In 'combustible' testimony, Cassidy Hutchinson, surprise Jan. 6 witness, quietly drops bombshells
- Former aide Cassidy Hutchinson portrays Trump as an angry and violent.
- Historians say Hutchinson testimony will "loom very large in American history."
- Witness testimony deeply implicates Trump, his chief of staff and other top associates.
In riveting testimony Tuesday about the Jan. 6 Capitol assault, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson took her place in the pantheon of pivotal political figures whose eyewitness accounts could potentially change the outcome of a major investigation – or quite possibly the course of history.
"Never in history have we ever heard credible testimony before Congress this shocking against a President of the United States," tweeted noted presidential historian Michael Beschloss.
And that was at 2:08 p.m., the halfway point of the 25-year-old Republican White House aide's appearance before the House Select Committee probing the attack on the seat of American democracy.
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In measured but dramatic responses under oath, Hutchinson disclosed one bombshell after another about the events before, during and after the siege, which the committee has been investigating for nearly a year.
She implicated then-President Donald Trump personally in what appears to be an intentional conspiracy to sic an angry and armed mob on the Capitol to prevent the peaceful transfer of power.
“I don’t care that they have effing weapons. … They're not here to hurt me,” she quoted Trump as saying before telling his security detail to allow heavily armed protesters past metal detectors and onto the Ellipse for his incendiary speech before sending the mob to the Capitol.
She implicated her former boss, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, in potential conversations about the mob assault and revealed that he later sought a presidential pardon for any potential legal liability.
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She fingered a number of top Trump associates, including lawyer Rudy Giuliani and longtime political operative Roger Stone.
And her disclosures shed light on the key – and possibly exculpatory – roles played by other top Trump officials, including White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and members of the President’s security detail. One Secret Service agent, she said, was physically attacked by Trump for refusing to drive him to the Capitol while the mob was bearing down on it.
The committee’s sudden announcement Monday that it would be holding an emergency hearing the next day with a secret special witness set Washington atwitter, with many speculating that the Democrat-led body would hurt its own credibility if it didn’t deliver in a major way.
“BETTER BE A BIG DEAL,” former Nixon White House Counsel John W. Dean proclaimed on Twitter, saying that there was only one surprise witness during the Senate Watergate Committee hearings, and that Alexander Butterfield did indeed change the course of history by disclosing then-President Richard Nixon’s secret taping system.
Matt Dallek, another presidential and political historian, said Hutchinson’s performance far surpassed the hype. He predicted it will likely be a game-changer in a number of ways.
One of them, Dallek said, would be its impact on the course of the committee’s investigation as well as the parallel criminal investigation being conducted by the Justice Department. Hutchinson’s testimony also could alienate Republicans running in tight races in the upcoming congressional mid-terms, Dallek told USA TODAY.
“I think her testimony was very powerful because it was not only so richly detailed, but the substance of it was so combustible,” he said. “I think she demonstrated in a very powerful, linear way just how much Trump was really an architect of the violence and of promoting the violence, and how he himself was actually committing violence on that day and around that time.”
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“One of the many things we learned today,” Dallek added, “is that the mob that stormed the Capitol really was a reflection of Trump's mindset and where he was emotionally, mentally and physically that day.”
A former Trump die-hard, Hutchinson – whose office was literally steps from the Oval Office – told a rapt audience that she began raising concerns about apparent White House involvement in the Capitol siege on Jan. 2, when Giuliani asked her if she was “excited for the Sixth?”
She tied Giuliani, and possibly the White House, to planning by two right-wing extremist groups that played central roles in the Capitol assault. “I recall hearing the words ‘Oathkeeper’ and the words ‘Proud Boys,’ closer to the planning of the January 6 rally when Mr. Giuliani would be around,” Hutchinson said in one of many clips played of her four depositions.
After Jan. 6, Giuliani too sought a presidential pardon, she testified. Leaders of both organizations were later indicted on seditious conspiracy charges for their alleged roles in the Jan. 6 attack.
