Surprise Testimony from Staffer Provides Insight into Trump’s Response to January 6
Hearings conducted by the January 6 Select Committee have shed light on the chaotic events of the Capitol riot. (Brett Davis/Flickr)
Created “to investigate and report upon the facts and causes relating to the January 6, 2021, domestic terrorist attack upon the United States Capitol,” the January 6 Select Committee has now held six hearings in the past year. The most recent hearing, held unexpectedly on June 28 due to “recently obtained evidence,” featured testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson, who was a senior aide to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. In her testimony, Hutchinson revealed new information on how Donald Trump and his associates responded to the Capitol riots, providing evidence that could prove to be instrumental in incriminating Trump and other former White House officials.
Trump at the Ellipse
Just hours before rioters flooded the halls of Congress, then-President Trump and other Republicans gave a series of speeches at the Ellipse, a park just south of the White House. Many believe the inflammatory rhetoric in these speeches was partly responsible for galvanizing the crowds into storming the Capitol building.
Hutchinson’s testimony that Trump knew about the possibility of a riot but chose to ignore it adds a new layer of complexity. Before giving his speech, Hutchison said she heard Trump telling Secret Service agents to “take the f—ing magnetometers away and let my people in. I don’t f—ing care that they have weapons, they’re not here to hurt me.” He added, “They can march to the Capitol after this is over.” According to Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor, the fact that Trump knew that the crowd was armed and was ready to march to the Capitol but still wanted magnetometers taken down “could lend itself to a conspiracy charge, to an obstruction charge, [and] even to a seditious conspiracy charge.”
Trump in the Car
Hutchinson’s testimony also provides insight into how Trump responded to not being allowed to join rioters at the Capitol building. According to Hutchinson, White House Deputy Chief of Staff for operations Tony Ornato had told her that after being notified that they would be returning to the White House, Trump became irate, attempting to grab the wheel of the vehicle and attacking Secret Service agents in the car.
However, the validity of these interactions has come into question in recent days. For one, Hutchinson herself made very clear that she had not witnessed these events firsthand. It is also unclear to what extent the committee has tried to verify Hutchinson’s assertions. In fact, several anonymous Secret Service officials have said that they would be willing to testify under oath that these things did not happen. Many allies of Trump have now used the possibility of falsity to undermine Hutchison’s entire testimony.
Trump During the Riots
Overall, the committee was most interested in information on how the Trump White House responded to the news of the riots. According to Hutchinson, White House officials mostly fell into two categories: those who urged Trump to condemn the riots and those that chose to remain silent, either out of approval of the rioters or fear of backlash from the President.
The first group―those that urged Trump to make a public statement condemning the riots―included Trump’s oldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, who reportedly asked “her dad to tell them to go home peacefully” and wanted him “to include language that he wasn’t necessarily on board with at the time.” In the latter group―those that wanted to “deflect and blame”―were President Trump himself as well as Hutchinson’s boss, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Even as protestors threatened to hang Vice President Mike Pence, the White House refused to intervene. When White House Counsel Pat Cipollone said to Meadows, “We need to do something more. They’re literally calling for the vice president to be f—ing hung,” Meadows replied, “[Trump] thinks Mike deserves it. He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong.” Hutchinson adds that there were also many other officials who were “trying to toe the line” and remain neutral.
How the U.S. Responded
For Hutchinson, her testimony will likely be the “beginning of a process that can turn ugly,” as John Dean, former White House Council and Watergate co-conspirator, put it. “There will be efforts to discredit her and they will get printed, and she will read things about herself that aren’t true or incidents will be slanted in ways she never dreamed,” Dean warned. Just after the hearing, Trump flatly denied Hutchison’s testimony, posting on his new social media platform Truth Social that he hardly knew who Cassidy Hutchinson was other than that she was “a phony” and “a leaker.” Other supporters of Trump have also come out in recent days to try to discredit her testimony.
However, many former Trump White House officials expressed support for Hutchinson as well. Sarah Matthews, who was the deputy press secretary under Trump, tweeted, “Anyone downplaying Cassidy Hutchinson’s role or her access in the West Wing either doesn’t understand how the Trump WH worked or is attempting to discredit her because they’re scared of how damning this testimony is.” Alyssa Farah Griffin, another staffer who worked for Meadows, tweeted that she was “so grateful for [Hutchinson’s] courage and integrity.” Even right-leaning news sources such as The Dispatch and The Washington Examiner wrote that her testimony was “the most extraordinary congressional testimony” and it “ought to ring the death knell for former President Donald Trump’s political career.”
It still remains unclear how the Department of Justice will respond to this new evidence. Many Democrats, such as Sen. Ben Ray Luján from New Mexico, are calling for Trump to be “held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.” Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona added, “We need some action now. We need Merrick Garland and the DOJ to show that they're actually holding people accountable.” The Justice Department has not yet said anything explicitly about investigations into Trump’s role in the January 6 riots, but as former Attorney General William Barr told the New York Times, Hutchinson’s testimony “definitely gave investigators a lot to chew on.”
Sources & Further Reading