The House Jan. 6 select committee abruptly scheduled a sixth public hearing to begin today at 1 p.m. ET. Cassidy Hutchinson, a former top aide to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, provided explosive in-person testimony.
Obstruction of justice could still be happening in real time
You’ve likely heard the saying, “The cover-up’s worse than the crime.” It’s one that appears very relevant to today’s hearing.
To hear Cheney tell it, there’s been a fair amount of witness tampering going on in Trump World. She didn’t name names, but we know that practice included reminding a witness that “Trump does read transcripts” and that so long as they protected those who needed protection, they would “continue to stay in good graces in Trump World.” Another witness was allegedly told that an unnamed person — presumably Trump — “wants me to let you know that he is thinking about you” the day before the witness’s deposition.
Federal law prohibits intimidating or even attempting to intimidate witnesses before Congress. Specifically, 18 USC 1512(b) says that any person who “knowingly uses intimidation, threatens, or corruptly persuades another person, or attempts to do so . . . with intent to influence . . . the testimony of any person in an official proceeding” or cause that person to “withhold testimony” can be imprisoned for up to 20 years. And the phrase “official proceeding” is expressly defined to include “a proceeding before the Congress.”
No doubt, today’s hearing was chock full of shocking revelations. But perhaps the most stunning of all was Cheney’s disclosure that the potential crimes just keep coming.
There could be more Cassidy Hutchinsons waiting in the wings
There's no doubt Hutchinson's testimony today was historic. And there's reason we can expect more bombshell testimony from other young people in Trump's orbit.
As Ja'han Jones wrote for The ReidOut Blog today:
"Back in May, before the Jan. 6 public hearings began, committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., tipped the committee’s hand a bit to the press. In a Politico interview, Raskin said the committee was getting lots of helpful information from young staffers in the White House, and he explained why they were so essential to the Jan. 6 investigation."
Raskin told Politico that the committee was "definitely taking advantage of the fact that most senior-level people in Washington depend on a lot of young associates and subordinates to get anything done."
“A lot of these people still have their ethics intact and don’t want to squander the rest of their careers for other people’s mistakes and corruption,” he added.
Does Hutchinson’s bombshell testimony change the legal landscape?
We have already talked about the possibility that Trump could be charged with obstruction or attempted obstruction of an official proceeding and conspiracy to defraud the United States by preventing the counting of electoral college votes.
But today’s testimony brings to the fore another potential federal criminal charge — seditious conspiracy. The criminal statute requires that a prosecutor show that two or more people conspired to, among other things, “by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States.” Food for (legal) thought.
White House lawyers were the grown-ups the Trump administration needed — and mostly lacked
The White House counsel is the chief legal officer of the executive office of the president. And clearly, then-White House counsel Pat Cipollone, his deputy Pat Philbin, and other lawyers within that office, notably including Eric Herschmann, gave plenty of legal advice on Jan. 6, including Cipollone’s ominous warning that if they allowed Trump to head to the Capitol on Jan. 6, they’d all face potential criminal charges.
But what stood out today from Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony is how often the lawyers of the White House counsel’s office attempted to moderate Trump and others’ actions and reactions, whether or not it had anything to do with the law.
Their involvement in drafting Trump’s so-called “remarks on national healing” on Jan. 7 is illustrative. Philbin prepared a first draft because he believed “more needed to be said” after Trump’s thoroughly unsatisfying Jan. 6 statement; he shared the draft, Hutchinson recalled, with both Cipollone and Herschmann, who agreed. Ultimately, however, Trump gave no speech at all.
Lawyers are often maligned in our culture. But in a White House run amok, Cipollone, Philbin, and Herschmann publicly played Trump’s defenders — and privately served as the grown-ups he and Meadows so desperately needed. Sadly, they often ignored them.
Trump World appears to be engaging in witness tampering
In her closing remarks, Cheney suggested members of Trump's inner circle were engaging in witness tampering via phone calls and messages to some witnesses.
