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Former Trump staffers are ‘on the battlefield’ for a Canadian fossil fuel giant

Recordings reveal TC Energy’s alleged attempts to influence governments in North America through sophisticated intelligence gathering, fostering relationships with national security officials and countering opposition to fossil fuel developments

In 2017, Michael Evanoff was tapped by former U.S. president Donald Trump to serve as assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security. In his testimony to the Senate foreign state committee, he detailed his previous experience in the foreign service, noting he had completed eight overseas postings, four of which were designated high threat. 

“Among other things, I established the first [diplomatic security] liaison position with a U.S. military regional command, managed the largest Russian spy case and damage assessment in NATO history and designed a post-9/11 informant ‘walk-in’ program at our Islamabad embassy that contributed to the capture of Khalid Sheik Muhammad,” he said at the time.

Evanoff now works for TC Energy, a Calgary-based multinational fossil fuel company with offices in Houston and Mexico City. His official title is director of national security policy, geopolitical intelligence and research. From his home in Washington, D.C., the former Trump appointee uses his extensive geopolitical and military background to protect the company’s interests: crude oil and natural gas pipelines in Canada, the United States and Mexico, which earned TC Energy $11 billion in 2023.

A leaked recording of a February TC Energy “lunch and learn” session featuring Evanoff and his colleagues is now pulling back the curtain on internal company discussions, including its apparent strategies about how to influence governments, benefit from geopolitical crises and leverage existing relationships with a range of senior government officials — including the head of Canada’s spy agency.

TC Energy's Canadian headquarters in Calgary
While TC Energy’s Canadian headquarters are in Calgary, the multinational fossil fuel corporation employs a team of analysts in Washington, D.C., to advise company executives on geopolitical issues. Photo: Jeff McIntosh / The Canadian Press

The conversations, reviewed by The Narwhal, provide fresh insight into how some senior officials at the company believe they are locked in an existential battle as governments around the world move away from fossil fuels in an effort to address the climate crisis. They cover a wide range of discussions about international events that could seriously affect the business of TC Energy and other fossil fuel companies, such as President Joe Biden’s recent decision to pause new permits for liquefied natural gas exports.

“Our focus as a team is to look at what exposes us to hostile complex threats such as nation-states using asymmetric tactics, cyber-threats exploiting vulnerabilities, geopolitical uncertainties impacting global markets and supply chains and evolving regulatory challenges,” Evanoff said on the recording.  

While there is nothing unusual about a large multinational company recruiting top politically connected talent and prioritizing robust security measures to protect its assets, most details about their strategies are often tightly guarded secrets.

TC Energy did not directly respond to questions sent by The Narwhal about its team in Washington, D.C., and its influence in Canada. 

In an emailed statement, Patrick Muttart, TC Energy’s senior vice-president of external relations, said TC Energy was “disappointed” that recordings of its recent “lunch and learn” sessions “were released externally without authorization.” 

Muttart added TC Energy’s operations include providing energy to customers “in North America and around the globe” but did not elaborate on how the company gathers intelligence about geopolitical issues. 

‘On the battlefield trying to … protect the TC tower’

The recording appears to be from a presentation that took place on or around February 22, 2024. On the call, several TC Energy staffers based in Washington, D.C., spoke about how they support TC Energy’s external relations work across North America.

Julia Nesheiwat, a former U.S. military intelligence officer and homeland security advisor to Trump, said she and her colleagues are “on the battlefield trying to work every day to protect the TC tower.”

“Sometimes of course we’re on the defense and doing damage control and … making the best of those situations,” Nesheiwat, who is now TC Energy’s vice-president of policy and insights, said on the call. She added the company’s goal is to be proactive and stay “on the offense, when we’re taking it to our opponents.” 

Evanoff struck a similar tone. Opening with a military term, he described the team as a “force multiplier.” 

“We’re in challenging times here, we all know that,” he said. “The geopolitical intelligence and research team — the GIR team — is vital, and I would say paramount, in safeguarding … TC’s North American energy division.”