Hutchinson talked of how Meadows, her boss, brushed off those concerns and other warnings of impending violence at the Capitol, and of how he had to be talked out of personally meeting with Giuliani in a hotel Jan. 6 “war room” near the White House the night before the assault.
And she, Cipollone and other White House officials begged Meadows to do more to stop the assault as it happened in real time, Hutchinson said, including pressuring Trump to tell his supporters to stand down.
When she saw that Trump was doing exactly the opposite, posting tweets that put his own vice president, Mike Pence, in mortal danger, she said she grew sad, and then frustrated – and then angry.
“It was unpatriotic, it was unAmerican, we were watching the Capitol building get defaced over a lie,” she said.
Hutchinson’s revelations about Trump and his inner circle were so plentiful that watchers on Twitter could hardly keep up with them.
In one instance, she told of how Trump’s top White House lawyer, Cipollone, voiced concerns repeatedly about Trump’s plan to march to the Capitol on Jan. 6 as being potentially illegal.
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'Every crime imaginable'
“Please make sure we don’t go up to the Capitol, Cassidy,” Hutchinson quoted Cipollone as telling her on the morning of Jan. 6. “We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen.”
Trump never did walk to the Capitol like he said he would during his "Stop the Steal" rally speech that morning. But after his speech, he did demand to be driven there by his Secret Service security detail, Hutchinson testified, perhaps to give a second speech right outside the Capitol or to even go in it. They said no, citing security concerns.
“The president said something to the effect of ‘I’m the f---ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’" Hutchinson testified, relaying what she heard from White House deputy operations chief Anthony Ornato.
When his lead Secret Service agent Robert Engel, again told Trump they needed to abort the trip and return to the White House, she said, Trump reached forward from the back of his armored limousine to grab the steering wheel to turn the vehicle back around.
"Mr. Trump then used his free hand to lunge towards Bobby Engel,” Hutchinson testified, saying Ornato motioned to his clavicles to describe a choking motion.
Later Tuesday, at least one reporter for another outlet appeared to push back on that narrative. But at no point, Hutchinson testified, did Engel try and correct her description of events.
Trump himself didn’t specifically deny anything Hutchinson said on Tuesday. Instead, he issued a number of statements attacking her, calling her a disgruntled former employee who didn't get a wanted promotion and claiming — as he often does — that he barely knew someone with whom he worked closely.
At the end of the hearing, committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., thanked Hutchinson for her courage in coming forward to testify publicly, reportedly after receiving numerous threats and after sitting for numerous depositions in the safe confines of a lawyer’s office.
Then Thompson spoke directly to Meadows, Cipollone and other key witnesses who have so far refused to cooperate in the committee’s ongoing probe: “Because of this courageous woman and others like her, your attempt to hide the truth from the American people will fail."
Another former acting chief of staff under Trump, Mick Mulvaney, said that Hutchinson’s testimony will put enormous pressure on other key figures to speak up about what they did – and didn’t do – on Jan. 6.
Mulvaney tweeted during the hearing that there was “no one closer” to Meadows than Hutchinson, whose official title was special assistant to the Chief of Staff.
He said that as a top aide, Hutchinson would be covered by the same “executive privilege” as Meadows and other top Trump officials who have refused to cooperate. “If she can testify,” he tweeted, “then so can they.”
Thompson and the committee vice chair, Rep. Liz Cheney, hinted Tuesday at more public testimony by key Trump officials.
Dean, one of the star witnesses of the Watergate hearings, concluded in a tweet Tuesday evening that Hutchinson's testimony "WAS A BIG DEAL AND IT WILL GROW BIGGER! Thank you, Cassidy Hutchinson for delivering important information before the J6 Committee."
And Beschloss, who has written 10 books on presidents, said her place in the history books is all but guaranteed.
“Our descendants are going to ask us what we know about Cassidy Hutchinson. That's a name that they will know,” Beschloss told NBC News. “This is a day that is going to loom very large in American history.”