An out-of-control president lunging for the wheel of his limousine to have it take him to the Capitol on Jan. 6, insisting that he did not care whether his armed supporters were subjected to security screening because “they’re not here to hurt me.” An ineffectual, overwhelmed White House chief of staff who understood that “things might get real, real bad on Jan. 6” — and did nothing to prevent it. An alarmed White House counsel who warned of the president’s inaction, “Something needs to be done or people are going to die and the blood’s going to be on [his] f---ing hands.”
Never in American history has there been a portrayal of a president so unfit for office or so willing to betray his oath in a desperate bid to retain power. Never have so many people in such positions of immense authority stayed so shamefully silent for so long about the horrifying behavior they witnessed, on Jan. 6, 2021, and before.
And never has the nation witnessed the drama of a staffer so young, composed and resolute describe witnessing a constitutional disaster that she was unable to prevent — “a bad car accident that was about to happen, where you can’t stop it but you want to do something.”
In an administration of enablers, in a crowd of sycophants unwilling even now to stand up to Donald Trump and speak publicly about his unhinged conduct, 25-year-old Cassidy Hutchinson, a former assistant to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, emerged from obscurity Tuesday, an unlikely — and lonely — truth-teller.
Hutchinson was the perfect witness to testify to the dereliction of duty she observed in the final days of the Trump White House, a Trump believer turned reluctant informant. Her GOP bona fides, including internships for House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (La.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), could not have been more impeccable, nor her demeanor — calm and sorrowful — more convincing. She was John Dean in a white blazer and diamond necklace, reciting a similarly damning cavalcade of facts.
She had literally cleaned up after the president — helping the White House valet scrub ketchup off the wall after he threw a plate in fury over his attorney general’s conclusion that voter fraud had not caused his election loss. But her breaking point arrived on Jan. 6 — and in the end, she was willing to abandon the code of complicit silence that still prevails among too many of her former colleagues.
“As a staffer that worked to always represent the administration to the best of my ability, and to showcase the good things that he had done for the country, I remember feeling frustrated and disappointed, and really it felt personal. I was really sad,” Hutchinson told the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection. “As an American, I was disgusted. It was unpatriotic. It was un-American. We were watching the Capitol building get defaced over a lie.”
If there were adults in the room with Hutchinson, barely out of college, their greater experience did not manifest itself: She was the one who demonstrated the maturity to warn Meadows against going to the Willard hotel war room where Trump allies were plotting to keep the president in office; to press him to call Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) as the rioters breached the Capitol; to try to do something, anything, to stop the impending carnage.
“I said, ‘Hey, are you watching the TV, chief? The rioters are getting really close,’ ” Hutchinson told Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the committee’s vice chair. “ ‘Have you talked to the president?’ He said, ‘No, he wants to be alone right now.’ ”
To listen to Hutchinson was to hear the disappointment of a staffer recognizing the limitations of her principal. “I remember thinking in that moment, Mark needs to snap out of this, and I don’t know how to snap him out of this,” she testified. “He needs to care.”
While Meadows angled for a presidential pardon in the aftermath of the insurrection, Hutchinson has stepped up to fulfill her duty as a citizen. Let Trump deny her account, as he quickly did, and deride her as a “total phony” with a “fake story.” Anyone who watched Hutchinson can judge her credibility for themselves. She is an American heroine describing a decidedly unheroic moment.
Which raises the question: Where are the others? Cheney raised the specter of witness tampering, reciting pressures brought to bear on those summoned by the select committee, with unnamed interlocutors relaying menacing messages from Trump to those about to testify. “He wants me to let you know he’s thinking about you,” said one. “He knows you’re loyal and you’re going to do the right thing when you go in for your deposition.” The right thing. Sure.
How can so many refuse to appear before the committee? Where is Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel who, Hutchinson said, urged against a Trump trip to the Capitol, arguing, “We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen.” Where is Meadows, and former deputy chief of staff Tony Ornato, who witnessed the events of that day? Where is former vice president Mike Pence?
How terrifying it must have been for Hutchinson to take the leap — first of appearing before the committee for depositions, then of testifying on live television. She couldn’t prevent the car accident, but she performed a service to her country in providing a blow-by-blow account of the crash.