Cassidy Hutchinson's Bombshells — Day Six
Trump in an orange jumpsuit goes from liberal fantasy to genuine possibility
From the time he came down the escalator into our lives seven years ago, it looked almost inevitable that Donald Trump’s malignant narcissism would somehow lead to violence. For four years, a lot of us worried that his ego would get us into a major war (my money was on North Korea, which he threatened with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”); instead it brought us domestic armed insurrection.
Now, with Cassidy Hutchinson’s mind-blowing testimony, it seems increasingly likely that his malignancy will eventually lead to his indictment and (if prosecutors can find a jury without a sleeper MAGA guy) to his conviction. For the first time, the image of Trump in a prison jump suit that matches his hair color is less a liberal fantasy than a genuine possibility.
Whatever the courts have in store for him, there’s a form of cosmic justice coming into view. One of the symptoms of Trump’s almost unfathomable narcissism—his obsession with the size of his crowds—bracketed his presidency, from Inauguration Day lies on January 20th, 2017 to his fateful Ellipse speech on January 6th, 2021, which we can now see in an even more ominous light. For all of the chaos the tyrant leaves in his wake, there is, as the poet William Blake put it in The Tyger, a “fearful symmetry” to his story.
Hutchinson—who worked in close proximity to the Oval Office and has many documents that back up her accounts— offered convincing testimony that Trump knew that the crowd he desperately wanted to lead to the Capitol was armed and dangerous.
She testified that her boss, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, had known for days of the possibility of violence. And he was told by his deputy chief of staff for security, Tony Ornato, as early as 10:00 a.m. on January 6 that some Trump supporters near the Ellipse were carrying “knives, guns in the form of pistols and rifles, bear spray, body armor, spears, and flagpoles.” Ornato noted that “these effing people are fastening spears onto the ends of flagpoles.”
Backstage before the noon Ellipse rally, Hutchinson overheard an irate Trump in a conversation she related in real-time texts to Ornato. “He was furious because he wanted the arena that we had on the Ellipse to be maxed out at capacity for all attendees,” she testified. Hutchinson recounted that Trump said 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 [metal detectors] away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.”
Committee Vice-Chair Liz Cheney placed the emphasis in that tirade over crowd size where it belonged: “The President apparently wanted all attendees inside the official rally space and repeatedly said, quote, ‘They're not here to hurt me.’” Me. As always, it was all about him. No empathy for anyone else who might get hurt by these weapons he didn’t want confiscated, including members of Congress and his own vice-president.
In an afternoon of bombshells, this was the biggest. “If the President knew the protesters had weapons, and still encouraged them to go to the Capitol, that is a serious problem,” Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s former White House chief of staff (and now, preposterously, a CBS News analyst), tweeted. Trump’s lawyers had warned him not to use the word “fight” in his speech but he did so anyway, and with the knowledge that many of his people would take the word literally.
Ever since January 6th, I assumed that when Trump said at the rally, “So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue,” he was too chicken or lazy to actually do so. I was half right. He was, of course, too sedentary to walk that distance. But he turned out to be maniacally determined to drive there and lead what he knew could be a violent attack on the Capitol.
Trump is hardly physically brave. He dodged Vietnam and flinched during the 2016 campaign when a protester mounted the stage. But this time he was entirely unafraid. These were his people and when he arrived there, they would protect him so that he could….do what?
Hutchinson wasn’t sure, but she testified that “I know that there was a conversation about him going into the House chamber at one point.” I’m still waiting for Medievalists or scholars of the Roman Empire to offer some historical precedent for a would-be dictator essentially capturing his own capital. We’ve certainly never had an armed coup d’etat in this country before.
The New York Times reported that the two Secret Service agents in the president’s vehicle will deny Hutchinson’s story that Trump was so anxious to go to the Capitol that he tried to grab the steering wheel and assaulted Robert Engel, the chief of his Secret Service detail, when he prevented him from doing so—a story that Hutchinson says Engel didn’t deny in her presence. Whatever happened, this colorful anecdote should not detract from the substance of Hutchinson’s testimony. According to The Times, the agents will confirm that Trump tried hard to go to the Capitol. We now have plenty of evidence that he did this with the full knowledge that he would be leading an armed mob.
