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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

London (AFP) – The euro struck a nine-year low against the dollar on Monday as the ECB appeared on course to further prop up the eurozone, but failed to spur a rally in European stocks which fell sharply on renewed fears of a Greek exit.

The euro slid to $1.1864, the lowest level since March 2006, before recovering to $1.1915. That compared with $1.2002 late on Friday in New York.

London’s benchmark FTSE 100 index shed 1.43 percent compared with Friday’s close to stand at 6,453.94 points in afternoon trading, while Frankfurt’s DAX 30 dropped 2.27 percent to 9,542.70 points and the CAC 40 in Paris fell 2.8 percent to 4,133.32 after having briefly tumbled more than 3 percent.

Oil prices retreated again, hitting fresh five-year lows, unsettling markets on the “possibility that there could be some latent financial, or economic, risk in the plummeting price” of crude, said analyst Patrick O’Hare.

Brent North Sea crude for delivery in February sank to $53.75 per barrel while U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate for February dropped to $50.58.

“It’s a new year but it’s the same old story… Eurozone jitters get markets wobbling again,” said Jonathan Sudaria, a dealer at London Capital Group.

Greek stocks fell by nearly 5.2 percent at one point during trading as the specter of a Greek exit from the eurozone rears its head again.

French President Francois Hollande on Monday urged Athens to abide by its European commitments amid fresh political turmoil in Greece ahead of an election on January 25 that could be won by a radical far-left party.

Over the weekend, the Der Spiegel weekly quoted German government sources as saying that Berlin sees a Greek exit from the eurozone as “almost inevitable” should the anti-austerity Syriza party win the snap poll.

The rift between the leaders of the eurozone’s two biggest economies on an issue that earlier threatened to destroy the currency bloc rattled markets.

The euro’s losses meanwhile added to a sell-off on Friday that came in response to an interview with European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi in German business daily Handelsblatt.

“The euro hit a nine-year low… breaking below the key 1.20 level against the dollar,” noted Alistair Cotton, a dealer at Currencies Direct.

“The ECB is now expected to announce more monetary stimulus… after Mario Draghi used an interview last week to suggest the governing council is preparing for sovereign bond purchases — which could begin as soon as January 22.”

Draghi had said that deflation was a threat to the eurozone and the ECB must be prepared to counter it. He added that the risk that the central bank will not be able to push inflation up “has increased compared to six months ago”.

Political uncertainty in Greece also weighed on the euro.

With a general election set for January 25, the head of the radical leftist Syriza party said Saturday that if he won he would start “necessary change” in Europe and end painful austerity policies.

Markets see a rollback of measures required under an IMF-EU bailout of the country as further weakening the eurozone economy.

“The euro remains weak on the back of Draghi’s newspaper comments heightening the prospect of the ECB launching QE (stimulus) this month, although the Greek election result could see it delayed until February,” Mike van Dulken, head of research at traders Accendo Markets, said on Monday.

The European Central Bank has already used several tools to push inflation in the 19 countries sharing the euro back up to the 2.0 percent annual rate it regards as healthy, including asset purchases and making cheap loans available to banks.

It is also currently examining the possibility of large-scale purchases of sovereign debt, so-called “quantitative easing” or “QE”, to help jump-start the eurozone economy.

But with German inflation falling to a five-year low of 0.1 percent in December, according to information released Monday, consumer prices across the eurozone probably fell in December.

With the ECB worrying about dangerous deflation setting in, pressure on the central bank to act has risen, according to analysts.

Commerzbank economist Marco Wagner said the inflation data could force the ECB’s hand at its next monetary policy meeting on January 22.

“We expect the ECB to announce broad-based government bond purchases,” he said.

But ING DiBa economist Carsten Brzeski said a combination of falling inflation and the latest crisis in Greece would put the ECB in a quandary.

U.S. stocks Monday opened sharply lower, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropping 0.50 percent to 17,744.43 points in the first five minutes of trading.

The broad-based S&P 500 fell 0.56 percent to 2,046.66, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 0.53 percent to 4,701.78.

AFP Photo/John Macdougall


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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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