food: the immortal luncheon meat called Spam.

      I join snaking queues for seemingly endless food stalls, each dish more absurd than the last: Spam pizza, Spam fried rice, Spam crackers, Spam pho, deep-fried mac and cheese bites (with Spam) and, of course, Spam fritters. I spot some Spam-infused macadamia nuts, and a slab of grilled Spam atop sticky rice, doused in soy and bound with seaweed: Spam sushi. Theres even Spam dipped in chocolate.

      Serious Spam fans are focused on buying up rare flavours such as Spam Mezclita, Spam Tocino and Spam Portuguese Sausage. Others snap selfies beneath a giant arch of Spam cans, or gawp at a catamaran festooned with Spam tins. Kids try their luck at the Spam wheel of fortune, hoping to take home a branded T-shirt or headphones. I stumble into a king-sized Spam can made of foam, with human arms and legs sticking out. Inside is Honolulu Foodbank employee John Valdez. What would Hawaii be without Spam? he shouts through the costume. It would be boring!

      Welcome to Spam Jam, the largest gathering of tinned pork enthusiasts on Earth. Today, I am one of 20,000 fans at the 15th annual event. The residents of Americas 50th state eat more Spam per capita than anywhere on earth, with Hawaiian steak found on five-star restaurant menus and at McDonalds. Last year, 8m cans were sold here and thats just the regular-sized ones, not counting Spam Singles, Spam Spread or smaller tins. But its not just Hawaii that adores Spam: in time for Spams 80th birthday on 5 July, global can sales topped 8bn.

      Cans of Spam on display at the Spam Jam.
      Photograph: Marco Garcia for the Guardian

      In Britain, Spam is derided as fish bait, furniture varnish or gun grease; there have long been rumours that it contains pigs lips, snouts, trotters and tail. In fact, it lists just a half-dozen ingredients: pork with ham (Two cuts of the pig. One perfectly tender and juicy flavour), water, salt, sugar, potato starch and sodium nitrite. Spams makers are keen to point out that theres no hidden scrapings or useless bits of pork, and that its all from the shoulder or rear. In fact, at 90% pork, Spam rivals some luxury sausages. Yet in the UK its reputation is up there with Turkey Twizzlers, while its high salt and fat content make it the kind of processed food we now avoid for our health. If Spam is known in Britain as a culinary punchline, why is it so popular across the Atlantic?

      In Austin, Minnesota, population 24,716, all roads lead to Spam. Spamtown USA, as it is sometimes known, is a cutesy, model version of a city, all straight lines and artificial lakes. It was here in 1891 that George A Hormel founded a family meatpacking firm that would one day become a Fortune 500 mainstay, employing one in six of Austins inhabitants. Hormels got his feet sticking out the window again, schoolchildren used to say, when the porky odour floated out factory doors.

      Georges son, Jay Hormel, was a born opportunist: as a child, hed pay two cents for housewives unwanted sink grease, then hawk it to his fathers soap-making divisionfor twice the price. In 1929, he succeeded George as president and soon came up with a way to make use of rarely butchered pork shoulder meat. He adapted a Napoleonic food preservation technique, adding salt and sodium nitrite to keep it pink and ward off botulism, and at the same time making it indefinitely edible. By 1942, Hormel Foods was selling $120m- worth of Spam a year.

      Anne and Mark I Love Spam Benson are in town to marry at the local Spam museum. Photograph: Marco Garcia for the Guardian

      Hormel-owned structures still dominate Austins skyline. Theres the stinky plant, rolling office blocks and the Hormel Institute, a biomedical research centre. The apex of the citys microscopic tourist industry is a newly revamped Spam museum, an Ikea-coloured time capsule of social, military and pop culture history. With Spam print beanbags, touch-sensitive screens and a jungle gym, the museum is aimed at the meat lovers of tomorrow, but when I visit it is also packed with elderly locals and Mormon missionaries. Inside, a bespectacled tour guide finds everything Spamazing, including a production line of cans that whizz overhead like Scalextric.

