The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

On Jan. 6, it is Trump’s word against the word of former GOP allies

Cassidy Hutchinson, a top aide to Mark Meadows when he was White House chief of staff in the Trump administration, is sworn in on June 28 at the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack at the Capitol began with an articulation of her Republican bona fides.

“Today’s witness, Ms. Cassidy Hutchinson, is another Republican and another former member of President Trump’s White House staff,” Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) explained at the beginning of the hearing. “Certain of us in the House of Representatives recall Ms. Hutchinson once worked for House Republican Whip Steve Scalise, but she is also a familiar face on Capitol Hill because she held a prominent role in the White House Legislative Affairs Office and later was the principal aide to President Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows.”

The unsubtle point? This is not some left-wing anti-Trump activist. It is, instead, someone who was hired by Donald Trump’s administration after having made a name for herself working for other prominent members of his party. She is, as Cheney put it, “another Republican” — one of a string of members of his party who are testifying under oath against him.

As Trump and his political boosters — opining unburdened by a legal obligation to tell the truth — disparage Hutchinson and the other witnesses as fake or impure, consider who the House committee has interviewed in person during its first five public hearings.

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The first hearing, held this month, featured testimony from Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards and documentary filmmaker Nick Quested, who was accompanying members of the far-right extremist group the Proud Boys on the day of the riot.

For the second hearing, the committee interviewed a number of members of Trump’s party. Longtime Republican election attorney Ben Ginsberg. Former Philadelphia city commissioner Al Schmidt. Bill Stepien, Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, was slated to testify but had to cancel. The hearing also included testimony from former U.S. attorney B.J. Pak (a Republican appointed to that position by Trump) and Chris Stirewalt, once the political editor of Fox News.

In the third hearing, the committee heard testimony from Greg Jacob, an attorney to former vice president Mike Pence, and J. Michael Luttig, a former judge renowned in conservative circles.

The fourth hearing included a number of state officials. From Arizona, the state’s Republican House speaker, Russell “Rusty” Bowers. From Georgia, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Gabriel Sterling, a senior staffer in his office, both Republicans. The hearing also included testimony from Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, an elections worker from Fulton County, Ga., whose political affiliation is not known.

The fifth hearing continued the pattern. Richard Donoghue, Jeffrey Rosen and Steven A. Engel all worked for the Trump administration — Donoghue and Rosen in the Justice Department, both were at one point Trump appointees, and Engel in the White House’s Office of Legal Counsel.

And then, in the sixth hearing, Hutchinson.

All of them under oath — and nearly all of them having worked at some point explicitly for the benefit of Trump or his party.

But, of course, that’s not how they are viewed by Trump’s remaining loyalists. Just as Trump himself has tried to dismiss the committee two GOP members, including Cheney, the vice chair, as somehow impure for objecting to his actions as president, his allies and want-to-be allies are applying the same dishonest paint to the committee’s witnesses.

On Monday night, for example, Fox News host Bret Baier interviewed Kari Lake, a candidate for governor in Arizona who has been endorsed by Trump. She insisted that the 2020 election had been stolen, prompting Baier to note that Bowers, in his testimony, rejected that idea.

“He is a RINO,” Lake said to Baier, using an acronym for “Republican in name only.”

“And he hopefully will be defeated,” she continued about Bowers. “He is an absolute RINO.”

Bowers is a RINO only in the sense that Trump and his allies conflate criticism of Trump with rejection of the party as an institution. (This despite Bowers voting for Trump in 2020 and saying he would again in 2024.)

As Trump said of Cheney at one point: She has “no idea what our Party stands for” — which has an element of truth given how important fealty to Trump has been for Republicans over the past few years.

In the wake of Hutchinson’s testimony (and even as it was underway), Trump and his allies tried to undermine her comments or shrug them off. The bizarrely aggressive Twitter account for the minority caucus of the House Judiciary Committee worked feverishly to undercut what she was saying. Trump himself posted on Truth Social a dozen times (as of writing) about the hearing, disparaging Hutchinson, her testimony and someone named “Chaney.” (Lon?) He made various claims about the veracity of what was presented — which, unlike his social-media messages, was under oath.

Others simply played off Hutchinson’s testimony as unimportant, as did Fox News’s Laura Ingraham when she described it as “another effort to distract the country from the fact that Democrats are losing on all fronts.” Texts from Ingraham were included in the hearing as the committee showed how Trump’s allies were calling on him to intervene in the riot.

Some members of Congress latched onto the idea that Hutchinson’s testimony about Trump trying to take the wheel of his limousine upon leaving the Ellipse on Jan. 6, a story she was conveying secondhand, was necessarily false given the construction of the car. But as CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski pointed out, the claims were focused on the wrong vehicle.

For other Republicans, even allies of Trump, Hutchinson’s testimony was harder to dismiss. Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s acting chief of staff before Meadows, summarized what was presented in stark — and accurate — terms.

Mulvaney has previous approached Trump’s post-election efforts with skepticism. And why not? It wasn’t on his watch. But Mulvaney is also freed from the need to treat Trump with obsequiousness as he’s not running for office or trying to sell a book. Even without those demands, though, it’s long been the case that objecting to Trump’s worldview and rhetoric was not worth the blowback for anyone adjacent to his sphere of influence.

That the House committee has been so consistent in having Republican witnesses describe their experiences — often under questioning from Cheney — has made it harder for Trump and his supporters to wave it all away. That Hutchinson’s testimony was so powerful and will probably resonate widely (it aired on Fox News, for example) may make it harder still for Republicans to ignore what the committee is presenting.

If the best rejoinder that can be mustered is “that critic of Trump is definitionally not a Republican,” it may be the case that there is no robust defense of what Trump did.

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