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Tokyo (AFP) – Japanese officials in Okinawa on Friday approved the long-stalled relocation of a controversial U.S. military base, a breakthrough that could remove a running sore in relations between Tokyo and Washington.

More than 17 years after the two allies agreed to move the U.S. Marines’ Futenma Air Station from a densely populated urban area, the local government has finally consented to a landfill that will enable new facilities to be built on the coast.

The agreement will burnish the credentials of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the U.S., possibly taking some of the sting out of American criticism of his provocative visit Thursday to a war shrine seen by China and Korea as a symbol of Japanese militarism.

The issue has been deadlocked for years, with huge opposition to any new base among Okinawans fed up with playing host to an outsized share of the U.S. military presence in Japan, and who want it moved off the island altogether.

Okinawa’s governor Hirokazu Nakaima, long a thorn in the central government’s side, this week met Abe, who pledged a big cash injection into the island’s economy every year until 2021.

He emerged from the meeting declaring himself impressed with the package on offer, which includes a pledge to work towards the shuttering of Futenma within five years, and on Friday gave it his formal seal of approval.

“The imminent issue for us on Okinawa is to remove the dangerous airbase from the heart of the town as soon as possible,” Nakaima told reporters.

“The prime minister is saying the government will work towards halting the Futenma operation within five years.”

Abe praised Nakaima for making a “courageous decision”, while Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said the government “will do its utmost to relocate the base to Camp Schwab as quickly as possible”.

But the news provoked anger in Okinawa, where thousands of protesters surrounded the local government office, media reports said, with footage showing demonstrators holding banners reading: “Never bend”.

Several hundred had stormed the lobby of the building and were staging a sit-in protest, a government spokeswoman said.

The deal gives the go-ahead for landfill near Camp Schwab on the east of the island, one of a number of large tracts of land the U.S. military uses. Two runways will be built atop the landfill.

Environmentalists say any development risks seriously damaging the coral reefs in the area as well as the delicate habitat of the dugong, a rare sea mammal.

Nakaima had been a bitter critic of the central government, which he says is unsympathetic to the southern tropical island and still treats it as an “unsinkable aircraft carrier” of the U.S. military, more than 40 years after it was handed back to Japan.

But at Wednesday’s meeting, the carrot of Abe’s stimulus pledge — at least 300 billion yen ($2.9 billion) every year until fiscal 2021 — proved persuasive for the governor of Japan’s poorest prefecture.

The U.S. agreed to shut Futenma in 1996 partly in response to soaring anti-base feeling after the gang-rape the year before of a 12-year-old girl by three servicemen.

Its position in the middle of a built-up area also makes it less than ideal for the frequent flights by military aircraft.

However, resistance from local communities to any new site left the base in limbo, with Washington’s hopes for a resolution regularly frustrated by weak government in Tokyo.

Relations between the two capitals dropped precipitously after the 2009 election of prime minister Yukio Hatoyama, partly on a promise that he would turf the base out of Okinawa, much to the irritation of Washington policymakers.

His subsequent flip-flop left Okinawans furious and feeling betrayed, and cast a further cloud over the issue.

The deal Abe appears to have struck marks a significant achievement, and one that is expected to smooth relations after years of frustration.

Observers have pointed to the timing and Abe’s controversial visit Thursday to the Yasukuni war shrine, seen as a symbol in northeast Asia of 20th century Japan’s brutal imperialism, and said his negotiating methods owed more to his fondness for splurging money.

“Abe flashed big cash around to get the nod from the governor, which saved him some face in Washington,” said Tetsuro Kato, professor emeritus at Tokyo’s Hitotsubashi University.

AFP Photo/Toshifumi Kitamura

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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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