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By John Whitesides and Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz split victories in four nominating contests with front-runner Donald Trump on Saturday, bolstering Cruz’s argument that he represents the party’s best chance to stop the brash New York billionaire.

The results were a repudiation of a Republican establishment that has bristled at the prospect of either Cruz or Trump winning the party’s nomination and has largely lined up behind U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who was shut out in all four contests.

“I think it’s time that he dropped out of the race,” Trump said of Rubio after the contests. “I want Ted one on one.”

Cruz won Kansas and Maine on Saturday, while Trump won the bigger states of Louisiana and Kentucky, holding onto his lead in the race for the Republican nomination for the Nov. 8 presidential election, even though Cruz captured more delegates on Saturday.

The next big contest, and a crucial one, will be Tuesday’s primary in the industrial state of Michigan. Republicans in three other states, Mississippi, Idaho and Hawaii, also will vote on Tuesday. Puerto Rico Republicans will vote on Sunday.

In the Democratic race, front-runner Hillary Clinton won in Louisiana, and her rival Bernie Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, won in Kansas and Nebraska, in results that did not substantially change Clinton’s big delegate lead.

Mainstream Republicans have blanched at Trump’s calls to build a wall on the border with Mexico, round up and deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and temporarily bar all Muslims from entering the United States.

But the party’s establishment has not been much happier with Cruz, who has alienated many party leaders in Washington, than they have been with Trump.

“It looks like it will be the angry Trump voters against the purist conservative Cruz voters,” said Washington-based Republican strategist Ron Bonjean. “The establishment is just being left out.”

A spokesman for Rubio, who spent the past week launching harsh personal attacks on Trump, said the senator would push on with an eye on the March 15 winner-take-all contest in Florida.

“After we win the Florida primary, the map, the momentum and the money is going to be on our side,” spokesman Alex Conant said in a statement.

Cruz, a first-term U.S. senator from Texas who has promoted himself as more of a true conservative than Trump, said the results showed he was gaining momentum in the race to catch the real estate mogul.

“A HOWL FROM WASHINGTON”

“The scream you hear, the howl that comes from Washington, D.C., is utter terror at what ‘We the People’ are doing together,” Cruz told supporters in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, after his early win in Kansas.

Cruz, 45, has run as an outsider bent on shaking up the Republican establishment in Washington. A favorite of evangelicals, he has called for the United States to “carpet bomb” the Islamic State militant group and has pledged to eliminate the tax-collecting Internal Revenue Service and four cabinet agencies and to enact a balanced budget amendment.

“What we’re seeing is the public coming together, libertarians coming together, men and women who love the Constitution coming together and uniting and standing as one behind this campaign,” Cruz said in Idaho.

Trump has a substantial lead in the delegates needed to secure the nomination at the Republican National Convention, but since winning seven of the 11 contests on Super Tuesday he has come under withering fire from a Republican establishment worried he will lead the party to defeat in November’s election.

But endorsements from establishment Republicans have failed to sway voters. Rubio won the backing of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback but still came in third there.

The four Republican contests on Saturday together accounted for just 155 delegates. Cruz won 64 delegates on Saturday, while Trump took 49.

The races on Saturday were open only to registered Republicans, excluding the independent and disaffected Democratic voters who have helped Trump’s surge to the lead.

The anti-Trump forces have a short window to stop the caustic businessman, who ahead of Saturday had accumulated 319 of the 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination at July’s Republican national convention, outpacing Cruz, who had 226 delegates.

On March 15, the delegate-rich states of Florida, Illinois, Ohio, Missouri and North Carolina will vote. Both Florida and Ohio use the winner-take-all method to allocate Republican delegates, making the stakes in those states particularly high.

If Trump takes both Florida and Ohio he would be nearly impossible to stop. There are a total of 358 delegates at stake in the five states voting March 15, including 99 in Florida and 66 in Ohio.

On the Democratic side, Clinton has opened up a big delegate lead and Sanders might have a tough time making up the difference. All states in the Democratic race award their delegates proportionally, meaning Clinton can keep piling up delegates even in states she loses.

The three states holding Democratic contests on Saturday had a total of 109 delegates at stake. The early estimates were that Clinton, who appeared headed to a smashing nearly 50-point win in Louisiana, had won at least 48 delegates on Tuesday and Sanders 37.

But Sanders made it clear he was not planning to end his White House quest anytime soon.

“We have the momentum. We have a path toward victory. Our campaign is just getting started,” he said in a statement after his wins on Saturday.

(Additional reporting by Emily Flitter, Jonathan Allen and Alana Wise; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Leslie Adler)

Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a press event at his Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida, March 5, 2016. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

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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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