“He knows you’re loyal, and you’re going to do the right thing when you go in for your deposition,” one witness allegedly received in a message from an unnamed Trump ally.
Of course Trump's cabinet considered the 25th Amendment
According to Cheney, Trump’s cabinet secretaries considered invoking the 25th Amendment and stripping Trump of his presidential powers. It’s emblematic of one of the major themes of these hearings to date: virtually every person in Trump’s orbit vehemently disagreed with his efforts to steal the election.
They knew he’d gone too far and they were disgusted by his actions. Indeed, Cassidy Hutchinson used those exact words, noting that she herself was “disgusted as an American” after Trump tweeted disparagingly about Mike Pence as the insurrection raged. We found out today that White House counsel Pat Cipollone was apoplectic about the violence at the Capitol and demanded that Trump do something to stop it. We’ve heard variations of this from a number of witnesses. They all knew. They all tried to stop it. And then after it happened they remained silent.
Trump wanted to pardon the Jan. 6 rioters
It was tough convincing Trump that he needed to say anything the day after the attack, Hutchinson testified. And when he was convinced to give a short speech, Trump insisted on taking out language about prosecuting the rioters. In fact, according to Hutchinson, Trump wanted to include language about pardoning the insurrectionists who attempted to block the peaceful transfer of power. He was ultimately convinced not to do so, but it’s telling that even after everything that had happened, Trump still believed that pretty much the only person who had done something wrong on Jan. 6 was Mike Pence.
How Trump urged on rioters targeting Mike Pence
We’ve heard before that Trump did not necessarily disapprove of the rioters chanting “hang Mike Pence” during the attack on the Capitol. Hutchinson confirmed that in her testimony today. Cipollone told Meadows that the president needed to act. “You heard him — he doesn’t want to do anything, Pat,” Meadows told Cipollone, but the still two went to speak to Trump in the Oval Office dining room, Hutchinson said.
During that meeting, Hutchinson brought Meadows his phone with Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, on the line. In the background she could hear the conversation referring to the crowds’ chants. When the two men came back to Meadows’ office, Hutchinson said, Cipollone was still insisting that Trump needed to tell the crowd to leave. “You heard him, Pat,” Meadows replied. “He thinks Mike deserves it. He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong.”
It was only after that conversation that Trump sent out the now-infamous tweet declaring that Pence didn’t “have the courage” to overturn the election results. Trump knew that the rioters wanted to hurt Pence, he knew they were in the Capitol building, and he still hit send.
That tweet would be read out loud by the rioters, spurring them on further, as we saw in footage during an earlier committee hearing.
Why we need Pat Cipollone’s testimony now more than ever
A week ago today, Liz Cheney ended the fourth hearing by pleading with then-White House counsel Pat Cipollone to appear before the committee, noting “[o]ur evidence shows that Mr. Cipollone and his office tried to do what was right.”
And while Cipollone — who also figured prominently in last week’s testimony from Justice Department senior leaders — has not reached an agreement with the committee to testify, Cassidy Hutchinson’s appearance today makes Cipollone’s own account more important, not less.
Hutchinson testified that Cipollone told her that there would be “serious legal concerns” if Trump went to the Capitol on Jan. 6 and urged her to convey that message to boss Mark Meadows. Hutchinson further testified that Cipollone seemed to believe Meadows “was pushing this along” with the president and warned that if Trump were allowed to head to the Capitol, “we’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable,” which Hutchinson understood to include obstruction of justice and defrauding the United States by impeding the electoral count. And most Hutchinson testified that Cipollone “barreled” down a White House hallway to beg Meadows to intervene after the Capitol riot began so people would not die.
Between last week’s testimony and today’s, we know Cipollone opposed three critical elements of Trump’s efforts to overturn the election: Trump’s plan to install Jeff Clark as attorney general, Trump’s walk to the Capitol, and the Capitol attack itself. Why — having thrown himself in front of Trump’s wayward bus repeatedly — wouldn’t Cipollone want America to hear that from him personally?
