Inside the White House on 1-6

Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony Tuesday damaged both Trump’s image and his legal position.

The top assistant to Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, whose desk was just steps away from the Oval Office, testified to the 1-6 Committee Tuesday [video transcript]. She made an impressive witness and told a compelling story.

In my mind (and I suspect in Liz Cheney’s as well), these hearings serve two parallel purposes:

  1. assembling evidence that will force the Justice Department’s hand and get Trump indicted,
  2. breaking his hold on the Republican Party so that he will never return to power.

Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony served both. Which purpose you find most important determined which part of her testimony you focused on.

Personally, I want to see Trump in jail, because I think that’s necessary to deter future fascist presidents from arranging their promotion to Führer. So I focused on the legally significant claims:

  • Trump had been warned before January 6 about the potential for violence.
  • When he told his rally crowd to march on the Capitol, he knew they had weapons.
  • He tried to stop the Secret Service from taking those weapons away.
  • Only the Secret Service prevented Trump from going to the Capitol with the mob.
  • He didn’t want to tell the mob to leave the Capitol, because (in Meadows’ words) “He thinks Mike deserves it. He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong.”

We’re still guessing what Trump planned to do if he got to the Capitol, but Hutchinson testified “I know that there was a conversation about him going into the House chamber at one point.” She said that on January 2 Rudy Giuliani told her about plans for the 6th: “The President’s going to be there. He’s going to look powerful. He’s — he’s going to be with the members. He’s going to be with the Senators.”

Breaking into the Capitol at the head of an armed mob to prevent Congress finalizing the election he lost — that sounds like something from the final days of the Roman Republic.

But if you’re mainly focused on GOP politics, probably the most significant aspect of Hutchinson’s testimony was how humiliating it was for Trump. In a dispassionate voice, she told about incidents when Trump behaved like a bratty toddler.

She described helping the White House valet clean ketchup off the wall of the Oval Office dining nook, after Trump had thrown his lunch at the wall. (He was upset because Bill Barr had told the public that his election-fraud claims were false.) She said that it was not the only time Trump had broken White House dishes during a fit of anger.

Putting this in presidential perspective: Remember what a scandal it was when Obama put his feet up on the Resolute Desk? “This arrogant, immature & self-centered man has no sense of honor, or of simple decency,” declared

Imagine if our first Black president had broken White House china in a temper tantrum and left ketchup stains on the walls!

And then there was Hutchinson’s second-hand account of Trump trying to force the Secret Service to drive him to the Capitol.

And when [Secret Service Agent] Bobby [Engel] had relayed to him we’re not, we don’t have the assets to do it, it’s not secure, we’re going back to the West Wing, the president had a very strong, a very angry response to that.

Tony [Ornato] described him as being irate. The president said something to the effect of “I’m the f’ing president, take me up to the Capitol now” to which Bobby responded, “Sir, we have to go back to the West Wing.” 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. We’re not going to the Capitol.”

Mr. Trump then used his free hand to lunge towards Bobby Engel. And Mr. — when Mr. Ornato had recounted this story to me, he had motioned towards his clavicles.

Trump has always been more concerned about his image than about the law, so TrumpWorld responded to this account rather than the parts of Hutchinson’s testimony that were more legally damaging.

An anonymous source countered Hutchinson’s testimony-under-oath by claiming that “Two Secret Service agents are prepared to testify before Congress that then-President Donald Trump did not lunge at a steering wheel or assault them.” This is a very specific denial that I could imagine as part of testimony that supported 99% of what Hutchinson claimed. (“It was more of a reach than a lunge, and I wouldn’t describe that as an assault.”)

CNN then found other anonymous Secret Service agents who backed up Hutchinson’s account. Whether the incident happened exactly as she described it or not, it is clear that Hutchinson did not make the story up. It was circulating in the White House, as she said. She never claimed to be in the car, witnessing the tantrum herself.

We’ll see if any of this additional testimony actually happens. After all, Trump and his people have a long history of promising proof that never appears. Hutchinson made her statements under oath, and that has to give them more credibility than anonymous sources describing what somebody else might be willing to say.

In addition, I find it striking that no one from TrumpWorld stepped up to dispute the legally damaging parts of Hutchinson’s testimony. It’s scary that a guy who can’t be trusted with the White House china had the nuclear codes, but breaking dishes isn’t illegal.

Here’s a point that the I don’t think is getting enough stress in the public conversation: This is not a debate between two versions of what happened on January 6. The committee is presenting a narrative of what happened, and Trump’s people are refusing to discuss the matter — not just refusing to testify under oath, but refusing to comment at all. Trump complains about the hearings being “one-sided”, but he has chosen not to present a side.

If he had the confidence and courage to go under oath, as Hillary Clinton did during the Benghazi hearings, Trump (or Mark Meadows or Rudy Giuliani) could tell the committee (and the country) an alternate story, if he has one.

But even short of testimony, Fox News would readily give Trump all the air time he wants, with none of that annoying cross-examination or fact checks or follow-up questions or risk of perjury. He could explain why he didn’t believe his own experts when they told him that his fraud claims were false, and that Mike Pence had no power to reject electoral votes certified by the states. He could tell us which of his many debunked fraud claims he still believes, what the fake electors were for, what he intended the crowd to do when they got to the Capitol, when he first learned that violence had broken out, what he was thinking when he attacked Vice President Pence in a tweet (and in particular, did he know at the time that the crowd was already calling for Pence to be hung?), why he waited so long to ask the rioters to go home, and so on.

But he won’t do any that. His “side of the story” never gets any more detailed than saying that he did nothing wrong.

He refuses to go on the record in any form (and certainly not under oath) because he knows that he can’t defend any detailed account in which he did nothing wrong.

He knows he’s guilty.

All of which raises the question: Will it make any difference? Will the Justice Department indict Trump? Or anybody inside the White House who wasn’t physically present at the Capitol Insurrection? Lawrence Tribe says yes. Jeffrey Toobin urges DoJ not to. Jack Goldsmith says it’s a tough decision.

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  • Al Jette  On July 4, 2022 at 9:54 am

    So a protester climbing the fence around the white house is thrown in jail. A president who conspires with team-crazy to overthrow the smooth transition to a newly elected president and urges armed people to march on Congress (and threaten Pence) walks free because he’s rich. Greatly saddened by the lack of pretence of justice in the USA.

  • Nancy Browning  On July 4, 2022 at 9:56 am

    Please change the word “hung” to “hanged.” Love your analyses! Thanks.

  • TRPChicago  On July 4, 2022 at 9:58 am

    Yes, refraining from indicting Donald Trump would be a more culpable political act for DoJ than charging his evident criminality. The charges will probably be for inciting a riot, insurrection and obstructing justice. I think DoJ will charge seditious conspiracy only if it can get one of the top plotters (Stone, Giuliani, etc.) to link fomenting/ organizing/ financing the activities of the Proud Boys and/or other groups with the Jan. 6 riot.

  • Dan  On July 5, 2022 at 12:03 pm

    The Toobin opinion in the link is almost a year old. After the revelations from the January 6 committee, is he still saying prosecuting Trump would be a mistake? I couldn’t find anything more recent.

  • nwb  On July 12, 2022 at 7:05 pm

    If trump is not brought to justice and made to answer for his crimes, it will be the death knell of the rule of law and our democracy.


  • By Exceptions | The Weekly Sift on July 4, 2022 at 12:07 pm

    […] This week’s featured post was “Inside the White House on 1-6“. […]

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