      It is the meat that won the war, my guide cheerily informs me. During the second world war, allied soldiers consumed 68,000 tonnes of Spam, but Jay Hormel was devastated by the hate mail he received. The language people use! he told the New Yorker in 1945. If they think Spam is terrible, they ought to have eaten the bully beef we had in the last war. Hormel died in 1954, before President Eisenhower sent a letter with a personal pardon. I ate my share of Spam Ill even confess to a few unkind remarks about it, he wrote, on the firms 75th anniversary in business. But as former commander-in-chief, I believe I can still officially forgive you your only sin: sending us so much of it.

      Spam couture.
      Photograph: Marco Garcia for the Guardian

      Today, the Spam museum is hosting its first wedding. Tying the knot are an eccentric British couple, Anne Mousley, 33, and Mark Benson, 42. A smiley care worker from Liverpool, Benson recently changed his middle name by deed poll to I Love Spam.His grandfather worked in Liverpools Spam factory after the war. No prizes for guessing the wedding buffet. Its like nothing else, says Benson of his favourite food, which he eats at least twice a week. Bit of a bacon flavour, bit of a porky flavour. Its totally unique. Spam aficionados of such calibre are rare, although I do learn of one Nebraskan man who in 2007 survived a 30-day Spam-only eating challenge.

      Meanwhile, in South Korea, second only to America for Spam consumption, profits are booming. During the lunar new year, Spam is given as a gift, and budae jjigae, a Spam-infused army stew from the second world war, remains popular.

      I learn that island territories such as Guam and Micronesia see Spam as a life-saver. During extreme weather, Spams limitless shelf life makes it a Pacific Islanders best friend. Later, I speak to a wild-haired Spam celebrity in rural Alaska, known as Mr Whitekeys. For 26 years, he ran a Spam-themed bar, complete with frequent Spammer cards buy 10 meals, get one free. If you want meat, you gotta have Spam, he says via Skype. Why? You cant get fresh supplies in large amounts, and half the time you dont have refrigeration.

      Back in sunny Hawaii, breakfast beers are noisily slammed on a plastic folding table. Three miles from Waikiki Beach, I am mingling with professional chefs at the esteemed Kakaako farmers market, surrounded by organic produce and artisanal pasta. Keen to know what islanders really think of Spam, I talk to chef Mark Gooch Noguchi, 43, who runs the Pili Group, a culinary movement based around healthy, sustainable food. The opposite, one would assume, of Spam.

      Spam-based dishes on display at Spam Jam 2017. Photograph: Marco Garcia for the Guardian

      But I love, love, love Spam, Noguchi tells me, unprompted, between swigs of beer, dressed in shorts, flip-flops and a loud flowery shirt. We grew up on it, he explains, passing me a pan-fresh beef taco. I remember when I was cooking in New York, other chefs would joke with me, like, Ha, you guys eat Spam, he says. But our parents had gone through the second world war. The big joke among local people is that if you visit your grandparents and look downstairs, theres six cases of toilet paper, four cases of paper towels and three cases of Spam. In Hawaii, Spam is the cement that bonds its many cultures from Japanese, Filipino and Hawaiian native, through to mainland United States. Noguchi proudly boasts that locals can tell Spam from its canned-pork competitors Tulip and Treet. Elsewhere, Spam is slowly being appropriated by hipster culture, just like scotch eggs and avocado before it. Its both an indulgence of nostalgia and two fingers up to eating clean. In Londons Soho, Jinjuu restaurant makes a Spamarita cocktail, mixing Spam-infused Ocho tequila with mezcal, pineapple, citrus, mandarin orange and agave nectar. And Saint Marc, an upscale restaurant in Huntington Beach, California, has a hidden Spam speakeasy known as the Blind Pig.