Will Trump now be charged with inciting an insurrection?
Sometimes events billed as “major surprises” aren’t worth the hype. But this hearing featuring Hutchinson certainly is.
Let’s review why Trump now likely faces additional criminal liability. Not because he was angry. Not because like an irate toddler, he apparently threw his lunch against the wall. Not because he allegedly lunged towards a Secret Service agent who told Trump he could not travel to the Capitol.
Instead, Trump could be facing additional criminal exposure because he allegedly knew his supporters were armed and he told them to go to the Capitol. And in fact, he apparently wanted to join them.
Will the DOJ now bring charges that Trump intentionally incited a violent insurrection in the Capitol?
Trump responds to Hutchinson's testimony in the most Trumpian way
As he so often does when someone from his orbit speaks out against him, Trump responded to Hutchinson's testimony today by claiming he "hardly" knows her. That seems unlikely since she was a top aide to his chief of staff.
A truly insane first hour of testimony
Let’s recap what we’ve learned in the past hour.
- Donald Trump and his chief of staff were repeatedly warned about the potential for violence on Jan. 6.
- The president was told on Jan. 6 that many of his supporters on the Ellipse were armed. Police reported that some of his supporters had AR-15s.
- Trump told his aides to allow those armed individuals through security magnameters because, in his words, they weren’t there to harm him.
- His exact words were “I don’t f—ing care they have weapons. Take the f—ing mags away.”
- He then gave a speech urging his supporters to march down to the Capitol.
- His aides warned that if he went to the Capitol himself it could potentially be a crime. According to White House counsel Pat Cipollone, if Trump went to the Capitol, “We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable”
- When told in his presidential limousine that he couldn’t go to the Capitol, Trump tried to grab the steering wheel of the car.
- When a Secret Service tried to stop him, he attacked the Secret Service agent.
- The president regularly threw dishes of food when he got angry — and even pulled tablecloths off of tables.
And we’re not done yet.
Trump had a violent temper, Hutchinson testimony suggests
Hutchinson told the committee she witnessed Trump throwing dishes and trashing tables in anger during her tenure at the White House.
In one instance, she said Trump threw his lunch against the wall, leaving a ketchup stain, after learning that his then-Attorney General William Barr told the Associated Press there wasn't widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.
Trump physically fought his staff in an effort to return to the Capitol
This may be the most shocking detail that I’ve heard during these hearings: Donald Trump physically tried to overpower his staff in order to go back to the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Hutchinson conveyed to the committee that after the speech at the Ellipse ended, Meadows told Trump that going to the Capitol might still be possible. But when they got back to the White House, Robert Engel, the head of Trump’s security detail, and Tony Ornato, the deputy chief of staff, told Hutchinson that Trump became “irate” when told he couldn’t return. “I’m the f—-ing president, take me to the Capitol now,” he told his staff, according to Hutchinson. The president lunged for the steering wheel, Ornato told Hutchinson, and when Engel tried to restrain him, Trump lunged for Engel and tried to grab him around his throat area.
This is not just unpresidential, it’s disturbing on many, many levels. It is petulant and violent and shows clearly that the president wanted to be present personally to lean on Congress to overturn his election loss.
Who is Tony Ornato, a central figure of today's hearing?
Committee vice chair Liz Cheney’s line of questioning suggests Tony Ornato, hardly a household name, is about to become a central figure in the panel’s probe. So who is he?
A member of the Secret Service for 25 years, Ornato is currently its assistant director of the Office of Training. But in the months leading up to Jan. 6, Ornato temporarily served as the Trump White House’s deputy chief of staff for operations.
It was in that capacity that Ornato alerted Meadons on Jan. 4, 2021, that intelligence reports indicated there could violence on Jan. 6, Hutchinson testified.
