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By Justin Sink, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — At least a few of the U.S. Republican senators feeling the backlash from signing an open letter to Iran’s leaders are expressing some second thoughts.

Amid mounting criticism from allies, home-state editorial boards and colleagues who opted not to sign the missive, Senator Ron Johnson became the latest Republican to suggest he might do things differently if given another chance.

While Johnson said he stood by the content of the letter, which warned Iran that any deal they get from President Barack Obama might not outlast his term in office, he said it probably shouldn’t have been directed to leaders of the Islamic Republic.

“I suppose the only regret is who it’s addressed to,” Johnson said at a Bloomberg breakfast in Washington. The Wisconsin Republican said it may have been a “tactical error” and that the letter could have been addressed to Obama’s administration or the American people.

Arizona Senator John McCain, a prominent Republican voice on foreign affairs and national security, has said that haste and an impending snowstorm in Washington short-circuited more measured consideration of the letter.

“It was kind of a very rapid process. Everybody was looking forward to getting out of town because of the snowstorm,” McCain told Politico in an interview. “I think we probably should have had more discussion about it, given the blowback that there is.”

The White House, which was facing pushback on the Iran nuclear negotiations from some Democrats as well as Republicans, seized on the letter to argue that Republicans were making foreign policy a partisan issue. Obama and his aides have responded with a mix of scolding and disdain.

The president told reporters at the White House on Monday that the lawmakers seemed to be “wanting to make common cause with the hardliners in Iran.” In a recorded interview with the website Vice, an excerpt of which was released Friday, Obama said, “I’m embarrassed for them.”

European allies who also are party to the Iran negotiations have condemned the letter as counterproductive.

“Suddenly, Iran can say to us: ‘Are your proposals actually trustworthy if 47 senators say that no matter what the government agrees to, we can subsequently take it off the table?'” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Thursday during remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“This is no small matter we’re talking about,” Steinmeier said. “This is not just an issue of American domestic politics.”

The letter has shifted attention away from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech earlier this month to a joint meeting of Congress. His presence, at the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner, and remarks had forced the White House to defend the framework of a nuclear deal.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee, who didn’t sign the letter and is shepherding legislation that would require congressional approval for any nuclear deal with Iran, said it wasn’t helpful to his efforts to round up Democratic votes for the measure.

The letter was signed by 47 of the 54 Republican senators, including four who are considering bids for the party’s 2016 presidential nomination.

One of the candidates, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, said on NBC’s Today Show on Wednesday that the letter was intended to “strengthen the president’s hand” in negotiations.

No Republican has stepped back from the content of the letter, which warned Iran that any agreement they struck with Obama to curb its nuclear program may be reversed by his successor or changed by U.S. lawmakers. McCain told reporters he was “glad” to have signed it.

South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he doesn’t have any second thoughts about sending the letter.

“At the end of the day, I want the ayatollah to understand that our president doesn’t have the ability on his own to waive congressional sanctions without our input and he is claiming he has that right,” Graham said on Fox News. “This is a constitutional crisis in the making. No Senate or House should ever let any president do away with congressional sanctions created by the bodies without their approval.”

Photo: U.S. Senator John McCain speaking at the Arizona Republican Party 2014 election victory party at the Hyatt Regency in Phoenix, Arizona. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

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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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