WASHINGTON—“I’m the effing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,” Donald Trump said to the Secret Service agent assigned to protect him on Jan. 6, 2021, before lunging to grab the steering wheel of the presidential limousine, and then lunging at the throat of the agent.
Stunning stuff that will leap off the pages of history books. A portrait of a president of the United States gripped by mania, intent on physically leading a mob he knew to be armed as it stormed the Capitol to prevent the peaceful transfer of power. Painted in the sworn testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson on Tuesday afternoon to the Jan. 6 congressional commission, who was in the rooms where it all happened, as the then-assistant to Trump’s chief of staff.
The information on how and why the insurrectionist riot at the Capitol happened — and what Trump knew about it, and how he participated, and how he reacted — has been coming through official and unofficial channels for over a year.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Now came the tidal wave, in the form of Hutchinson’s surprise testimony, scheduled at the last minute and kept under wraps until the eleventh hour.
The picture she painted of a raging president — throwing his lunch, leaving ketchup dripping down the White House wall after his attorney general publicly refused to confirm his lies about the election, then petulantly disregarding legal and political advice while dismissively standing by as his vice-president’s life was threatened — was compelling. The portrait of his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, apathetically staring at his phone like a despondent teenager and shrugging off the president’s desire to let a mob rage even as it overtook the legislature was vivid. The behind-the-curtains look into that day was significantly more unhinged — and unflattering to Trump — than even many of his fiercest critics had previously imagined.
There are very few moments in the archives of U.S. congressional hearings that stand out as altering the course, or our understanding, of history. One was Alex Butterfield telling the Watergate investigators that the Oval Office was bugged. Another was Joseph Welch squashing the Communist witch hunt under the weight of the question, “Have you no decency?”
Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony Tuesday may turn out to be one of those moments.
Beyond the frankly unhinged details of scenes of a president in defiant rage, there was a broader picture of the lead-up to Jan. 6 and how the day unfolded that unmistakably connected the dots showing Trump and his staff knew the protest was likely to be violent, knew the president’s speech was encouraging violence, knew as the riot began to unfold that the crowd was armed, and that the president steadfastly refused to intervene to end the violence because he thought it was justified.
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The young Hutchinson — just 25 years — laid waste to months of spin by Republicans in Trump’s orbit.
She testified that days before Jan. 6, she became “scared” after a meeting attorney Rudy Giuliani had at the White House, after which Meadows told her that on Jan. 6, “things might get real, real bad.” She testified she had overheard talk of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers in the White House in the lead-up to that day. She testified the White House’s lawyers had warned that Trump’s planned speech was making him complicit in anticipated violence, and that his plan to accompany the demonstrators to the Capitol might mean “we’re going to get charged with every charge imaginable.”
She testified that on the day, moments before his speech, Trump was angry that demonstrators who were armed with guns and spears had been kept by the Secret Service out of the enclosed rally area — they were staying out on the National Mall — and that Trump said, “I don’t care about weapons, they aren’t here to hurt me,” and that he wanted the metal detectors removed so they could be let in, and that they could march to the Capitol afterwards. And she testified he wanted to accompany those demonstrators he knew were armed to the Capitol even as the violent clashes with police had begun — to the point of trying to take the wheel of his own car and allegedly assaulting his security detail.
It was shocking, even in the estimation of another former Trump chief of staff.
“This is explosive stuff. If Cassidy is making this up, (other witnesses directly involved) will need to say that. If she isn’t they will have to corroborate,” Mick Mulvaney tweeted during the hearing. “I know her. I don’t think she is lying.”
At the end of the hearing, Rep. Liz Cheney, who had led questioning throughout, concluded by sharing anonymous statements from other witnesses saying that people around Trump had tried to intimidate them before they testified.
“He wants me to let you know he’s thinking about you,” one witness said a Trump associate had told them. “He knows you’re loyal, and you’re going to do the right thing when you go in for your deposition.”
But immediately after that, commission chair Bennie Thompson publicly invited witnesses who had refused to co-operate, or who had convenient gaps in their memory when they testified, to contact the commission if they wanted to revise their statements.
The message from Trump world was like a mob-movie demand of loyalty. Thompson’s response was that it’s all coming out, and there may well be consequences, legally and otherwise, to those who continue to let loyalty to Trump come before their obligation to tell the truth. After all of the drip-drip-dripping that’s come before, the tsunami of Hutchinson’s testimony made those consequences seem ever more likely.
Edward Keenan is the Star’s Washington Bureau chief. He covers U.S. politics and current affairs. Reach him via email: [email protected]
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