Ornato continued to warn of potential dangers on Jan. 6, Hutchinson said. At the White House that morning, he told Meadows that “Stop the Steal” rally attendees were armed with weapons, according to Hutchinson. Meadows, Hutchinson recalled, did not look up from his phone, and barely reacted, asking only whether Trump had been informed.
Something tells me that we might hear from Ornato himself in the weeks ahead.
Cipollone warns Trump going to the Capitol could prove disastrous
One of the biggest question marks about the events of Jan. 6 is why Trump told his supporters that he would be going to the Capitol, but instead went back to the White House. Hutchinson told the committee that White House counsel Pat Cipollone had tried to get her to convince Meadows not to let Trump travel to the Capitol, warning that the administration would get “charged with every crime” possible, including potentially “obstructing justice or defrauding the electoral count.” Cipollone worried as well that the president’s presence could be seen as “inciting a riot or encouraging a riot to erupt at the Capitol.”
That’s a major admission: Trump was made well aware of how incendiary his presence would be and the potential for the crowd at the Capitol to devolve into violence.
'They don't want to hurt me'
Hutchinson testified that Trump, ahead of the rally on Jan. 6, said that anyone with weapons present at his speech wasn’t a threat to him. “They don’t want to hurt me,” she recalled the former president saying. That’s a major point given the question that it begs: Who did Trump think these armed supporters wanted to hurt? Because if the plan was for those supporters to march directly to the Capitol from the Ellipse, which Hutchinson said it was, the implication is clear — those weapons were a threat to members of Congress.
Hutchinson's remarks on Trump's armed supporters are a huge deal
We’re less than an hour into Hutchison’s testimony but this is already living up to the hype. Not only was Trump told that his supporters on the Ellipse had weapons, including AR-15s, but he specifically told his aides to allow armed individuals though security magnetometer because he didn’t believe they were there to harm him.
“I don’t fucking care they have weapons,” he allegedly said. “Take the fucking mags away.” Then in his speech, he urged those same supporters to march down to the Capitol.
So to spell out: Trump knew his supporters were heavily armed and didn’t care. He wanted them to be waived past security and then urged them to march to the Capitol to help stop the certification of the election. That’s a very big deal and really amps up Trump’s criminal culpability for the violence that took place that day.
People knew there could be violence
Twenty minutes into today’s surprise hearing, the committee is eliciting testimony on one specific point — that important people knew there would be, or strongly expected there could be, violence on Jan. 6, 2021.
If we believe Hutchinson’s testimony, we can make the following conclusions. Giuliani, one of Trump’s former outside advisors, knew. Hutchinson’s boss Meadows knew, and said things might get “real, real bad.” John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, knew things could be dangerous on Jan. 6, and indeed didn’t want anything to do with it. Richard Donogue, the acting deputy attorney general, knew people could storm the Capitol on Jan. 6. And Tony Ornato, the former deputy chief of staff, knew about the potential for violence as well.
And yet another bombshell — Trump knew full well that those attending the rally had weapons.
Step one for holding Trump and/or those around him responsible for the Capitol riot is showing they knew or could reasonably expect violence would happen. Step two is showing that those who knew or expected violence on Jan. 6 can be punished — either for setting the violence in motion or for failing to take steps to prevent it.
The one outcome of Hutchinson's testimony that's all but guaranteed
We still don’t know all that Hutchison will reveal during her testimony today but two things seem likely: It’s going to be bad for Trump, and her life is never going to be the same.
If her testimony is as negative for Trump as the committee members seem to be suggesting, she will — if history is any indication — be vilified by Trump and his Republican enablers. She will be attacked as a turncoat and a RINO.
For the past six years, Trump has turned his political rhetoric on anyone he believes has crossed him. He’s called them idiots and morons and attacked their credibility. I doubt Hutchison’s experience will be much different.
'Things might get real, real bad'
Hutchinson testified that Rudy Giuliani told her on Jan. 2, 2021, that Trump was going to go to the Capitol on Jan. 6 and that he would look "so powerful."
