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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Maria L. La Ganga, Los Angeles Times

PATEROS, Wash. — Smoke hung like a cataract obscuring the pale-blue sky. It was hard to breathe Monday, hard to see, hard to envision a workable way forward.

Late last week, a wind-whipped wildfire raced at speeds of as much as an acre a second, over a nearby ridge and squarely into this tiny town of fruit packers and modest homes on the bank of the Columbia River.

The Carlton Complex fire will probably go down as the biggest conflagration in Washington state history, torching about 240,000 acres and counting. Pateros, one of Washington’s littlest towns, was no match for its fury. An estimated 20 percent of the buildings in the city, population 600 or so, have been destroyed. There is no electricity, no drinking water.

Mayor Libby Harrison’s house is gone. So is Councilwoman Christine Perry’s. And Perry’s mother’s house. And the home where City Clerk Kerri Wilson’s in-laws lived for the last 40 years. No one, it seems, is immune here. And everyone has a story.

“I looked up and saw the fire coming over the hill, and I went into the house and told the grandkids to start stuffing the puppies into the carriers,” Perry said. “I grabbed my keys. We had three minutes. … I have one pair of flip-flops. I haven’t taken a shower in five days.”

Perry’s home these days is a motel room where she’s staying with her 14 dogs — nine of them her first puppy litters as a breeder — and a parrot. Her cat, she said, “is out there somewhere.”

Her 87-year-old mother is in the room next door. They will rebuild here, she says. But no one knows when. Or exactly how.

But for now, there are more pressing issues, Perry said. Holed up with a revolving cast of local officials in the dim City Hall ahead of a community meeting, Perry fretted about what they could do to help the elderly women and men who live outside town, along the country roads of this vast, rural county.

She was relieved — a bit — when she heard that an ambulance was patrolling the rural areas, checking to make sure residents have needed prescriptions and are not in need of medical help.

“All the pharmacies in town are closed,” Perry said.

The Carlton Complex fire started out as four lightning-caused blazes July 14. By Monday, Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said, they had converged into one enormous inferno, which has destroyed more than 150 homes, kept more than 1,600 firefighters and support personnel busy, and claimed a life: Robert E. Koczewski, who died of a heart attack over the weekend after trying for several days to protect his home near the town of Carlton.

Koczewski, 67, and his wife had been fighting the fire alone for three days, Rogers said. They hadn’t seen a single firetruck.

“They did everything they could to save their home,” Rogers said. “And they did. But Saturday afternoon, he had the heart attack. … He’s a retired sergeant major with the U.S. Marine Corps, a retired Washington State Patrol officer. He’s best friends with all of us.”

“Saturday,” he said, “was a rough day for everybody.”

Rogers had been in Pateros, knocking on doors with other emergency officials, evacuating residents on a bright Thursday afternoon when suddenly the sky darkened.

“It became night,” he said Monday, exhausted and saddened. “And the wind’s coming down. It looked like seven, eight, nine tornadoes of fire coming down the hill. What the hell’s going on? From there, it was flat chaos all night.”

John Asmussen was operating the checkout stand at the SuperStop on State Highway 97, a combination convenience store, gas station, restaurant, and hotel, when the fire came roaring over the hill “like an atomic blast.”

On Monday, he catered to a steady stream of customers buying sodas and ice, tomatoes and ice, beer and ice. His day was a steady stream of observations and admonitions to the hot, the sweaty and the stressed.

“There’s no credit. Cash only. No Internet,” he told them. “No ATM. It’s burned out. We’re running off generators. They finally got water back to the city, but you can’t drink it. … Your mom and dad’s house survived. It’s amazing. … The bathrooms don’t work, but there are porta-potties down at the end of the hotel. … The restaurant is open. Yes, the community meeting will be at City Hall.”

Asmussen’s home escaped the fire, but Ellen Whan wasn’t so lucky.

On Monday afternoon, the 78-year-old sat with her daughter, Ellen Harding, on lawn chairs just off Dawson Street where Whan’s house used to be. Next to where her brother’s house used to be. In front of the Honey Dew Mobile Park she and her brother owned together — 10 trailers and two little houses that have been replaced by rubble.

“This is the first time I had the nerve to come down and look,” Whan said as relatives and friends milled around and an insurance adjuster surveyed the devastation.

Two chimneys stood where her house once was, the one that her mother lived in before her. The charred skeleton of her grandson’s motorcycle stood, rickety, in the ashes not far from what was left of her father’s 1953 Chevy pickup, its aqua paint job burned into a palette of grays and blacks and rusty orange.

She will rebuild, Whan said as she sat among the ashes, and so will Pateros. But Monday was for mourning all things lost: the memories, the family heirlooms, the garden she’d never gotten to pick, cucumbers and apricots and zucchini.

“Ellen,” called out a friend, who had come to offer moral support. “You need to water the lawn.”

And they laughed.

Photo via WikiCommons

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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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