      Flipping Spam burgers. Photograph: Marco Garcia for the Guardian

      Its revered, man, says Nina Pullella, 36, a chef I meet at Kakaako market. I think its the challenge of taking a can off the shelf this strange food from the second world war and doing something spectacular. Pullella is a vegan, from New Jersey via Italy, yet she still oozes praise for Spam as an ingredient (Its flavourful as hell, right?). After three hours at the market, I find just one person down on Spam. And she wont talk on record. Are you kidding? Ill have the whole island on my back, she whispers.

      Night falls on Waikiki Beach. As the raindrops evaporate, a female rock band loudly tests the suspension of a flatbed stage. There is a snaking queue for OnoPops, an ice-cream company that flogs a Spam-based popsicle. Its a heartstrings thing, explains owner Josh Lanthier-Welch, 46, a stout man with a goatee. Though a Spam devotee, he warns of the dangers of excess: The Spam musubi [sushi] is a symbol of whats wrong with the local diet. It is so beloved, but living on Spam, white rice and nori will kill you.

      As the festival comes to a close, I decide to break my 20-plus years of Spam abstinence (I havent touched the stuff since childhood). Im handed a skewer of cold cubed Spam and crunchy vegetables. I sink my teeth into the soft meat, and am transported back to my youth. The salty, pork-ish flavour wafts up my nostrils. I feel dirty and a little bit sick. Next I try a hot Spam katsu sandwich, from Hula Grill. I take a small bite. Then a larger one. It has a deep, smoky bacon flavour, offset by rich katsu sauce. It is, Im almost embarrassed to say, tremendous. Spam tempura fries, Spam corn dogs and Spam dim sum soon follow.

      As I chew, I wonder if Spam deserves its reputation. Perhaps Brits just lack the imagination to cook Spam right. Or maybe, like KitKats in Japan or David Hasselhoffs mega-stardom in Germany, Spam should simply remain a pop culture anomaly the American Marmite that one either loves or hates.

      Spam-flavoured macadamia nuts. Photograph: Marco Garcia for the Guardian

      Spam fritters

      Serves three.

      340g Spam (ie, 1 can)
      150g plain flour
      225ml cold water
      3 tbsp olive oil
      Buttered roll (optional)
      Cut the Spam lengthways into six thick slices. Put the flour in a mixing bowl and slowly introduce the water, whisking, until you have a smooth batter.

      Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Dip each slice of Spam in the batter mix, shake to drain off any excess and lay in the hot pan. When its golden and crisp on one side, flip and repeat until its brown and crisp on both sides.

      Serve in a buttered roll, if desired, with chips and peas on the side.

      Read more:

      How the Trans-Siberian railway became the love train

      Ann OLoughlin set off across the Soviet Union nearly 30 years ago, looking for adventure and a chance to practise her Russian. Instead, she met a fascinating stranger in a leather jacket in the next carriage

      The Trans-Siberian railway,the greatest train journey in the world, is where our lovestory began.

      When I booked a ticket on the Rossiya train to travel from westto east through different time zones, I expected a great adventure, torub shoulders with people from a very different culture and to try outthesmall bit of Russian I had diligently studied.

      Never did I expect to meet the love of my life and say I do by the time the train skirted around the far edges of Lake Baikal and out of the city of Irkutsk in Siberia.

      Ours was a holiday romance like no other; love kindled on that great iron road put in place at the time of the tsar and which tracks across the former Soviet Union week in, week out. Over four days as the train trundled its way through the heart of Russia and in to Mongolia, two people who were adamant they were not looking for love, opened their hearts, fell madly in love, began planning a future, pledging to spend the rest of their livestogether.

      It was the late 1980s, the era of glasnost and Gorbachev. I had stocked up on notebooks and pens to write a journal of my travels, and Tolstoy was stuffed in my rucksack for some light reading. John had packed notebooks and pens to sketch moments of his journey. But all these lofty notions were forgotten as we got to know each other and love blossomed.