When she asked Meadows about it later that day, Meadows told her that "things might get real, real bad on Jan. 6," Hutchinson testified today.
The committee needs to show that Trump knew about the potential for violence on Jan. 6. Hutchinson's testimony today so far is helping them do just that.
Committee highlights how close Hutchinson was to key figures — literally
The committee is taking pains to emphasize that Hutchison wasn’t just a staffer in the White House — she was literally steps from the Oval Office. In several graphics and maps, the committee kicked off the hearing by showing that her office in the tiny West Wing was prime real estate, sandwiched between Meadows and Jared Kushner. As such, she was in a position to observe basically everything that went on in the chief of staff’s purview.
Hutchinson could be the marker the committee needs to connect the dots
Part of the Jan. 6 committee’s job is to connect dots between what Trump knew, what he did to incite violence at the Capitol, and what he failed to do to stop it.
Cassidy Hutchinson may be coming in with a huge marker, able to draw the lines to connect those dots. Hutchinson is the one who testified that Republican lawmakers who tried to subvert our election sought pardons as a result of their involvement in the events of Jan. 6.
Hutchinson testified about conversations Meadows and Rudy Giuliani had conversations about putting forward slates of alternative (meaning fraudulent) electors. She has also testified that Meadows was told there could be violence on Jan. 6.
Why is Hutchinson, who appears to have cooperated with the committee, a surprise witness? All that seems to have changed is Hutchinson’s legal representation. She has moved away from an attorney who had significant ties to Trump, and this could indicate that she has increased her cooperation with the committee.
Age ain’t nothing but a number
As Hutchinson entered the room, it struck me how young she is — only 25. That initially sounds awfully young to be one of the influential staffers for a high-ranking White House official. But she’s not that much younger now than John Dean was when he was named White House counsel under President Richard Nixon. He was 32 years old then, and just 35 when he testified before the Senate Watergate investigation and incriminated Nixon as not just being aware of, but in fact directing, the resulting cover-up.
Ex-Trump White House staffers praises Hutchinson's 'courage'
Former Trump White House deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews tweeted in support of key witness Hutchinson ahead of today's hearing, praising Meadows' aide for "choosing to put her country first and tell the truth."
She wasn't the only former Trump administration official to applaud Hutchinson. Chris Krebs, former director of the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, similarly praised Hutchinson for her "remarkable courage." Trump fired Krebs in November 2020 after Krebs refused to go along with the "big lie."
Why Eastman, Clark’s TV appearances might be unwise for their criminal defense
Hearsay is a word often tossed around on your favorite legal TV shows — or even on this network — but it’s often misunderstood. Basically, hearsay refers to statements made out of court that one party or the other wants to show or tell the jury to prove its case.
But as any law student can tell you, there are a litany of exclusions from and exceptions to the rule that prohibits hearsay from being admitted as evidence. Most notably, an out-of-court statement made by the “opposing party” — which, for the Justice Department, would be the defendant(s) in a federal criminal case — is admissible. Moreover, where a criminal defendant is charged with a conspiracy crime, any statement made by a co-conspirator “during and in furtherance of the conspiracy” can be admitted as well.
Now, neither Eastman nor Clark have been charged with any crime, much less a conspiracy involving the other. But should either be charged criminally, even solely for individual crimes, anything and everything that has come out of their mouths on TV would be fair game for the government’s use at trial. And no invocation of the Fifth Amendment at such a trial could change that.
That makes their appearances on Fox News over the last week all the more baffling. If, for example, the FBI had seized your electronic devices in connection with a Justice Department investigation, wouldn’t you think criminal charges were at least a possibility — and decline any offer to appear on TV? I certainly would.
