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Here's hoping Merrick Garland was listening closely to Cassidy Hutchinson

Trump's brazenness goes beyond anything we've ever seen before.
Image: Cassidy Hutchinson
Cassidy Hutchinson, a top former aide to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, is sworn in Tuesday as she testifies at the sixth public hearing of the House Jan. 6 committee.Brandon Bell / Getty Images

Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to Mark Meadows, who was former President Donald Trump’s White House chief of staff, provided testimony at Tuesday’s Jan 6. hearing that was jaw-dropping. She testified that Trump was told that people had gathered for the rally at the Ellipse the morning of Jan. 6, 2021, but that he didn’t approve of the Secret Service’s forcing people through metal detectors. The committee played a recording of Hutchinson’s previously videotaped testimony, in which she said Trump, referring to the magnetometers used to detect weapons, said: "I don’t f’ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the f’ing mags away."

Cassidy Hutchinson provided testimony at Tuesday’s Jan. 6 hearing that was jaw-dropping.

The bombshells just kept coming. Hutchinson said Trump became angry as he was being driven away from that rally and was told their destination was the White House, not the Capitol. Hutchinson said that even though advisers, including White House counsel Pat Cipollone, advised Trump not to go to the Capitol, she was told that he grabbed the steering wheel of the presidential SUV and demanded to be driven there to join the mob hoping to stop the congressional certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.

While the general public will understandably be fixated on those shocking anecdotes, my hope is that Attorney General Merrick Garland is fixated on one thing: preparing to charge Donald Trump with crimes.

Garland is repeatedly described as an “institutionalist.” He rightly doesn’t want it to appear that the Justice Department is engaged in a partisan prosecution. But the reality is that given the avalanche of evidence against Trump that the nation has seen at these hearings, Garland must charge Trump for his apparent crimes or risk undermining the very institutions he so desperately wants to protect. Those are the stakes.

The attorney general must not ignore that at Tuesday’s hearing, Hutchinson testified that Trump’s inner circle was aware that Jan. 6 could become dangerous. Hutchinson said that when she asked Meadows to explain Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani’s statement that “we’re going to the Capitol” on Jan. 6, Meadows responded, “Things might get real, real bad on Jan. 6.”

Hutchinson said Trump’s own lawyers had warned him not to use the heated rhetoric he’d planned for his Jan. 6 speech and that one of those attorneys told her that “we would be foolish to include language that had been included at the president's request, which had lines to the effect of ‘Fight for Trump’; ‘We're gonna march to the Capitol’; ‘I'll be there with you’; ‘Fight for me. Fight for what we're doing’; ‘Fight for the movement.’ Things about vice president at the time, too.”

Trump would use “fight” or “fighting” 22 times in his Jan. 6 speech, and he also said: “We're stuck with a president who lost the election by a lot, and we have to live with that for four more years. We're just not going to let that happen.”

Hutchinson’s testimony comes on the heels of Thursday’s Jan. 6 committee hearing about Trump’s attempt to draw the Justice Department into his attempted coup. One of the most shocking moments of that hearing was provided by former acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue, who said Trump told high-ranking Justice Department officials who’d debunked his false election fraud claims to “just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.”

As former Attorney General Eric Holder tweeted then, Donoghue’s testimony provided the “smoking gun” that proves the “corrupt intent” needed to prosecute Trump.

Now it’s time for Garland to act. He has vowed to rehabilitate the reputation of the Justice Department and to shield it from “partisan or other improper motives.” And in his first speech after he was confirmed as attorney general, he told his staff that “the only way we can succeed and retain the trust of the American people is to adhere to the norms.” But the longer Garland goes without charging Trump, the more he is ironically undermining the Justice Department and the criminal justice system as a whole.

Donoghue’s testimony provided the “smoking gun” that proves the “corrupt intent” needed to prosecute Trump.

Trump’s brazenly trying to block the peaceful transfer of power and playing a key role in the events of Jan. 6 go way beyond anything we’ve seen before. His not being prosecuted would send the message that the rich and powerful can escape justice, unlike the rest of us, who must adhere to the law.

An ABC News/Ipsos poll released over the weekend found that support for criminally charging Trump has risen to 58 percent, up from 52 percent in early May. According to the poll, 62 percent of independent voters believe Trump should be criminally charged. They are the very people an institutionalist like Garland is trying to appeal to as he works to rehabilitate the Justice Department’s image.

Former Watergate prosecutor and current MSNBC legal analyst Jill Wine-Banks said on my SiriusXM show last week: “The question of can they indict Donald Trump is blatantly obvious. The answer is yes, they can.” Then she added: “Should they? Is it in the best interest of the nation?” She answered yes to her own question and said that if the Justice Department doesn’t “hold Trump accountable … he or another wrongdoer will do the same thing.” This is “not a question of politics,” she said; “it’s a question of the rule of law.”

Garland frequently invokes the phrase “rule of law.” In fact, on the day after the Jan. 6 attack, when President-elect Biden introduced Garland as his nominee for attorney general, Garland said that “the rule of law is not just some lawyer’s turn of phrase” but “the very foundation of our democracy.”

Garland is 100% correct. The rule of law is part of the very foundation of our democratic system, one that Trump sought to destroy. And for people to believe in the rule of law — as Garland so sincerely does — the public must see that no one is above it, not even a former American president. Conversely, if Garland doesn’t prosecute Trump, that decision not only would undermine the very institutions Garland seeks to preserve, but it would also hit our “foundation of our democracy” like a sledgehammer.