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After three years and 50 weeks of meekly deferring to Donald Trump, Mike Pence finally ran out of patience Tuesday. Trump demanded that the vice president block Congress' certification of Joe Biden's election victory, and Pence gave his answer: No.

That refusal so infuriated Trump that he appeared at a rally in Washington, castigated his long-suffering subordinate and urged followers to march on the U.S. Capitol. "You'll never take back our country with weakness," he bellowed. Soon after, a mob was smashing windows, attacking police and invading the Senate chamber, forcing Pence and others to seek safety.


Pence can't escape responsibility for Trump's abominable reign, but it's not too late to do a service to his country that no one else can do: Call on the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment, strip the president of his powers, and urge congressional Republicans to agree. If he and the Cabinet were to act, Pence would take over until Congress decides otherwise — which it might not do by January 20, when Biden takes over.

Pence took an oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic." After Trump's treacherous incitement of mob action against elected representatives of the American people, it is beyond doubt that one of the most dangerous enemies occupies the Oval Office.

But Trump does not have to be allowed to remain in power. The 25th Amendment could immediately remove the threat he poses to the peace and health of our constitutional republic. Nothing can happen, though, without the leadership of the vice president.

It may seem pointless to evict Trump now, given the vast damage he has already done and the limited time he has. But we have learned repeatedly that it is folly to underestimate his capacity for destructive mayhem.

Every day he remains in power is a day that the nation is exposed to horrendous hazards. He is the most powerful person on earth; he is reckless beyond measure; and his looming eviction may spur him to new heights of irrationality.

What could go wrong in the time he has left? Trump could start a war with Iran, something that has long allured him. He raised the possibility with his advisers shortly after losing the election. Iran's recent decision to increase its enrichment of uranium beyond levels allowed in the 2015 nuclear deal could be his excuse.

Last month The New York Times reported, "Since Mr. Trump dismissed Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and other top Pentagon aides last week, Defense Department and other national security officials have privately expressed worries that the president might initiate operations, whether overt or secret, against Iran or other adversaries at the end of his term."

Trump finally issued a statement Thursday promising "an orderly transition on January 20th." But given his past obstinacy and his volatile nature, it would be unwise to bet the nation's future on that grudging commitment. He could just as easily call on his followers to flood into the capital to prevent Biden's inauguration.

As long he remains president, Trump also has the power to dispense executive clemency like Halloween candy. He could pardon more confederates and war criminals, and he could grant himself a pardon - which might or might not be valid.

If I were one of the deranged marauders who forced their way into the Capitol and pillaged congressional offices, I would be appealing to Trump to spare me and my accomplices from going to jail. And who would be surprised if Trump agreed? On Wednesday, asking the rioters to go home, he added: "We love you. You're very special."

Reckless choices and gross abuses are not the only risk. Trump has been largely AWOL for the last two months, even as a raging pandemic kills thousands of Americans every day. When the federal government was hit by a massive cyberattack, he shrugged it off. If some international or national crisis erupts in the coming days, Trump cannot be trusted to handle it responsibly.

He has no interest in his job, beyond hanging on to it by any means necessary. He has abdicated his most rudimentary responsibilities. I suspect no one knows this better than his vice president.

Pence will be remembered for helping the nation descend into the toxic turmoil of the Trump presidency. But he could also be remembered for getting us out.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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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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