A deeply divided nation got a glimpse into the chaos and the calculation that was the Trump White House on Jan. 6, 2021, through the eyes of a once-loyal 26-year-old who saw her greater duty to democracy and to the rule of law.
The courage of Cassidy Hutchinson in testifying before the House committee investigating the events of that day was a rare moment of sanity and of calm about a world in which both were in short supply — a world of broken White House china, threats to the very life of the vice president of the United States, and a White House chief of staff scrolling mindlessly through his phone as an armed insurrection sent members of Congress scrambling for safety.
But in the sunshine of this July Fourth weekend, the big questions remain. Will any of this matter? Will right-thinking Republicans come to recognize Donald Trump for the unhinged threat to democracy he remains? Will other more senior insiders come forward to add their weight to the growing case that there was indeed a conspiracy to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 election? And will more witnesses stand up to what the committee believes are ongoing efforts at intimidation?
Hutchinson, an assistant to chief of staff Mark Meadows, cannot, must not, be the last profile in courage to have ended her career within view of the Oval Office.
Yes, that means you, Meadows.
And it means you, White House counsel Pat Cipollone.
According to Hutchinson’s testimony, it was Cipollone who, as early as Jan. 3, was warning her that she and Meadows needed to make sure Trump didn’t make any kind of trip to the Capitol after his rally.
“He said to me, ‘We need to make sure that this doesn’t happen,’ ” Hutchinson testified.
On the morning of Jan. 6, she testified, Cipollone was again warning “something to the effect of: ‘Please make sure we don’t go up to the Capitol, Cassidy. Keep in touch with me. We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen.’ ”
So far, the committee has heard from Cipollone only during an informal interview back in April.
“It’s time for Mr. Cipollone to testify on the record,” Representative Liz Cheney, the committee vice chair, tweeted Wednesday morning. “Any concerns he has about the institutional interests of his prior office are outweighed by the need for his testimony.”
Later that day, the committee issued a subpoena to Cipollone, who will now have to decide whether his loyalty is to his former client or to the Constitution that as an attorney he swore to protect and defend.
Hutchinson provided a firsthand account of Trump’s conduct backstage at the Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse when he found out people were being kept out of the rally who weren’t willing to go through magnetometers and risk having to surrender weapons.
“He was angry that we weren’t letting people through the mags with weapons,” Hutchinson testified, adding, “I overheard the president say something to the effect of, you know, 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.”
Cheney rattled off a list of confiscated weapons that included pepper spray, knives, brass knuckles, tasers, body armor, gas masks, and batons. She also played the on-scene radio dispatches from Metropolitan District Police reporting people with AR-15s in trees (at 14th Street and Independence Avenue) and countless reports of people with sharpened flagpoles wearing body armor.
Hutchinson said Meadows had earlier warned her that “things could get real, real bad on the 6th.”
And they did. As rioters approached the Capitol, Hutchinson, then back at the White House, recalled asking Meadows if he had spoken to Trump about the threat.
“He said, ‘No, he wants to be alone right now,’ ” she testified, adding Meadows simply continued to scroll through his phone.
Meadows himself has refused to comply with a committee subpoena, and while the House has voted to hold him in contempt, the Justice Department has reportedly declined to prosecute him for that.
Hutchinson’s testimony is all the more remarkable in the face of what Cheney has outlined as a pattern of attempting to “influence witnesses” about to give testimony to the committee. She did not name names. The committee has routinely asked witnesses if they have been contacted by anyone connected to Trump. Here’s how one responded:
“What they said to me is, as long as I continue to be a team player, they know that I’m on the 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,” according to a transcript displayed onscreen and read aloud during the Tuesday hearing.
Another related a phone call: “[A person] let me know you have your deposition tomorrow,” that second witness said the caller relayed. “He wants me to let you know that he’s thinking about you. He knows you’re loyal and you’re going to do the right thing when you go in for your deposition.”
And, yes, witness intimidation is a crime — one more in the long list of potential crimes being documented with skill and with patience by the committee as it attempts to help the American public grasp the enormity of the bullet that democracy dodged on Jan. 6.
Beyond the fireworks and the flag-waving of this holiday weekend, it’s an appropriate moment to remember how fragile a thing democracy is and to celebrate those who truly believe in its worth and have the courage to speak out against a petty tyrant who has defiled it at every opportunity.
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