And it’s likely his White House Counsel, Pat Cipollone, advised him of the legal consequences. According to Hutchinson, Cipollone understood exactly what Trump knew and when he was told, and all the laws that would be broken by Trump following through on his promise to go to the Capitol. “We're going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen,” Cipollone told her, including obstruction of justice and defrauding the electoral count.
Hutchinson, only 26-years-old, was a terrific witness—and not just because she told compelling stories about helping the valet when Trump— after hearing that Attorney General William Barr had told the Associated Press there was no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election— broke dishes and splattered ketchup on the wall of his dining room. She explained that watching Meadows scrolling calmly through his texts while rioters approached the Capitol was like witnessing “a bad car accident that was about to happen where you can't stop it, but you want to be able to do something.” Hutchinson certainly tried. “Are you watching the TV, chief?” she asked her boss around 2:00 p.m. “Have you talked to the president”?” The answer was chilling: “Yeah, he wants to be alone right now.”
At that point, Cipollone, who comes across fairly well but apparently lacks the courage and integrity to testify, burst into Meadows’ office and, according to Hutchinson, said, “Mark, something needs to be done or people are going to die and the blood’s gonna be on your f-ing hands.”
Unlike Ivanka Trump, who apparently pleaded with her father to do something, Meadows was in what Hutchinson called the “deflect and blame category.” He favored blaming Antifa for the riot—a lie. And in his memoirs, he said Trump only wanted to go to the Capitol “metaphorically”—another total lie.
Even the chanting of “Hang Mike Pence!” didn’t have any impact on Trump and—by extension—Meadows. “You heard it, Pat,” Meadows told Cipollone. “He thinks Pence deserves it. He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong.” Trump confirmed this assessment with his now-infamous tweet at 2:24 p.m., which blamed Pence again even as insurrectionists were hunting him down in the Capitol.
At that point, Hutchinson said, “I remember feeling frustrated and disappointed, and really it felt personal. I — I was really sad. As an American, I was disgusted. It was unpatriotic. It was un-American. We were watching the Capitol building get defaced over a lie.”
Hutchinson didn’t witness the coup plotting, but she had reason to believe it took place. On January 2, after meeting with Rudy Giuliani (who told Hutchinson on the way to the car that “We’re going to the Capitol…It’s going to be a great day!”), Meadows informed his young assistant that “There’s a lot going on…things might get real, real bad on January 6.” Hutchinson testified, “That evening was the first moment when I felt scared and nervous for what could happen on January 6th.” John Ratcliffe, director of national intelligence, and Robert O’Brien, national security advisor, were also deeply apprehensive as reports of protesters with illegal weapons flowed in.
Hutchinson also revealed that Meadows and Giuliani—like several members of Congress—sought pardons, which suggests they knew they had broken the law. Trump didn’t grant them, probably because he knew doing so would hurt him in the coming impeachment trial. But he did direct his PAC to give Meadow’s Conservative Partnership Institute $1 million dollars, a donation that will be scrutinized as the Committee investigates what looks like witness tampering.
Cheney quoted one reluctant witness, who sounded like a member of La Cosa Nostra: ”’What they said to me is as long as I continue to be a team player, they know I'm on the right team. I'm doing the right thing. I'm protecting who I need to protect, you know, I'll continue to stay in good graces in Trump World…And they have reminded me a couple of times that Trump does read transcripts.’”
One person who did get a Trump pardon (for perjury) was Michael Flynn. But this authentic American fascist—and a grifter to boot—still has a lot to hide. He repeatedly took the Fifth in his video deposition, even when Cheney asked a simple question at the heart of the republic: “General Flynn, do you believe in the peaceful transition of power in the United States of America?” Flynn replied: “The Fifth.”
Many of us have long assumed that Trump will once again escape the law and — if polls of Republicans are any indication — win the GOP nomination and have a decent shot of reclaiming the presidency. We’ve assumed that, like the villain in a horror movie, the Orange monster will pop up to terrorize us again. But movie villains, if they live, almost always get caught and punished in the end. That’s where we are now in Trump: The Movie, based on a script that every producer in Hollywood would have rejected as implausible. Act Three, when justice finally arrives, is about to begin.