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By Sergei L. Loiko, Los Angeles Times

MOSCOW — Russia’s Federation Council, parliament’s upper house, Wednesday revoked its March ruling allowing President Vladimir Putin to use the country’s armed forces in neighboring Ukraine.

The council’s action came a day after Putin asked the legislative body for the change in a letter indicating it would “be aimed at normalizing and resolving the situation in Ukraine’s eastern regions,” said a statement posted on the Kremlin website.

More than 400 people have been killed in the conflict between pro-Russia gunmen and Ukraine’s security forces in the weeks preceding the move, officials said Wednesday.

A senior Ukraine official hailed the decision but demanded more from Moscow.

“It is a positive step,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin was quoted by Ukrinform news agency as saying in Brussels. “We demand that Russia make other positive steps including support for the all-embracing peace plan” of President Petro Poroshenko.

Violence and armed clashes engulfed southeast Ukraine and the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in particular since former pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovich fled to Russia amid unrest in Kiev.

Russia deployed thousands of troops in Ukraine’s peninsula at the end of February, but its parliament decided to allow Putin to do so on March 1. Two weeks later a referendum was held in the occupied region and Russia annexed Crimea.

Poroshenko last week declared a unilateral cease-fire, proposed a peace plan and sent a delegation to Donetsk to conduct negotiations with the representatives of the self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk people’s republics, which have declared independence from Ukraine and are seeking an alliance with Russia. A Russian ambassador to Ukraine and a representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were brokering the talks.

“So-called ‘hawks’ want quick, tough military actions but others demand large-scale compromise to prevent war at any means,” Poroshenko said in a statement posted on the official presidential website Wednesday. “I will respond to both sides: Our goal is not war. … Our goal is peace but not at any price or on any conditions.”

Both sides have accused each other of repeated cease-fire violations since Poroshenko invoked the unilateral weeklong halt to a government offensive on Friday.

On Tuesday, rebels near the embattled town of Slovyansk shot down a Ukrainian army MI-8 helicopter, killing all nine servicemen on board, said Vladyslav Seleznyov, spokesman for the government operation aimed at recovering separatist-held territory in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Russian lawmakers vowed during their debate over the troop authorization measure to keep an eye out for Ukrainian aggression during the cease-fire period and respond to any violations with force to protect the separatists. But in a sign that Moscow would like to disengage itself from the messy confrontation that is spinning out of its control, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov issued a joint appeal with his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, for extending the cease-fire beyond its Friday termination.

The Federation Council decision will help the peace talks underway in Donetsk find a solution that would curb violence, Valentina Matviyenko, the house speaker, said in televised remarks Wednesday, warning that “we will not stand aside if violence and deaths of people continue, if human rights are trampled upon.”

Russian defense expert Viktor Baranets said the Kremlin’s move was intended to cater primarily to public opinion in the West.

“Some pro-independence activists who have demanded Russian armed involvement in eastern Ukraine are now accusing Russia of letting them down, but in the region where there are over 1.5 million able-bodied men, only about 13,000 of them are fighting for independence and for joining Russia with arms in their hands while others just sit and wait for Moscow to come and protect them,” Baranets, a former defense ministry spokesman and now a columnist for a popular daily Komsomolskaya Pravda, said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

“However, if things down there go from bad to worse the Kremlin can always send in the troops first and ask the parliament to allow their use afterward, the way it was in Crimea,” Baranets said.

AFP Photo/Bulent Kilic

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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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