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Rep. Michael McCaul

Photo by eschipul/ CC BY-SA 2.0

Some people who get elected to Congress grow in office; others just bloat. Rep. Michael McCaul is a bloater.

A self-absorbed, right-wing Trumpeteer, this Texas lawmaker is about the richest guy in the U.S. House, wallowing in some estimated $113 million in personal wealth. McCaul made his money the old-fashioned way: He married it. His wife inherited a fortune, so — with no need to work for a living — McCaul decided to become a congressman, winning a grotesquely gerrymandered GOP district in 2004.


Even by the embarrassingly low standards of Congress, McCaul has been unaccomplished, unless you count championing tax breaks, regulatory favors and corporate subsidies that have allegedly bloated his family's net worth by 940% since he's been in office.

Indeed, this man of privilege is mostly known in Congress for his love of jet setting, limousine service and posh dining. Despite his wealth, an unseemly number of these luxuries are not paid for by him but billed to us taxpayers or covered by the political donations he takes from giant corporations he serves.

But here's an even starker measure of his character: his water meter. The McCauls live in a sprawling $7 million mansion in the scenic hills of West Austin, a very arid environment. Water conservation is an essential community ethic here — unless you're an incurable narcissist. While the average Austin home uses 70,000 gallons of city water a year, the McCauls' home glugged down a million and a half gallons in 2018! He won Water Hog of the Year in 2017 and consistently ranks in the top 10 year after year. Rather than cutting back, the serial water waster has simply directed the city to stop revealing his actual usage.

If you're a rich, corporate-serving Trump Republican who's been in the U.S. House so long and done so little that you're essentially seen as a piece of congressional furniture, what do you do to save yourself when faced back home with a popular, well-organized, grassroots opponent who's about to overtake you?

Of course, do what President Trump does: Unleash your inner racist to assail your challenger as a demonic civil-liberties zealot who'll let hordes of Black, Latino and other "criminal elements" rampage through White neighborhoods. This is the old, shameful Jim Crow political tactic that endangered Republican incumbents across the country are now resorting to in a panicky effort to deflect attention from their own ugly records of Trumpian servility.

Long-term Texas congressman Michael McCaul has become a poster boy of this partisan sleaze. Poor Michael is used to strolling to victory, but — oops — in September, with only weeks to go in his reelection race, he suddenly found himself in a dead heat with Democrat Mike Siegel. This lawyer and former school teacher's progressive-populist program of "Medicare for All," worker and environmental protections, human rights over corporate greed, etcetera, has forged a growing and enthusiastic movement for change.

So, up pops McCaul with a last-minute, down-and-dirty million-dollar TV blitz howling that Siegel is a crazed criminal-justice radical who'll shut down the police and empty prisons. McCaul himself doesn't appear in this ludicrous dog-whistle piece of racist fabrication. Instead, he has put a White Republican constable (wearing his official uniform) on camera to do his dirty work. Calling Siegel dangerous, the partisan constable cartoonishly tries to gin up voter fear: "Take it from me," he dramatically intones, "Mike Siegel is a threat to your family."

Problem is, McCaul's gun-toting goofball of a front man is a notorious right-wing race baiter and hater who has called peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters "thugs." But he's just the dummy: Mike McCaul is the despicable ventriloquist mouthing fear and hate in a pathetic attempt to save his worthless political hide.

But the high-flying plutocrat could be coming down for a splash landing. The district's demographics are rapidly changing (60,000 more Latinx residents since 2012, for example), and Mike Siegel, a young civil rights champion, has rallied a popular grassroots uprising to pull into a tie with McCaul. For workaday folks long disdained by the aloof incumbent, the sweet scent of comeuppance is in the fall air.

Populist author, public speaker and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes "The Hightower Lowdown," a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America's ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.

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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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