Fox News still a safe space for embattled Trump allies
John Eastman on Monday became the latest Trump ally to complain about his potential legal troubles to a pretty friendly audience: Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
As Ja'han Jones wrote for The ReidOut Blog earlier today:
"Eastman — like former Trump adviser Peter Navarro and former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark — joined white nationalist Fox News host Tucker Carlson for a softball interview Monday, during which he discussed his purportedly harrowing encounter with federal authorities. We even saw footage of the moment agents seized his phone."
The actual interview with Eastman was full of outright lies and hyperbole."
When last we heard from Ms. Hutchinson…
Cassidy Hutchison may not be a household name, but her role as a top staffer for Meadows has already allowed her to fill in some of the gaps in the committee’s timeline. While her former boss refused to sit for a deposition with the committee, we’ve already seen at least one clip from Hutchinson’s testimony during the hearings — and it bodes well for what we’re going to hear today.
At last week’s hearing, we saw video of Hutchinson informing the committee that several Republican members of Congress — including Reps. Louie Gohmert of Texas, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Andy Biggs of Arizona — asked for presidential pardons in the waning days of the Trump administration.
These hearings have been a reminder to everyone in Washington that even if top officials are unwilling to cooperate with an investigation, there are plenty of aides and staffers in a place like the White House who see and hear everything.
How McCarthy allowed the hearings to be a nonstop Trump takedown
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's decision not to add more Republicans to the Jan. 6 committee has backfired tremendously. (And we know Trump is not happy with him because of it.)
As MSNBC Daily Columnist Michael A. Cohen wrote yesterday:
"Had McCarthy not prevented pro-Trump Republicans from appearing on the committee, things likely would look very different. Normally, congressional hearings — particularly in our highly polarized political moment — degenerate into partisan food fights."
But these hearings have been different. Indeed, there’s no obvious precedent in congressional history for one political party having the unfettered ability to make its arguments to the American people without a single dissenting voice heard. And that is a direct result of McCarthy’s ill-conceived decision to boycott the committee."
Things just keep getting worse for John Eastman
John Eastman, the Trump-allied lawyer whose name has come up throughout the Jan. 6 committee's public hearings, is having a rough go of it lately.
Eastman said in a court filing Monday that federal agents in New Mexico stopped him last week as he was walking to his car and seized his phone.
Federal agents last week also searched the home of former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark. Clark was a key figure in Trump's efforts to get the DOJ to help overturn the election, as several former top DOJ officials testified at the last Jan.6 hearing.
There's a lesson in all of this for future coup plotters. But are they listening?
Surprise hearing is a risky bet for the committee — with a potentially high reward
There will be "a lot of significance" in today's hearing, a source familiar with the proceedings told NBC News on Monday.
Well, then! That’s a pretty bold claim to make in what definitely feels like a high-risk/high-reward situation for the committee. On the one hand, the committee’s planned pause had threatened to sap some of the momentum gained in the weeks of hearings so far. On the other hand, though, the secrecy surrounding the unanticipated hearing threatened to allow the public’s imagination to fill in the gaps.
I do have faith so far that the committee isn’t overplaying its hand. I can honestly say that even if I weren’t going to be liveblogging the entire event, I’d definitely be tuning in to find out just what the panel has in store for us.
Cassidy Hutchinson is today's surprise witness. Who is she?
The Jan. 6 committee raised eyebrows yesterday when it suddenly announced a surprise Tuesday hearing featuring live testimony from an unnamed witness. NBC News has now confirmed the witness is Cassidy Hutchinson, a former top aide to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.
Hutchinson's name has repeatedly come up during the committee's probe. She testified to congressional investigators that Meadows received a Secret Service briefing the day before Jan. 6 warning of potential violence. She also testified that several Republican lawmakers who sought pardons from Trump were engaged in discussions about how to overturn the 2020 election.
Meadows, like a cartoon villain, burned documents in a White House fireplace after meeting with Rep. Scott Perry in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6, Hutchinson has reportedly already told the committee. Perry, a Trump loyalist, also allegedly sought a pardon from the then-president.