In response to The Narwhal’s questions, Muttart, the company’s senior vice-president,  explained the company’s mission was to deliver secure, affordable and sustainable energy that powers homes and businesses around the world.

Coastal GasLink pipeline and LNG Canada in Kitimat, B.C.
TC Energy builds and operates natural gas pipelines across North America. In Western Canada, the company recently completed construction of its Coastal GasLink pipeline, connecting underground shale gas reserves in B.C.’s northeast to LNG Canada’s liquefaction and export facility in Kitimat. Photo: Marty Clemens / The Narwhal

“To achieve our mission, we engage with all levels of government and across every community where we operate,” Muttart said. “With governments, opinion leaders and policy-makers across jurisdictions, our role is to advocate for the changes needed to ensure energy security, job creation, affordability and sustainability. We do so for our colleagues, for our customers and for the communities where we operate. We do so with solid, robust and compliant practices and policies for engagement, while always looking for ways to improve.”

TC Energy executive discusses conversations with spy agency

On the February call, Evanoff said the company is actively working to influence global intelligence sharing. 

On the recording, he gave details of a meeting he said happened between company CEO François Poirier and Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) director David Vigneault at an intelligence summit in Palo Alto, Calif., in October 2023. The summit, hosted by U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation director Christopher Wray, brought together leaders of the Five Eyes intelligence partnership, a bloc made up of senior officials from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

“The [detection of] political threats that come out of [Five Eyes intelligence] are shared and … four countries are actually sharing that with the business community,” Evanoff said. “The fifth one, Canada, is unfortunately hamstrung with the CSIS Act law that stops CSIS from sharing actual security intelligence to Canadian companies. This is a miss, a huge miss, that’s been going on since 1984 — way before the internet.”

David Vigneault, in a blue suit and tie, sits at a table in a darkened room
David Vigneault, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), met with TC Energy CEO François Poirier in October 2023. The fossil fuel executive would like to see classified security intelligence shared with industry. Photo: Justin Tang / The Canadian Press

He said Poirier witnessed discussions between Vigneault and Wray in California that revealed “the sharing of information, especially with [the People’s Republic of China] and Russian threats, [is] not getting to our companies in Canada.” 

Evanoff said Poirier was “pretty charged” about finding a way to change this. According to the leaked audio, a conversation between the TC Energy CEO and the CSIS director ensued.

“The director of CSIS, David Vigneault, basically said, ‘I have a plan, will you work with me?’ ” Evanoff recounted. “And so [Poirier] absolutely said, ‘Yes, what can we do?’ ”

Evanoff alleged TC Energy analysts then supplied the CSIS director with a document supporting amendments to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act that would pave the way for the federal government to share classified security intelligence with industry. He said the approach was consistent with methods used in the United States in the 1980s, with a government department called the Overseas Security Advisory Council.

“We wanted to convey that to the Canadians, to the director. So he’s taken that advice from us to start this,” Evanoff said.

Evanoff said after meetings with the CSIS director and other intelligence officials, Poirier joined a Business Council of Canada committee on national security, and is now in regular contact with Vigneault. 

“Our CEO … co-chairs that with Mastercard CEO Canada and it’s something that we’re very proud of and we’ll continue to feed the information to him twice a year,” Evanoff said. “We believe this is great for TC. It’s also great for us to … be top of mind with the Canadian intelligence service and even with the National Security Justice Department and also with RCMP.”

Evanoff did not respond to questions from The Narwhal about his recorded comments.

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Eric Balsam, a spokesperson with CSIS, declined an interview request, but confirmed in a statement that Vigneault and Poirier met in Palo Alto. Balsam said discussions between the two men occurred “in the context of strategic-level engagements with the Business Council of Canada” and its national security group co-chaired by TC Energy’s Poirier. Balsam said the security agency will continue to engage with the business community.

“CSIS works with its partners across the private sector to ensure they are aware of the threat environment and that they have the tools and information they need to protect their interests,” he noted.  

He also said the federal government launched public consultations on possible amendments to the legislation in November 2023 to ensure the spy agency has more tools to defend Canada against security threats including foreign interference.