      Ann OLoughlin. Photograph: Ann O’Loughlin

      The two of us, an Irishwoman and an Englishman, were travelling to China out of Moscow, a journey of 7,854km. John had caught my eye early on, tall with round John Lennon glasses and a leather jacket hanging over one shoulder. He was in the compartment beside mine; we first chatted as we stood in the corridor on a sweltering July day, the window down, the warm air rushing past us as the train made its way out of the gloomy industrial suburbs of Moscow; the grey city receding, the land folding away farther than the eye could see. Outside Moscow, picket-fenced dachas, the summer houses of the rich Muscovites, dotted the landscape before giving way to countryside and forest, thousands of miles before we reached Irkutsk in a journey that would take in big and small stations, all busy no matter the time of day or night.

      Ann OLoughlins husband, John.

      To understand this great railway journey and enjoy it at its best, it is necessary to drop down a few gears and watch the world go by. The world on the train goes on at its own pace as it devours the railway miles, silver birch trees standing sentry along the line. The compartments in the carriage are small, so during the day as all the other passengers sit comfortably, it is easier to take up residence on the corridor pull-down seats by the windows. People stop and chat passing back and forth to the toilet or the samovar, where hot water is dispensed night andday.

      Time is irrelevant. The train does its business on Moscow time, the local stations on local time in different time zones. For the traveller, the only constant is the gentle roll of the train, the background piped rock music; the car attendants, or provodnitsa, patrolling the carriage sweeping and tidying.

      Sitting side by side, there was plenty of time to talk, and that was exactly what John and I did, getting to know each other, finding out how much we had in common. The fact that John was 18 years older than me was irrelevant when we were together it was as if we were on a specially chartered private train, we noticed nobody else.

      We soon became the talk of the train, the carriage attendants sending updates to colleagues, and gleefully telling our story to the babushkas selling wares when we stopped at stations. The Trans-Siberian had become the love train. Some of the oldwomen in their flowery housecoats, scarves knotted tightly under their chins, pushed free sweets on us, giggling and laughing, throwing their eyes to heaven. Others shook their heads, wagged their fingers and predicted it would not last beyond thenext long stop.

      At Novosibirsk, as thetrain pulled in tothe platform late atnight, we first talked of the future. Of moving countries to be together. Iwanted to send amessage back along the line to the doubting babushkas. Formany it must have looked like a holiday fling, but weknew this was only the beginning.

      Thousands of miles down the line, we both knew we werent just on a tripof a lifetime, but a life-changing journey. We realised when the train finally reached its destination that wewanted to continue on new adventures together.

      For me, the realisation we were meant to be together came soon after the train stopped at Sverdlovsk (now Ekaterinburg station) and John, a huge train buff, noticed that a railway sign saying post or mail in Cyrillic had fallen under our train and on to the tracks. He was tempted to reach down and grab it, but decided to leave it. So Ihunkered down and pushed my hand under the train, just as we were called back on board. I hid the sign under my jacket, and John did not even know Ihad it until we got back in to the carriage. He knew he was certain when he saw me hanging out of the window to get a photograph of the train coming down the opposite line. He pulled me in just in time as the train rushed past, his face white, mine triumphant saying I had got the shot. He says he knew then it was never going to be boring with me and I knew I could always trust him to have my back.

      Read more:

      Hear, boy? Pet translators will be on sale soon, Amazon says

      Retailer backs futurologists claim that devices conversing in canine will be available in, ruffly speaking, a decade

      Imagine talking to a tiger, chatting to a cheetah, as Dr Doolittle once sang what a neat achievement that would be. Well, Amazon has revealed that the animal-loving doctors ambition might not be entirely fantasy.

      Pet translators that can turn woofs into words and make sense of miaows, might really be on the horizon, according to a report backed by the internet retailer.

      Futurologist William Higham of Next Big Thing, who co-authored the report for Amazon, says he believes devices that can talk dog could be less than 10 years away.

      Innovative products that succeed are based around a genuine and major consumer needs. The amount of money now spent on pets they are becoming fur babies to so many people means there is huge consumer demand for this. Somebody is going to put this together, he says.

