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Opinion Cassidy Hutchinson could read the ketchup on the wall

Cassidy Hutchinson, a top aide to Mark Meadows when he was White House chief of staff in the Trump administration, on Capitol Hill on June 28. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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Before Tuesday, few outside of Trump World had ever heard of Cassidy Hutchinson. But few who witnessed the young woman’s extraordinary two hours before the House select committee on Jan. 6 will ever forget her.

The former aide to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, just three years out of college, strode into the Cannon Caucus room with a four-person entourage, facing down 25 photographers. She was understandably nervous — TV cameras from all directions beamed her every move to millions — but she had a preternatural poise.

She sat ramrod straight in the witness chair, forearms on the table. And she spoke softly but with a command, backed up by notes and texts, that left no doubt that her testimony about what she had witnessed in the Trump White House was the horrible truth.

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Hutchinson, 25, recounted what she was told President Donald Trump had done when the head of his Secret Service detail, Bobby Engel, refused to drive him to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021: “The president reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel. Mr. Engel grabbed his arm, said, ‘Sir, you need to take your hand off the steering wheel. We’re going back to the West Wing.’ … Mr. Trump then used his free hand to lunge towards Bobby Engel” in the direction of his throat.

I heard gasps and saw stunned glances among the 70 or so reporters in the room.

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She told of walking into the Oval Office dining room after Trump heard that Attorney General Bill Barr said he hadn’t seen substantial fraud in the 2020 election: “I first noticed there was ketchup, dripping down the wall, and there’s a shattered porcelain plate on the floor. The valet had articulated that the president was extremely angry at the attorney general’s [Associated Press] interview and had thrown his lunch against the wall.”

In the hearing room, jaws dropped.

“There were several times,” she testified, “that I was aware of him either throwing dishes or flipping the tablecloth to let all the contents of the table go onto the floor.”

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We all knew Trump fomented violence on Jan. 6, but here was evidence he was violent himself (allegations Trump denied Tuesday on his social media platform). Hutchinson filled in the details in vivid answers to questions posed by Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the panel’s vice chair, seated 30 feet away on the dais.

People on the Mall with AR-15s, Glock pistols and other weapons on Jan. 6 were avoiding Trump’s rally on the Ellipse because their weapons would have been confiscated by the Secret Service at the magnetometers, or mags, where entrants were scanned. But Trump wanted them in his rally, she testified, and said “something to the effect of, ‘You know, I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the f-ing mags away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.”

The Post's View: Jan. 6 testimony shows that Trump is unhinged. Voters must listen.

Hutchinson had everything to lose by defying Team Trump’s pressure for her to remain silent. (After her testimony, the committee also revealed incidents of apparent witness tampering it had discovered.) Her courage should shame her big-name former colleagues who are refusing to cooperate. She had worked in the White House little more than a year, and before that she had been a White House and Capitol Hill intern, but her testimony displayed a sense of patriotism that eludes so many older Trump loyalists.

“As a staffer that works 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, disappointed, and really it felt personal,” she said of her reaction to Jan. 6. “As an American, I was disgusted. It was unpatriotic. It was un-American. We were watching the Capitol building get defaced over a lie.”

Contrast that with the cowardice of retired Gen. Michael Flynn, one of the insurrection schemers, whose testimony the committee aired, to chuckles:

“Do you believe the violence on January 6 was justified morally?”

“Take the Fifth.”

“Do you believe the violence on January 6th was justified legally?”

“Fifth.”

“Do you believe in the peaceful transition of power?

“The Fifth.”

And contrast the character evident in Hutchinson’s testimony with the perfidy of her former boss, who phoned in to an insurrection-eve meeting with its architects. Meadows told Hutchinson that “things might get real, real bad on Jan. 6,” she said, but when they did, he sat on his office couch, scrolling on his phone.

Then-White House counsel Pat Cipollone had warned Meadows that “we’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable” and that “people are going to die and the blood’s going to be on your f-ing hands,” Hutchinson testified. But Meadows, still on his couch, said Trump “doesn’t want to do anything” to stop the violence.

If Meadows, more than twice Hutchinson’s age, had even half of her courage, the country would be in a much better place.


Early on Jan. 6, The Post's Kate Woodsome saw signs of violence hours before thousands of President Trump's loyalists besieged the Capitol. (Video: Joy Yi, Kate Woodsome/The Washington Post, Photo: John Minchillo/AP/The Washington Post)
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