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By Bridget Bowman, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — One day before the District of Columbia is set to legalize marijuana, members of Congress are launching an investigation into D.C.’s decision to do so, and warning that implementing legalization would break the law.

“If you decide to move forward tomorrow with the legalization of marijuana in the District, you will be doing so in knowing and willful violation of the law,” House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), and Subcommittee on Government Operations Chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC) wrote in a letter sent to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser early Wednesday morning.

The lawmakers’ committees have jurisdiction over D.C. and the assertion is not a surprise. Chaffetz and others have been saying for weeks that the District cannot move forward with legalization. But in a departure from previous statements where they said Congress did not need to take further action, they have opened a probe and are calling on D.C. to turn over employee information, spending figures, and communications regarding legalization by March 10.

The District is poised to implement Initiative 71, approved by 70 percent of D.C. voters last fall, at 12:01 a.m. on Feb. 26. The initiative legalizes possession of two ounces of marijuana and cultivation of six plants, three of which can be mature, for adults over the age of 21.

Congress moved to block the initiative in December by attaching a rider to the year-end spending package barring federal and local funds from being used “to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or reduce penalties associated with the possession, use or distribution” of marijuana. D.C. officials argue the rider blocks enacting any further changes to marijuana policy, but say the city can carry out the initiative because it was enacted before the spending package was signed into law.

Despite the rider, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson transmitted the initiative to Congress in January for a 30-day review process, which ends this week. During those 30 legislative days, a member of Congress could attempt to strike down the initiative by introducing a joint resolution of disapproval, which would need to pass both houses and be signed by President Barack Obama. But Chaffetz, who has experience with disapproval resolutions (he introduced one in 2010 to block D.C.’s same-sex marriage bill), said a resolution was not necessary, because Congress already blocked the law in December.

In their letter, Chaffetz and Meadows stressed that moving forward with legalization would violate the law barring enactment. They also argued the Constitution and the courts grant Congress jurisdiction over D.C.

“Given Congress’ broad powers to legislate with regard to the District of Columbia it would be unprecedented for the District to take actions proscribed by legislation passed by Congress and signed by the president,” they wrote.

Their letter also brings up the possibility that moving forward with the initiative violates the Anti-Deficiency Act, which stipulates D.C. cannot spend money that was not appropriated. If D.C. officials knowingly and willingly violated the ADA, the violation would be criminal, and penalties include a maximum $5,000 fine, up to two years in prison, or both.

As part of their investigation, Chaffetz and Meadows are requesting Bowser provide a list of D.C. employees who participated in enactment, including salary, position, amount of time in the role, and specific actions taken, as well as a list of employees who declined to participate. They also asked how much money went into enactment, including what was spent on transmitting the initiative and developing rules for the police and the public. Lastly, the lawmakers requested “any document or communication” related to enacting Initiative 71.

It is unclear how D.C. officials will respond to the investigation. The mayor, the District attorney general, and the D.C. Council all have been firm in their conviction the initiative can take effect Thursday.

“D.C. residents spoke loud and clear last November when they adopted Initiative 71 to legalize small amounts of marijuana in the District of Columbia,” Bowser said at a breakfast with the D.C. Council Tuesday morning. “And we of course stand together in wanting to enforce the will of the people by implementing the initiative in a safe, fair and transparent way.”

But the letter is teeing up a confrontation with Congress. Even before the letter was sent, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) sent out a statement Tuesday afternoon, warning Republicans against interfering in the District’s marijuana policy.

“If the Republican Congress, which can’t decide to how keep open one of its premier security agencies, the Department of Homeland Security, wants to pick a fight with the District over our local marijuana reform law,” Norton said, “a fight is what they will get.”

Photo: North Cascades National Park via Flickr

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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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