By Kenneth Tiven in Washington
The biggest exposure of former President Donald Trump’s involvement in the January 6 riots on Capitol Hill came in a surprise House Investigating Committee hearing held last week in live testimony from a composed and strikingly precise 25-year-old named Cassidy Hutchinson. She blew the lid off the dysfunctional White House that supported and covered for Trump after he lost the national election in November 2020.
Virtually unknown outside Washington, Hutchinson is an experienced political person who was the chief assistant to Mark Meadows, Trump’s fourth chief of staff, a man whom she described as willing to go along with any plan that Trump hatched. Her office desk was a 15 second walk to the Oval office and she was routinely involved in almost everything her boss did.
Reflecting on it now, 18 months later, she suggests that Meadows’ refusal to intervene with Trump reflected his delight that as a former Congressman from North Carolina, he was now the right hand man of the American president. Hutchinson said Meadows spent most of his time on the phone either calling or using text messages. She apparently did all the heavy lifting. It is understood that many of his texts from January 4,5 and 6 are in the possession of the Committee. Meadows himself was cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to testify.
How bizarre was the end of the Trump era? Before speaking at the Ellipse on the morning of the 6th, the president angrily complained to Hutchinson and the Secret Service that there weren’t enough people in the seating area for his speech. Trump was told that many attendees didn’t want to pass through security magnetometers because their weapons would be confiscated. So, they watched the big TV screens from a nearby section of the National Mall.
Hutchinson testified that the president said that he did not care if his supporters had weapons—and suggested he had no issue with them marching to the Capitol armed. “I overheard the President say something to the effect of ‘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. Let the people in, take the F-ing mags away.”
She said Meadows told her that Trump agreed Vice-President Mike Pence deserved to be hung for not following presidential orders to disrupt the Congressional acceptance of the votes from the states.
Trump really wanted to go to Capitol Hill with his supporters, despite specific advice from his legal advisor that it would be a crime. The Secret Service protecting him said no. Meadows kept that decision from Trump, she said, so that when the president got into the unmarked armoured SUV, he believed he was heading to the Capitol. Furious that they were going back to the White House, she quoted Trump as saying, “I’am the effing president, take me up to the Capitol now.” When Bobby Engel, his Secret Service lead man, told him there weren’t enough resources for the trip to be safe, Trump “reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel. Mr. Engel grabbed his arm”. Hutchinson said: “Mr. Trump then used his free hand to lunge towards Bobby Engel.” Engel and Tony Ornato, a former secret service man serving as assistant chief of staff for security, told her this moments after they all returned to the White House.
Mick Mulvaney, chief of staff before Meadows, and a confidant of Trump tweeted: “My guess is that before this is over, we will be hearing testimony from Ornato, Engel and Meadows. This is explosive stuff. If Cassidy is making this up, they will need to say that. If she isn’t they will have to corroborate. I know her. I don’t think she is lying.”
On the issue of White House planning, Hutchinson related how a few days before January 6, she was escorting Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani to his car and he asked if she was excited about the sixth, saying, “We’re going to the Capitol! It’s going to be great! When she asked Meadows what Giuliani meant, Meadows looked up from his phone and told her, “There’s a lot going on…things might get real, real bad on January 6.”
Trump spent most of the afternoon in the Oval Office or the dining room attached to it. He was upset and his staff kept their distance. At one point, he was so angry that he threw his lunch plate against a wall and then dumped the table onto the floor. Hutchinson discovered this when she came looking for Meadows. The president’s valet, who was trying to clean up ketchup on the wall, and broken dishes, explained what had happened.
The House Republican Judiciary Committee tweeted: “That was their star witness? OK then.” Cognitive Dissonance is the GOP response to any news that disagrees with them.
Hutchinson at various points named other White House senior staff present for parts of the day, all pressing Trump to call off the mob he had motivated. With Hutchinson’s revelations about what working was like on the inside, there’ll be increased pressure for other staffers to testify without invoking the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. Committee chairman Bennie Thompson hinted that some who had testified might like to come back and revise what they said.
This was almost as shocking as John Dean’s testimony in 1973, revealing then President Nixon’s oval office taping system. However, Nixon’s paranoia was not as obvious as the emotional and mental suspicions about Trump’s mindset after losing his bid for a second term in the White House. Her testimony comes 49 years plus two weeks after those of Dean, a former White House lawyer.
—The writer has worked in senior positions at The Washington Post, NBC, ABC and CNN and also consults for several Indian channels