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Bordeaux (AFP) – Nicolas Sarkozy’s comeback hopes were given a major boost on Monday when judges investigating an election financing scandal dropped a corruption charge against the former French president.

The unexpected decision removes the biggest and most immediate obstacle to a career revival for the 58-year-old, although he remains embroiled in a string of unrelated legal investigations.

The charismatic right-winger had been facing a lengthy trial process, a potential three-year prison term and a ban from public office after being formally charged in March as part of a wide-ranging probe into allegations he illegally received cash from France’s richest woman, Liliane Bettencourt, to help fund his successful 2007 election campaign.

But after six months of deliberations, the judges in charge of the case have decided to send only 10 of the 12 accused for trial and to drop proceedings against Sarkozy and one other suspect, tax lawyer Fabrice Goguel, judicial sources told AFP.

Sarkozy hailed the decision, thanking his supporters and criticizing political opponents who had used the case against him.

“The courts have declared me innocent in the Bettencourt case,” Sarkozy said in a statement on his Facebook page.

“Given my previous responsibilities, I will not make any comment on the way justice has been done,” he said.

“To those politicians who during these long months used this ‘scandal’ and participated in fostering suspicion, I want to remind them that the presumption of innocence is a fundamental principle,” he said.

“Slander gets us nowhere. It does nothing but debase democracy,” he added.

Sarkozy’s allies were also keen to play up the significance of Monday’s unexpected twist in the legal saga.

“It means his political calendar is no longer a hostage to the judicial calendar,” said Rachida Dati, the former justice minister who was a Sarkozy protege. “My feeling is France may have need of someone who can unite and who can provide leadership where there is currently none.”

The specific charge against Sarkozy was that he took advantage of Bettencourt by seeking and accepting her money when she was too frail to know what she was doing. Bettencourt, now 90, has suffered from dementia since 2006.

Amongst the six who will face trial is Eric Woerth, a former minister who was Sarkozy’s campaign treasurer and who stands accused of accepting envelopes stuffed with cash from Bettencourt’s right-hand man, Patrice de Maistre.

The decision to drop the charges against Sarkozy is in line with a recommendation from the prosecutor in the case, who had advised the judges that convictions were unlikely to be secured against six of the 12 accused, including the ex-president.

That advice was initially ignored by the judges, prompting allegations of political bias, and it had been widely assumed that Sarkozy would be sent for trial following the failure last week of an attempt by his lawyers to have the charges dismissed on procedural grounds.

Sarkozy stepped back from politics after losing last year’s presidential vote to Socialist candidate Francois Hollande, concentrating instead on making money on the international conference circuit and spending time with his wife and former supermodel, Carla Bruni, and their young daughter.

But he has repeatedly hinted at a comeback in time for the 2017 election, most notably saying earlier this year that he may be obliged to return to “save” France from a Socialist-created economic disaster.

Polls suggest he would be welcomed back by supporters of his UMP party, the main opposition, and by some key swing voters who deserted him in 2012.

The decision to drop the Bettencourt charges does not mean Sarkozy is clear of legal problems which could yet wreck any comeback bid.

He is separately being investigated over claims he accepted up to 50 million euros ($65 million) in cash from former Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi for the 2007 campaign.

Sarkozy has been implicated in a number of other scandals, the most serious of which centers on an allegation that he helped organize kickbacks from a Pakistani arms deal to finance the 1995 presidential campaign of former premier Edouard Balladour.

He is also being probed over allegations that, while president, he used public funds to pay for party political research and handed out contracts for polling to a political crony.

More indirectly, Sarkozy has been caught up in the ongoing investigation into a huge payout made by the French state to disgraced tycoon Bernard Tapie.

Prosecutors suspect Tapie received preferential treatment in the case in return for his support for Sarkozy in the 2007 election.

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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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