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By Sergei L. Loiko, Los Angeles Times

Russian President Vladimr Putin on Monday again sidestepped any blame for the last week’s downing of a Malaysian jet and demanded that international teams be ensured safe access to the crash site.

“Everything should be done to ensure (the international experts’) full and absolute safety, and to create humanitarian zones essential for their work,” Putin said in an urgent televised address that also appeared on the Kremlin’s official website. “For its part, Russia will do all it can to transition the conflict in eastern Ukraine from today’s military stage toward the negotiation phase.”

Putin didn’t clarify how Russia plans to achieve that, but again blamed Ukraine’s government for the tragedy.

“I can say with confidence that if on June 28 combat activities in eastern Ukraine had not been resumed, this tragedy most likely would not have happened,” he said. “At the same time, no one has a right to use this tragedy to achieve their narrowly selfish political ends.”

In recent days Putin has drawn international fire for the Kremlin’s alleged inciting and arming of pro-Russia rebels with weapons including sophisticated anti-aircraft systems, one of which was apparently used to down the Malaysian passenger airliner over the Donbass region, killing all 298 aboard.

Putin insisted that officials responsible for the Ukraine situation “should acknowledge their responsibility both before their own people and before the peoples of those countries whose representatives were among the victims of this catastrophe.”

The early morning timing of the address and its somewhat blurred wording indicated that Putin was more than concerned with the situation, which took such an unexpected turn for everybody including the Kremlin, said Dmitry Oreshkin, a Russian senior political expert.

“Feeling that every new day brings more understanding to the question of who stands behind the downing of the plane, Putin in a statement close to hysteria in its undertones hurried to state that Russia will never admit anything and will never agree to any findings pointing a finger at the Kremlin,” said Oreshkin, a political scientist with the Academy of Sciences Geography Institute.

“Putin’s message to the world is clear: ‘Whatever you learn and whatever you say, you have no right to blame me for what happened, especially if you use it in your dirty political games.”

The tragedy has narrowed Putin’s room for maneuvering, Oreshkin said.

“Putin is no longer in a position to continue open support for pro-Russia separatists in the region, let alone deploy troops in Ukraine,”, he said. “On the other hand, Putin loses face both with the rebels in Ukraine and his radical supporters in Russia who counted on seeing a new Stalin in him and sincerely believed that he would send Russian troops into Ukraine at some point.”

Some separatist leaders are already openly calling Putin “a traitor to their cause,” Oreshkin said. “Which may explain some of the urgency that must have compelled the Kremlin leader to deliver a sudden statement in the middle of the night.”

Dmitry Orlov, a pro-Kremlin political scientist. said Putin was sending a clear message to Western leaders that Kiev authorities won’t get the flight recorders and that the investigation should be carried out solely by an unbiased international aviation commission.

“Putin has enough fortitude not to succumb to any form of pressure before the end of the investigation,” said Orlov, general director of the Agency for Political and Economic Communication, a Moscow-based think tank. “The urgency of the statement indicates Putin’s extreme concern with the situation and his desire to see the investigation proceeding in an unhindered and most transparent way.”

But Oreshkin said Putin must count on the rebels to remove and hide any evidence linking the Kremlin to the jet downing.

Pro-Russia militants found the flight recorders and were ready to hand them over to an international commission, an official of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic said Monday.

“Visually they are in excellent condition with no damage detected,” Sergei Kavtaradze, a member of the formation’s Security Council, said of the black boxes, or flight recorders, in an interview with Interfax news agency. “I have spoken to representatives of the Malaysian side — (who) I hope will get down here quickly. We will hand over ‘the black boxes’ only to international experts.”

Ukraine Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk said Monday that his country was ready to give the Netherlands the role of investigation coordinator.

“As the side that suffered most, the Netherlands may lead the investigation in close coordination and cooperation with all other parties,” Yatseniuk said at a briefing in Kiev.

In the meantime 277 bodies of crash victims have been found on the site, 251 of which were loaded into train cars, Yatseniuk said. He complained that pro-Russia rebels were preventing the bodies from being sent to the Netherlands.

Staff writer Steve Zeitchik contributed to the story from Kiev.

AFP Photo / Maxim Shipenkov

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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.

Tina Peters

YouTube Screenshot

A right-wing conspiracy theorist who was indicted in March on criminal charges of tampering with voting machines to try to prove former President Donald Trump's lies of a stolen 2020 presidential election on Tuesday lost the Republican primary to run for secretary of state of Colorado, the person who oversees its elections.

With 95 percent of the vote counted, Tina Peters, the clerk and recorder of Mesa County, Colorado, was in third place, trailing the winner, fellow Republican Pam Anderson, 43.2 percent to 28.3 percent.

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