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Reprinted with permission from LobeLog.

On Thursday, the United States came perilously close to a military confrontation with Iran after it downed a U.S. drone that may or may not have entered the country’s air space. President Donald Trump reportedly ordered a retaliatory military strike on Iran but called it off, according to Trump’s own tweets on Friday morning, because a general told him that “150 people” might die in the strike.

Much analysis of Trump’s slide toward war with Iran has focused on his hawkish national security adviser, John Bolton, who, reportedly requested options from the Pentagon to deploy as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East and hit Iran with 500 missiles per day. Bolton is the loudest voice inside the White House pushing for a military escalation to the administration’s “maximum pressure” strategy.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, for his part, is staking out the position that the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force allows the administration to take military action against Iran without congressional approval, an unusual and broadly criticized interpretation of congressional oversight.

Yet, there’s another omnipresent influence on Trump: $259 million given by some of the GOP’s top supporters to boost his campaign in 2016 and support Republican congressional and senate campaigns in 2016 and 2018.

Those funds  came from Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, Paul Singer and Bernard Marcus, donors who have made no secret, both through public statements and funding think tanks that support military action against Iran, of their desire for the United States to destroy the Islamic Republic.

Adelson, who alongside his wife Miriam are the biggest donors to Trump and the GOP, contributed $205 million to Republicans in the past two political cycles and reportedly sent $35 million to the Future 45 Super PAC that supported Trump’s presidential bid. His role as the biggest funder of Republican House and Senate campaigns makes him a vital ally for Trump—who relied on Adelson’s campaign donations to maintain a Republican majority in the Senate and curb Republican losses in the House in the 2018 midterm election—and any Republican seeking national office.

Adelson publicly suggested using nuclear weapons against Iran and pushed for Trump to replace then-national security adviser H.R. McMaster with Bolton, partly due to the former’s perceived unwillingness to take a harder line on Iran. In 2017, the Zionist Organization of America, which receives much of its funding from the Adelsons, led a public campaign against McMaster, accusing him of being “opposed to President Trump’s basic policy positions on Israel, Iran, and Islamist terror.”

In 2015, Trump mocked his primary opponent, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), for seeking Adelson’s financial support, warning that Adelson expects a degree of control over candidates in exchange for campaign contributions. Trump tweeted:

Sheldon Adelson is looking to give big dollars to Rubio because he feels he can mold him into his perfect little puppet. I agree!

And Adelson isn’t alone.

Billionaire Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus is the second largest contributor to Trump’s campaign, providing $7 million. He also champions John Bolton, contributing $530,000 to John Bolton’s super PAC over its lifetime. And he’s a major contributor to GOP campaigns, contributing over $13 million to Trump’s presidential campaign and GOP congressional campaigns in 2016 and nearly $8 million to GOP midterm efforts in 2018.

Marcus, like Adelson, makes no qualms about his views on Iran, which he characterized as “the devil” in a 2015 Fox Business interview.

Unlike Adelson and Marcus, hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer was a “never Trump” conservative until Trump won the election. Then he donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration. Singer is far more careful with his words than Marcus and Singer, but his money supports some of the most hawkish think tank experts and politicians in Washington.

Singer, alongside Marcus and Adelson, has contributed generously to the hawkish Foundation for Defense of Democracies, whose experts have spent the past decade regularly promoting policies to pressure Iran economically and militarily, including most recently Trump’s “maximum pressure” approach.

According to donor rolls of FDD’s biggest supporters by the end of 2011, a year that saw a sharp rise in tensions and rumors of war by Israel against Iran, Adelson contributed $1.5 million, Paul Singer contributed $3.6 million, and Bernard Marcus, who sits on FDD’s board, contributed $10.7 million.

(FDD says that Adelson is no longer a contributor, but Marcus continues to give generously, contributing $3.63 million in 2017, over a quarter of FDD’s contributions that year.)

Employees of Singer’s firm, Elliott Management, were the second largest source of funds for the 2014 candidacy of the Senate’s most outspoken Iran hawk, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), who urged Trump to conduct a “retaliatory strike” against Iran for purportedly attacking two commercial tankers last week.

Singer donated $26 million to Republicans in the 2016 election and $6.4 million to the GOP’s midterm campaigns.

The billionaire Iran hawks—the Adelsons, Singer, and Marcus—made combined donations of over $259 million to GOP politicians in the past two cycles, making them some of the Republican Party’s most important donors. That quarter-billion-dollars doesn’t include contributions to dark money 501c4 groups and donations to 501c3 nonprofits, such as think tanks like FDD.

News coverage of Trump’s slide toward war frames the discussion as a competition between his better instincts and a national security advisor and secretary of state who, to varying degrees, favor military action.

But the $259 million that helped elect Trump and Trump-friendly Republicans must loom large over the president.

As Trump evaluates his options with Iran and turns his attention to the 2020 election, he knows he’ll need to rely on the Adelsons, Singer, and Marcus to boost his campaign, maintain a narrow majority in the Senate, and attempt a take-back of the House.

These donors have made their policy preferences on Iran plainly known. They surely expect a return on their investment in Trump’s GOP.

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.

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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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