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

Marco Rubio has a good backstory, and he enjoys telling it.

Hard-working immigrant parents, humble beginnings in South Florida — and now he’s a U.S. senator running for president at age 44.

It’s a stirring, up-by-the-bootstraps tale, if you leave out the credit-card mixups, unpaid mortgage, and $80,000 speedboat.

On the campaign trail, Rubio promises in scolding tones to rein in government spending, yet in his personal life he has displayed absolutely no talent for managing money.

The idea of him sitting in the Oval Office with billions at stake is a little scary. To believe that prudence and competence will suddenly bloom when he gets a crack at the federal budget is optimistic in the extreme.

Rubio’s struggles to handle his own checkbook have been well chronicled by the Miami Herald and other Florida media. A few years ago he was caught nicking the state Republican Party’s American Express card for more than $16,000 in personal expenses, including travel to a family reunion and a paving job at his home.

Rubio said he accidentally took out the wrong credit to pay for the stone pavers, and that a travel agent mistakenly billed the GOP account for the reunion charges. All the money was repaid after reporters started asking questions.

While in the state Legislature, where he eventually became Speaker of the House, Rubio set up political-action committees. One of them gave him thousands of dollars in reimbursements for auto expenses, gas and phone bills. That PAC was, on paper, run by his wife.

Rubio also jointly bought a house in Tallahassee with his close pal, then-state representative and future U.S. congressman David Rivera, one of the sleaziest slugs to ever attain public office in South Florida.

During one stretch, Rubio and Rivera went five months without making any mortgage payments and were threatened with foreclosure.

Two weeks ago, they finally unloaded the house at an $18,000 loss. (Rubio no longer hangs out with Rivera, who is the subject of a federal corruption investigation.)

In his first book, the senator freely admitted his financial problems and mistakes.

Ironically, the books have brought him more income than anything else, including his seldom-used law degree.

In 2012, he received $800,000 to write about his experience as the son of Cuban immigrants. Rubio has proudly said that he used some of that money to pay off his law school loans.

He doesn’t often talk about what else he spent the book money on: a 24-foot boat that cost $80,000. The purchase came to light last week, when the New York Times took a fresh look at Rubio’s finances.

We get it about the boat. You live in Miami, you want to channel your inner Sonny Crockett on Biscayne Bay.

That’s terrific, if you can afford it.

Not so terrific if you’re trying to build a nest egg for your young family.

Reviewing Rubio’s financial disclosure forms, the Times found that he earned $2.38 million from 1998 to 2008, yet he saved so little that his net worth at the end of that 10-year period was only about $53,000.

This is a man who spends money when he gets his hands on it.

Which lots and lots of regular folk do. The difference is, they don’t want to be president, and they don’t pretend to be qualified to decide our national fiscal policy.

To Rubio’s credit, during the last three years his savings have grown by about $150,000, boosted by a second hefty book deal. He and his wife have opened college accounts for their four kids and refinanced their main residence, reducing the monthly mortgage payments.

You see that and think maybe the senator’s growing up. Maybe he’s getting money-managing tips from Norman Braman, the auto tycoon who employs Rubio’s wife and is also his biggest campaign donor.

Then you see other moves and think nothing’s changed.

Last year Rubio closed a retirement account holding $68,000 in savings. Most financial advisors would never tell a client to do that, because the taxes and early-withdrawal fees are so high.

There’s no reason to cash out a retirement account at age 44 unless you’re totally clueless, or frantic for money. Depending on Rubio’s income bracket, his loss in taxes and penalties was $24,000 or more.

That’s a brutal hit, and for what?

Rubio said he needed to use his retirement fund for personal expenses associated with his upcoming presidential campaign — and also a new refrigerator.

Unless Sub-Zero makes a gold-plated model, he paid too much.

Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for The Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL, 33132.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

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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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