      Higham pointed to the work being done by Con Slobodchikoff, professor emeritus at the department of biological sciences at Northern Arizona University, who has spent 30 years studying the behaviour of prairie dogs, which are actually not dogs at all but north American rodents.

      The author of Chasing Doctor Dolittle: Learning the Language of Animalsused AI software to help analyse prairie dog calls, finding they had a sophisticated communication system that has all the aspects of language.

      They have words for different species of predator and can describe the colour of clothes of a human, or the coat of coyotes or dogs., Slobodchikoff says.

      He is now so convinced that other animals use similarly decipherable language that he is attempting to raise money to develop a cat and dog translation device.

      Slobodchikoff says: So many people would dearly love to talk to their dog or cat or at least find out what they are trying to communicate. A lot of people talk to their dogs and share their innermost secrets. With cats Im not sure what theyd have to say. A lot of times it might just be you idiot, just feed me and leave me alone.

      During the past few years, advances in the field of machine learning have led to dramatic improvements in automatic speech recognition and translation. Algorithms learn to interpret language by training on huge datasets rather than being pre-programmed with a set of inflexible rules.

      But Juliane Kaminski, a psychologist at Portsmouth University who works on interactions between humans and dogs, is less optimistic that we will soon be able to decipher barks and bow-wows mainly because she does not think that the way a dog woofs can be viewed as a language. We would not describe dogs forms of communication as language in the scientific sense, she says. But: They do give out rudimentary signals of what they want and how theyre feeling.

      For instance, she says, a right-sided tail wag is positive while a wag to the left not so positive. Thats something humans might not so easily pick up on, said Kaminski although a translation device might have difficulty spotting that, too.

      Dogs barks, she says, are also context specific. They give out different yaps and yowls during play, aggression, when they are missing their owner and so on, but even people who have never owned a dog are fairly good at decoding these utterances.

      Kaminski says a translation device might make things easier for people who lack intuition or young children who misinterpret signals sometimes quite significantly..

      One study, for instance, found that when young children were shown a picture of a dog with menacingly bared teeth, they concluded that the dog was happy and smiling and that they would like to hug it. An interpretation device might be able to warn of danger.

      Amazon already sells one device that transfers a human voice into miaows using samples from 25 cats (One review says the cat seems puzzled). And the Nordic Society for Invention and Discovery, a small Scandinavian research lab led by artists and marketeers, attempted to develop a dog translation device called No More Woof a few years ago. The project was put on pause according to co-founder Per Cromwell when they realised the scale of the challenge.

      The gadget, which looked like a Madonna-style headset, supposedly measured brain activity to help communicate what the dog was thinking via a speaker on their collar. It needed more research, admits Cromwell who has gone on to instead develop bicycle-powered mobile coffee stalls.

      Tomas Mazetti, who was also involved in the project, said: It was extremely limited. It could tell you the dog was tired or angry. But you can kind of see that anyway.

      Read more:

      A letter to London, where my girlfriend and I could be out and proud

      The letter you always wanted to write

      Youre the first place I visited, the first time I travelled out of my home country. When I applied for my visa, I saw your grandeur, I saw your authenticity and I longed to visit you. When I boarded my flight, I knew I was in for the trip of a lifetime. But do you know the most special thing about you? You let me be me, you let me live as me. It was just for a short while but nonetheless, you gave me the life I always wanted, for eight incredibly spectacular days.

      I am a girl who hails from a country where loving another girl is an offence. For years I have hidden this side of me from the world and I will continue to for the rest of my life. I had no plans to be any different when I visited you.

      But you accepted me the way I was, completely and wholeheartedly.

      I kissed my girl at Heathrow airport and no one stared at us in shock. I hugged her in Oxford Street and no one looked at us as though we were being inappropriate. My girl gently pushed me against the coarse stone pillar on Tower Bridge and kissed me passionately as the soft lights from tall buildings on the shoreline shone on, and no one blinked an eye. I stared at my girl lovingly while taking the tube. No one whispered behind our backs. I walked hand in hand with my love on Westminster Bridge. A couple smiled at us.