Public consultations about updating the CSIS Act concluded in February, with a majority of participants agreeing the agency should have more tools to share information about threats with industry, universities, local governments and law enforcement as well as other potential targets. A report summarizing the consultations also said a minority of participants expressed concerns about whether any proposed changes would increase threats to privacy. Some also expressed “the need for strong oversight and accountability.”

President Biden and thethe battle to define natural gas’

On the February recording, former White House staffer Edward Burrier, now TC Energy’s director of public policy, told his colleagues Biden’s pause on liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports, announced Jan. 26, 2024, is making waves across the industry. (On July 1, a Trump-appointed federal judge blocked Biden’s pause.)

He suggested the Biden administration implemented the pause as a response to worries about the upcoming election and explained how innovative techniques in extracting gas from underground shale reserves pushed companies like TC Energy into the spotlight.

“Thanks to the shale revolution, in just a few short years the U.S. went from importer to exporter of natural gas, becoming the number one last year, surpassing Qatar and Australia,” he said. “The success of [the] industry has definitely put it in the crosshairs of activists.” 

“President Biden has really struggled with key demographics: war in the Middle East, student loans, environmental activism,” he continued. “In some ways we’re kind of laughing but it is an eye opener: the White House had top officials meeting with 25-year-old TikTok influencers that were producing LNG videos. It’s through this prism that it’s clear this was entirely a political decision by the White House.”

He added he believes the decision was “facilitated by a group of activists and academics” and said the impact isn’t limited to the United States. 

“This decision isn’t just important to us but it’s reverberating around the world. Our allies are worried about U.S. leadership and our adversaries are doing a victory lap.”

Burrier noted on the call that Biden’s fossil fuel policies had become an election issue, and predicted  Trump, if elected, would overturn the pause on liquefied natural gas exports on day one of a new mandate.

He said he’s paying close attention to messaging from opponents of fossil fuel development, noting “the battle to define natural gas is on.”

Natural gas is a fossil fuel mostly composed of methane. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, over a 20-year period, methane is 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in terms of heating the planet.

In B.C., TC Energy recently completed the Coastal GasLink pipeline project which will transport the fossil fuel to the Pacific coast, to be converted into liquefied natural gas and shipped overseas. The oil and gas industry has proposed a number of LNG facilities along the coast to support more production and exports.

Proponents say the gas can help countries like China, Japan and Korea reduce reliance on other fossil fuels, such as coal. That argument is contested by climate scientists who maintain emissions and leaks during extraction, processing and transport make liquefied natural gas worse for the climate than coal.

Burrier isn’t buying it.

“I often wake up and kind of wonder if I’m on a different planet — reading studies that LNG is dirtier than coal is one of those moments,” he said on the internal call, referring to a study by a Cornell University professor who he described as “a long time anti-natural gas advocate.” He noted the paper wasn’t peer-reviewed.

“I grew up as a young staffer on Capitol Hill and the debate was about drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge,” he continued. “It was a major kind of fight. [There’s] not one Democrat who says that they’re for that. Keystone XL — these guys don’t even have to think about it. They said they’re instinctively against it. We are at this spot where we cannot let that happen for natural gas exports.”

‘Success of environmental activism’ in U.S. could inspire action in B.C., TC Energy exec worries

Canada’s first major liquefied natural gas export project is nearing completion. LNG Canada, which will be supplied by TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink pipeline, will start shipping the fossil fuel to Asia next year. 

“In the short term, in Canada, I think we’ll see some renewed interest in LNG Canada as Asian partners look to diversify,” Burrier said of the impact of the U.S. pause. “But I think if we’re talking about a real opportunity, we’d really have to see the Canadians — the federal government [and] the province — really ready to push through the next set of projects. And I think, to be honest, the Canadian government really doesn’t do competitive policy like that all that well.”

LNG Canada at night
LNG Canada is poised to begin shipping natural gas overseas next year. Edward Burrier, a senior executive with TC Energy, said he doesn’t think President Joe Biden’s pause on U.S. LNG exports will affect Canadian exports much beyond “renewed interest“ in the B.C. export facility. Photo: Marty Clemens / The Narwhal

He cautioned the impacts of Biden’s pause could be more subtle.

