When the public first learned yesterday that the Jan. 6 committee had scheduled a previously unannounced hearing, featuring a witness members would not identify, the political chatter was unrestrained. What did the panel have? How explosive would it be? Who would testify?
When we learned overnight that the witness would be Cassidy Hutchinson, a former top aide to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, it was only natural to wonder what more we could learn. After all, Hutchinson had already given depositions to the House select committee, and her videotaped testimony had already been included in other hearings.
What more could she say? How much more was there to learn from her? Evidently, an enormous amount. NBC News summarized this afternoon:
A former top White House aide described Donald Trump’s shocking behavior on Jan. 6, saying the former president wanted armed protesters at his rally, tried to forcibly steer his limousine to the Capitol and, when his bodyguards refused, reached for the throat of one of them.
On a purely personal note, the first congressional hearing I ever covered was in 1997. In the months and years that followed, I lost count of how many hearings I attended and witnesses I heard. But it wasn’t until this afternoon that my jaw literally dropped.
In sworn testimony that might’ve been rejected as over-the-top in a Hollywood script, Hutchinson described a scene after Trump’s Jan. 6 speech, when the then-president wanted to go to the Capitol with the angry mob he’d just riled up with lies. The Secret Service told him that wasn’t an option, and in the days leading up to Jan. 6, the White House counsel’s office repeatedly insisted that Trump not go to the Capitol.
“Please make sure we don’t go up to the Capitol, Cass,” White House Counsel Pat Cipollone told Hutchinson before the event. “We are going to get charged with every crime imaginable.”
After his remarks at the Ellipse, when the then-president returned to his vehicle, things got weird.
Hutchinson, in her sworn testimony, told the committee, “The president said something to the effect of, ‘I’m the f’ing president, take me up to the Capitol now.’” When that didn’t happen, according to Hutchinson’s version of events, Trump tried to grab the steering wheel of the Suburban he was riding in.
According to the former White House staffer’s understanding, Trump also reached toward the throat of Secret Service agent Robert Engel during the incident.
And as extraordinary as this was, it was not the only bombshell revelation from today’s hearing.
Before Trump spoke at his pre-riot rally, for example, the Republican was apparently furious that the Ellipse wasn’t entirely full of his supporters. The problem was that some Trump followers weren’t going to go through metal detectors, which are common at presidential events.
For appearances’ sake, Trump demanded that they be allowed to attend his rally anyway.
“I don’t f’ing care that they have weapons,” Trump said, according to Hutchinson’s sworn testimony. “They’re not here to hurt me. Take the f’ing [magnetometers] away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here. Let the people in. Take the f’ing mags away.”
It was striking, not just because of Trump’s indifference to the fact that his followers were armed, but also because he was convinced they wouldn’t turn their guns on him: These were people who were apparently prepared to use weapons on others, not the outgoing president.
These were, of course, the same armed radicals Trump then dispatched to the U.S. Capitol — to his great frustration, without him.
Indeed, among the most important parts of Hutchinson’s appearance today was a detail she brought into great clarity: Trump and his team were warned in advance that Jan. 6 was likely to become violent. On Jan. 2, Meadows even told his top aide, “Things might get real, real bad on Jan. 6.”
The then-president nevertheless encouraged the armed mob to go the Capitol — where rioters put his vice president in great danger. That was something Trump apparently did not have a problem with. From the NBC News report:
She also told the committee, in a previously recorded interview, that she overheard a conversation between Meadows and White House counsel Pat Cipollone about Trump’s reaction to reports that the crowd then attacking the Capitol was chanting “Hang Mike Pence.” Cipollone wanted Meadows to intervene with Trump. “Mark responded something to the effect, ‘You heard him, Pat. He thinks Mike deserves it. He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong,’” Hutchinson said of Meadows’ summation of Trump’s feelings about the rioters and Pence.
Hutchinson went on to testify about Trump’s enraged response after then-Attorney General Bill Barr told the Associated Press the truth about the 2020 election: There was no evidence of systemic fraud.
At that point, Trump’s tantrum included literally throwing his lunch, leaving ketchup on a White House wall. Hutchinson, who said she felt compelled to help clean up the then-president’s mess, further testified that such outbursts were not uncommon with the Republican.
She went on to testify specifically that both her boss, Mark Meadows, and Rudy Giuliani sought presidential pardons before Trump's term ended — specifically because of concerns about their Jan. 6 actions.
These are just some of the highlights from my notes, and it’s unrealistic to think I can get to everything in a single blog post. I’ll have more posts on this — possible witness tampering came up today, for example, as did fresh details about the 25th Amendment — and Rachel will be anchoring MSNBC’s coverage in prime time this evening.