      We visited Stonehenge and I sat with my girl on the grass amid the cold breeze and savoured the beautiful moment with her. No one threw condescending looks in our direction. My girl held me close to protect me from the cold rain. I let the warmth of the moment sink deep into my heart without any fear. I kissed my girl in public under the stars for the first time. I could hear my own heart beating out of love, not panic.

      My girl asked a bystander to take a photo of us near Tower Hill. She didnt look at us thinking why two girls wanted a cozy picture together. I turned back, my eyes filled with love and smiled at my girl while travelling on a London bus. Everyone around us minded their own business.

      A guy subtly tried to hit on me near the London Eye. My girl pulled me close, looked him in the eye and said, Shes my girlfriend. I looked down blushing and smiled.

      We went on a night cruise on the Thames. The entertainer asked me if we were celebrating any special occasion. I smiled and said that it was my first dinner date with my girlfriend. She announced it to the entire room and everyone clapped.

      I had a quiet lunch with my girl the day before I was to start back home. She held my hand across the table. The waitress smiled at us and took our picture.

      I kissed my girl goodbye at Heathrow. We smiled at each other through tears knowing the inevitable.

      You allowed me to feel a part of my soul in a way I had never done before. You allowed me to savour those little special moments and showed me how incredibly beautiful life can be. You allowed me to breathe to the fullest.

      I am home now. I love my world. I love my family and I will do anything to keep them happy. I will hide a part of me for the rest of my life just so that the people around me will smile and not see me differently. My girl will do the same. And we wont mind doing it for the rest of our lives. Because, we have already lived our lives.

      We lived just for ourselves. We lived the life we always wanted. We lived ourbeautiful life together, when we came to you. Thank you, dear London. You are more special to us than you will ever realise.


      Read more:

      Exxon Fires Back Over Fine For Violating Russia Sanctions While Tillerson At Helm

      WASHINGTON/HOUSTON (Reuters) – Exxon Mobil Corp sued the U.S. government on Thursday, blasting as unlawful and capricious a $2 million fine levied against it for a three-year-old oil joint venture with Russias Rosneft.

      The U.S. Treasury Department on Thursday morning slapped the worlds largest publicly traded oil producer with the fine for reckless disregard of U.S. sanctions in dealings with Russia in 2014 when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was Exxons chief executive.

      The lawsuit and the Treasurys unusually detailed statement on Exxons conduct represented an extraordinary confrontation between a major American company and the U.S. government, made all the more striking because Exxons former CEO is now in President Donald Trumps Cabinet.

      Exxon took the government to court despite the fact that the fine, the maximum allowed, would have a minor impact on the company, which made $7.84 billion in profit last year.

      The fine came after a U.S. review of deals Exxon signed with Rosneft, Russias largest oil producer, weeks after Washington imposed sanctions on Moscow for annexing Ukraines Crimea region.

      Between May 14 and May 23, 2014, top U.S.-based Exxon executives signed eight documents with Igor Sechin, the head of state-run Rosneft, the Treasurys Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said in the statement on its website.

      OFAC said Exxon had demonstrated reckless disregard for U.S. sanctions requirements by signing the deals with Sechin just weeks after the United States blacklisted him, OFAC said in the three-page statement. (For the statement,

      The Treasury imposed sanctions on Sechin in April 2014 as part of measures to pressure Russia over its intervention in Ukraine, saying Sechin had shown utter loyalty to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

      The sanctions prohibit U.S. citizens or people in the United States from dealing with those on the blacklist, such as Sechin. Rosneft itself is subject to narrower U.S. sanctions that still allow Americans to deal with the company on some transactions.

      Exxon said in a statement that OFACs action was fundamentally unfair, and sued the U.S. government in Texas in an effort to overturn the decision. The company is based in Irving, Texas.