“We do have to be worried that the success of environmental activism in the United States could be a jolt for their brethren in B.C.,” he said. “I know again that they’ve called for a pause of Canadian exports, which I always laugh to myself, since they’re still at zero right now.”

“I think we often have to remember that Canada’s aggressive climate policies can themselves present reliability of supply questions to our partners,” he added. 

Nesheiwat, the former Homeland Security advisor and now TC Energy vice president, said that’s one of the challenges her team helps to address.

In January, The Narwhal reported how TC Energy lobbied the federal government to exempt liquefied natural gas facilities from a proposed cap on heat-trapping pollution from oil and gas activities. At that time, a federal spokesperson said the government would not grant any exemptions, noting the LNG sector was expected to grow.

“In Canada, our team is dealing with stringent and evolving climate policies or regulatory inefficiencies,” Nesheiwat said on the leaked recording. “The fact is, as a company we’re often navigating these public perceptions and again across multiple countries and cultures.”

Burrier, Nesheiwat and other TC Energy executives spent much of their careers developing and influencing policy in the U.S. TC Energy did not respond to questions about why it hired a Washington D.C.-based team to influence Canadian policies.

‘We literally did the government’s homework for them’

Burrier said one example of “successful shots fired” in Canada was how the company lobbied the federal government around the Impact Assessment Act, legislation that gives decision-makers the means to consider environmental impacts when approving or rejecting major industrial development projects. The government is amending the act after the Supreme Court of Canada found it to be unconstitutional last fall, but Burrier suggested TC Energy was behind the government’s openness to changes that benefit industry. 

“As many on this call will remember, early last year the Canadian government had two sentences in their proposal saying that they wanted to make improvements on its permitting process,” he said in the recording. “We used that as our opening. We produced for government a deliberate, thoughtful, 20-plus-page paper with recommendations.” 

He explained TC Energy staffers based in the U.S. capital developed a case study for Canadian government officials that dissected how Germany “built three LNG import terminals in less than a year” by enacting special legislation.   

“We literally did the government’s homework for them,” he added.

Dixie Quintanilla, a spokesperson with the Impact Assessment Agency, said the federal government met with numerous stakeholders, including TC Energy, as part of the process to develop proposed amendments. 

She said the agency “did not receive any submissions from TC Energy on amendments to the Impact Assessment Act.”

When asked by The Narwhal about the claims, federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said Burrier’s statement is “an outrageous claim and it’s so preposterous.” At an interview during a conference organized by the Toronto Region Board of Trade on June 27, Guilbeault said TC Energy was one of 30 stakeholders and 60 Indigenous organizations consulted over the changes and that he didn’t believe the company had put its thoughts in writing. 

A spokesperson said the minister’s office “relied on the best available science and on the unbiased, high-quality advice of the Impact Assessment Agency” for amendments to the legislation. 

The Supreme Court ruling was “the only reason we made changes,” Guilbeault said. “To think that I would take my orders from a company on something like that? I think it’s someone who is grossly overestimating their importance and the role they played … It’s ridiculous.” 

Burrier also said he and his colleagues helped with efforts to weaken a “climate scheme that British Columbia was advancing.”

“I won’t bore you with the details here because it does get pretty technical but we helped … the team in B.C. with assessing the proposals and providing recommendations and, lo and behold, it worked,” he said. “The final recommendations came out and in the next few years we’ll see savings of hundreds of millions of dollars in compliance costs and it factors up to billions if you look out at 25 years from now.”

It appears he was referring to provincial regulations that restrict emissions from the oil and gas sector. On another leaked recording, a TC Energy executive who resigned after The Narwhal began its reporting said the company was successful in excluding “midstream” infrastructure — namely, pipelines — from the new rules. 

A spokesperson with the Office of the Premier in B.C. did not directly respond to the claim, saying only that the premier maintains a “clear and persistent commitment to B.C.’s climate plan,” which includes an emissions cap for the oil and gas industry.

— With files from Fatima Syed

Like a kid in a candy store
When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?
Like a kid in a candy store
When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?

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