Former president Donald Trump has had some bad days recently, but perhaps none worse than Tuesday, when former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson delivered the most alarming testimony yet about his behavior during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
Trump’s presidency and its aftermath — his actions in office and his perpetuation of the lie that the 2020 election was rife with fraud and therefore stolen — have left many Americans without the ability to be shocked or surprised, whether through fatigue or mere disinterest. In measured and careful language, Hutchinson punctured that indifference.
Rarely have Americans heard such descriptions of the country’s highest elected official, descriptions made more powerful because they came from a 25-year-old who had served the president loyally but who on Tuesday acted courageously in service to the country instead.
There are always caveats after the kind of testimony Hutchinson delivered Tuesday. She did not undergo cross-examination. The accounts of others whose names she invoked and who might contradict or refute her accounts have not been heard publicly, in large part because some — like former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who was Hutchinson’s boss — have refused to cooperate fully with the committee. Trump dismissed Hutchinson as a “phony,” someone he hardly knew, though he has done that frequently with people he knows well but whose words have cut into his ego.
As with previous witnesses, on its face Hutchinson’s testimony was as damning as it was disturbing — an up-close look at a president and some around him who were attempting to subvert the outcome of the election and were prepared to allow a violent attack to take place to further that effort.
The Jan. 6 committee has under promised and over delivered with each of its public hearings, and no more so than on Tuesday. Committee members have been methodical in drawing ever closer to the president and his role in the uprising at the Capitol with each succeeding hearing.
Hutchinson provided the most intimate detail of what was happening inside the confined quarters that make up the West Wing on Jan. 6 and the days before — who said what to whom; who knew what when; who did or did not act responsibly; who sought to temper the president and who didn’t.
The portrait drawn by Hutchinson, who served as a senior aide to Meadows, was of a small and petulant man in a big job — a president out of control on Jan. 6; a president who smashed a dish in his personal dining room, splattering the wall with ketchup; a president who physically grappled with the head of his Secret Service detail when told he could not go to the Capitol with the mob; a president whose behavior on that day caused resignations from some senior administration officials and talk within his Cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from operational control of his office.
Over the course of two hours, the American people learned that Trump was told that some of those who were heading to the Capitol were armed and was uncaring about the potential for violence. “They’re not here to hurt me,” Hutchinson recalled Trump saying, because it is always about him.
Trump cared more about imagery and the size of his rally crowd on the Ellipse than of the potential danger to lawmakers from an armed mob that he was encouraging to go to the Capitol to subvert the election results. He demanded to be taken to the Capitol to be with the mob and when he was told he would be going back to the White House, he responded by grabbing for the steering wheel in his armored vehicle, according to Hutchinson’s testimony.
More alarming, though it had been reported before, Hutchinson recalled that Trump had expressed solidarity with those in the mob who were calling for Vice President Mike Pence to be hanged for failing to try to stop the ratification of the electoral count. And, according to Hutchinson’s account, he wanted to pardon those who attacked the Capitol until he was talked out of it.
Trump was the principal focus Tuesday, but the revelations did not stop with him. Hutchinson revealed that both Meadows and Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s outside counsel and one of the most vocal in claiming election fraud, had inquired about pardons for their roles in what happened Jan. 6. Her portrait of Meadows was of a complacent chief of staff, unwilling to confront the president unless absolutely forced to do so, a senior official who was described multiple times as slouched on his couch scrolling through his cellphone.
At the close of the hearing, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the committee’s vice chair, revealed what might be seen as evidence of possible witness tampering by some Trump loyalists, who, based on messages shown by Cheney, were pressing witnesses to do the right thing when speaking to the committee. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), the committee’s chairman, closed the day with a call to those who have testified and some who have not to summon the courage shown by Hutchinson and come forward to tell their stories.
After last week’s testimony from former Justice Department officials and Republican politicians from Georgia and Arizona, the committee had planned a break until after the July Fourth holiday. Instead, Tuesday’s hearing was suddenly and unexpectedly added to the committee’s calendar, heightening expectations that whatever testimony was coming would more than live up to expectations.
It was known that Hutchinson had spent many hours in private with committee members and lawyers. But as with the Justice Department officials last week, her public appearance carried power and heft that video clips could not convey. Her testimony was delivered without noticeable emotion or even nervousness. She was steady throughout, under the most pressure-packed of conditions for someone so relatively young.
Hutchinson paraphrased Giuliani as saying days ahead of the attack that Jan. 6 would be an exciting day. She described Meadows as unwilling to tell Trump to call off the attackers as the Capitol was under siege because, she said, Meadows said the president was alone and didn’t want to be bothered.
She explained that White House counsel Pat Cipollone had warned that, if Trump were taken to the Capitol to join the rioters, “We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable, if we let that movement happen.” She confirmed that Trump resisted issuing a statement calling off the attackers, despite pressure from, among others, his daughter Ivanka Trump.
Cheney said the committee will add more detail and context to Hutchinson’s testimony in future hearings. Given how the committee has operated to date, no one should doubt that more revelations are coming — and that Trump will remain as the principal focus of the investigation.