      In its 21-page complaint, Exxon argued that Sechin was subject to sanctions only in his individual capacity and that guidance from the Obama administration at the time made clear that the sanctions applied only to the personal assets of the sanctioned individuals and emphasized that the sanctions did not restrict business with the companies those individuals managed.

      (For Exxons complaint,

      Tillerson Not Consulted

      Tillerson left Exxon late last year to become secretary of state after 10 years running the company. He is now responsible for U.S. foreign policy, which includes helping make sanctions decisions.

      The State Department referred questions about the fine to Exxon and the Treasury. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters on Thursday that the agency was alerted to the fine on Wednesday.

      A Treasury spokesman said OFAC engaged with Exxons lawyers only, and did not discuss this case with Secretary Tillerson.

      Tillerson said in January that he would recuse himself from matters involving Exxon for one year after his December 2016 resignation, unless he is authorized to participate.

      RIA Novosti / Reuters
      Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, Rosneft Chief Executive Igor Sechin and Exxon Mobil Chief Executive Rex Tillerson take part in a signing ceremony at a Rosneft refinery in the Black Sea town of Tuapse, Russia on June 15, 2012. 

      Though the State Department plays a major part in formulating sanctions policy, former U.S. officials and sanctions experts said it was unlikely the agency had a role in deciding the fine announced on Thursday, because it falls under OFACs regulatory role.

      The back-and-forth between the Treasury and Exxon over the 2014 dealings spanned both the Obama and Trump administrations, and started with a subpoena from OFAC to Exxon in July 2014, Exxon said in its complaint.

      Exxon fully complied with guidance from Democratic former President Barack Obamas administration that ongoing oil and gas business activities with Rosneft were permitted, Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers said in a statement.

      The Treasury is trying to retroactively enforce a new interpretation of an executive order inconsistent with its prior guidance, Jeffers said. OFACs action is fundamentally unfair.

      Exxon also cited a Treasury Department representatives comments in May 2014 that BP Plc Chief Executive Bob Dudley – an American citizen – could continue to participate in Rosneft board meetings so long as they related only to Rosnefts business.

      In its statement explaining the fine, OFAC said that the Treasury Department representatives comments did not address Exxons conduct. BP did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

      Publicly available guidance on the Treasurys website at the time of Exxons dealings with Sechin said Americans should ensure they do not enter into contracts signed by sanctioned individuals, OFAC said.

      And by dealing with Sechin, the company caused significant harm to U.S. sanctions on Russia, the agency said.

      Because Rosneft itself is not off-limits to Americans, another company executive could have signed the contract with no sanctions risk to Exxon, said David Mortlock, who was a State Department and White House sanctions official under Obama.

      You could have Sechin standing over the guys shoulder, said Mortlock, now an attorney at Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP in Washington. But the problem here is that it was signed by Sechin himself.

      Exxon said that approach would have flown in the face of standard business practice.

      You dont ask your business partner to have someone else sign instead of the CEO, said Exxon spokesman Jeffers.

      Opposition to Sanctions

      Exxon has long opposed U.S. sanctions on Russia, saying they harm American business interests and actually help European rivals.

      Tillerson said in 2014 that the company did not support sanctions because they are not effective unless they are very well implemented.

      Sanctions were a contentious topic at Tillersons confirmation hearing last January. At the time, Republican and Democratic lawmakers were concerned that Trump, whose associates are now under investigation for their ties to Russia, would try to quickly lift U.S. sanctions on the country.

      When sanctions are imposed, they by their design are going to harm American business, Tillerson said during the hearing, in response to a question about his views on them.

      He also said that Exxon never directly lobbied against sanctions, a claim that was immediately challenged by senators who cited Exxons own lobbying disclosure forms.

      The case is Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Steve Munchin, et al, U.S. District Court, North District of Texas, No. 3:17-cv-1930.

      Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati and Ernest Scheyder; editing by Simon Webb and Jonathan Oatis

      Read more: