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

By Ami Miyazaki and Tom Westbrook

TOKYO/SYDNEY (Reuters) – An Asia-Pacific trade deal stands almost no chance of working now that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has pulled the plug on it, proponents of the pact said on Tuesday, opening the way for China to assume the leadership mantle on trade.

Japan and Australia expressed their commitment to the pact on Tuesday, hours after Trump vowed to withdraw from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership on his first day in office, calling the deal “a potential disaster for our country.”

Trump’s declaration appeared to snuff out any hopes for the deal, a signature trade initiative of President Barack Obama, five years in the making and meant to cover 40 percent of the world economy.

The TPP, which aims to cut trade barriers in some of Asia’s fastest-growing economies and stretch from Canada to Vietnam, can’t take effect without the United States. It requires the ratification of at least six countries accounting for 85 percent of the combined gross domestic product of the member nations.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said “the TPP would be meaningless without the United States,” even as parliament continued debating ratification and his government vowed to lobby other members to approve it.

Yet even without U.S. ratification, the TPP won’t just die, a senior Japanese official said.

“It just continues in a state of not being in effect,” said Shinpei Sasaki of the Cabinet Office’s TPP headquarters. “In the future if the United States takes the procedures and it passes Congress, that would satisfy the provisions and the TPP would go into effect.”

AMENDING AGREEMENT

Other members of the 12-nation grouping could conceivably work around a U.S. withdrawal.

Australian Trade Minister Steven Ciobo told reporters in Canberra countries could push ahead with the TPP without the United States by amending the agreement and possibly adding new members.

“We could look at, for example, if China or Indonesia or another country wanted to join, saying, ‘Yes, we open the door for them signing up to the agreement as well.'”

But Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said reopening negotiations wouldn’t be easy. “If you sign a fresh agreement, you have to go through it again. We haven’t crossed that bridge yet. We’ll cross it if and when we come to that.”

CHINA’S RIVAL PACT

China has pushed its own version of an Asia-Pacific trade pact, called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which notably excludes the United States. It is a more traditional trade agreement, involving cutting tariffs rather than opening up economies and setting labor and environmental standards as TPP would.

The RCEP was a focus of attention at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Peru over the weekend.

Tan Jian, a senior member of China’s delegation at the summit, said more countries are now seeking to join its 16-member bloc, including Peru and Chile, and current members want to reach a deal as soon as possible to counter rising protectionism.

China’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday Beijing has an “open attitude” toward any arrangements that promote free trade in the region as long they don’t become “fragmented and politicized”.

Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the RCEP was an initiative led by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which China has been promoting. “We are willing to keep pushing the (RCEP) talks process with all sides to achieve positive progress at an early date,” he said.

Vietnam last week shelved its own ratification of TPP, after Obama abandoned efforts to push it through a lame-duck Congress, while Malaysia has shifted its attention to the RCEP.

(Reporting by Ami Miyazaki and Elaine Lies in Tokyo, Kiyoshi Takenaka in Buenos Aires, Tom Westbrook in Sydney, Marius Zaharia in Singapore and Elias Glenn in Beijing.; Writing by William Mallard. Editing by Bill Tarrant.)

IMAGE: U.S.  President Barack Obama (R) meets with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss transition plans in the White House Oval Office in Washington, U.S., November 10, 2016.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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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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