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Sen. Susan Collins

Some look back on the events following Donald Trump's 2020 election loss and think we dodged a bullet: There was a coup attempt, and thankfully it failed. Others believe that the whole thing has been overblown. Even as evidence piles up that the coup was far more extensive than siccing a mob on the Capitol, those two takes seem unshaken. There is another way to look at it: The coup is ongoing. With every new revelation about how extensive Trump's efforts to overturn the election were — and they are arriving on an almost daily basis — the flaccid response of Republicans makes the next coup that much more thinkable.

Trump, we now know, paged through the federal departments and agencies looking for willing insurrectionists. He explored the possibility of having the Justice Department seize voting machines in swing states (Bill Barr shot down the idea), and then considered installing Jeffrey Clark as attorney general in Barr's place (a threatened mass resignation stayed his hand). He then turned to the military and considered using his emergency powers under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act to permit the Pentagon to seize voting machines and other records.

Things had gone as far as the drafting of a presidential "finding" about nonexistent fraud. Trump also tested the waters at the Department of Homeland Security, asking Rudy Giuliani to see whether the (unlawfully appointed) acting deputy secretary, Ken Cuccinelli, would seize the voting machines under that department's auspices. Cuccinelli begged off.

This comes on the heels of revelations about phony slates of electors. Eighty-four Republicans from seven states signed bogus documents claiming that Trump had won their states and sent these fake Electoral College certificates to the National Archives.

Trump was busier attempting to undo the election than he had ever been as president. He summoned the leaders of the Michigan legislature to the White House after the election to convince them to certify that their state, which voted for Biden, had voted for him. He cajoled and threatened Georgia's secretary of state to "find" 11,780 votes. He phoned local election officials to pressure them to say they found fraud, buzzed the Arizona governor repeatedly even up to the minute he was signing his state's certification, and strong-armed the vice president to, in Trump's own words, "overturn the election."

A little-noticed feature of the stories about Trump's thus-far unsuccessful efforts to stage a coup is that even among the MAGA crowd, some things were considered beyond the pale. Barr was willing to swallow a lot, but he couldn't go along with lying about imaginary vote fraud. The high-ranking lawyers at the Justice Department were Trump appointees, but they would resign en masse rather than see Clark subvert the department for plainly unlawful ends. Brad Raffensperger voted for Trump but refused to lie for him. Cuccinelli was Trump's loyal immigration hawk, but he couldn't see his way to using his Homeland Security post to confiscate voting machines and commit fraud. And though Mike Pence, pressed hard by Trump for the last full measure of devotion, wavered (he phoned former Vice President Dan Quayle for advice), in the end, he did what he knew was right.

A healthy body politic, like a healthy physical body, needs antibodies. It needs certain automatic defenses. The actions of those Republicans were the vestigial antibodies of a healthy democracy. The people who made those crucial decisions were acting out of a sense that anything less would be dishonorable and would be perceived as such by the whole society.

But would they make the same decisions today? Every single time a Republican suggests that what Trump did and attempted to do was anything less than a five-alarm fire, they are weakening our immune system.

Sen. Susan Collins was asked whether she could support Trump in 2024. She declined to rule it out.

Just think about what message that sends to the rank and file about what is beyond the pale and what isn't. If Collins might even support Trump, maybe it's not such a big deal.

On the anniversary of January 6, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sneered at what he called "nauseating" remembrances, adding that "it's an insult to people when you say it's an insurrection." Another blow to the concept that something truly awful happened that must never be repeated.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has not hesitated to appear on the John Fredericks radio show since his inauguration. Fredericks was the host of a rally in October that featured an American flag that had been carried at the "peaceful" January 6 protest. Fredericks also ladles out big helpings of election falsehood to his listeners.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has announced a new podcast, hosted by Sen. Rick Scott, to help 2022 GOP senate candidates. First scheduled guest: Donald Trump.

It was not just an attempted coup. The steady sapping of republican virtue continues.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the Beg to Differ podcast. Her most recent book is Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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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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