When Cassidy Hutchinson disappears into the break, the files tucked under his right arm, there is a brief burst of applause from the back rows. A rather unusual reaction here in the Cannon House Office Building in Washington. But an understandable one given what the 25-year-old reported in the 60 minutes before.
The fact that the former assistant to Donald Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, is testifying before the House of Representatives committee of inquiry into the storming of the US Capitol not only distinguishes her from many former employees of the Trump administration, who prefer to rely on their right to remain silent.
Their attention to detail and, above all, their accuracy make an impression. She unerringly gets to the heart of what MPs in the Cannon House Office want to explore and prove: Donald Trump’s responsibility for January 6, 2021, the day his supporters stormed the US Capitol to prevent his defeat would become a reality. The day five people lost their lives.
Surprisingly, this sixth meeting of the committee, which is supposed to clarify the background to the violence, was only scheduled 24 hours earlier. It was actually said recently that the next meetings would not take place again until mid-July, since additional witness statements and evidence would first have to be evaluated.
The important thing is that the structure of the hearings is no coincidence, but the result of careful planning. One of the aims of the live broadcast meetings must be not to lose public attention.
When the announcement was made on Monday, it was still unclear exactly what it would be about. Only later in the evening did it leak out that Hutchinson would appear as a “mystery witness”.
Parts of her recorded testimony were already broadcast last week, in which she revealed which Republican MPs had asked Trump for a preliminary plea for clemency as a precaution. That alone triggered a moderate political tremor.
Somewhat older observers remember: At what is probably America’s most important investigative committee to date, the one into the Watergate scandal, such a mysterious surprise witness changed the course of the hearings – and thus the history of the country.
So expectations are high and they will not be disappointed. Even Fox News, which is close to Trump, speaks of a “very, very powerful statement”.
The dark-haired woman, white blazer, black T-shirt, black trousers, reports calmly but by no means without emotion about what she experienced in the White House around January 6th. As committee chair Bennie Thompson points out on the screen at the head of the room, Hutchinson’s office was not far from the Oval Office, and as Meadow’s assistant she was at the heart of the action anyway.
Probably their most important statement makes it clear that Trump knew about guns in the audience before his speech to his supporters on January 6th – and that he didn’t care. Hutchinson reports that he was frustrated by the strict entry controls. “Take away those damn metal detectors,” he said, according to her. “You are not here to hurt me. let her in Let my people in, they can march to the Capitol after the rally.”
Committee vice chair Liz Cheney confirmed that many guns had been confiscated. The investigative committee learned from law enforcement reports that participants at the Trump rally had pepper spray, knives, brass knuckles, tasers and blunt objects with them, says Cheney, the only Republican on the panel alongside Adam Kinzinger.
Hutchinson goes on to say that despite massive security concerns, Trump was determined to drive to the Capitol himself, where Congress was to certify the election of his successor, Joe Biden. She cites a conversation with a colleague and the responsible Secret Service official immediately after the incident.
When she describes how the president even grabbed the driver of his armored vehicle called “Beast” angrily on the steering wheel and exclaimed: “I’m the damn president, take me to the Capitol,” incredulous laughter can be heard in the hall.
The bodyguard grabbed the president’s arm to dissuade him, Hutchinson describes the scene. He fought back. A scuffle in the presidential limousine – Trump actually still manages to amaze observers.
Another scene Hutchinson describes is similarly elusive: Trump was terribly upset by Attorney General William Barr’s interview with the AP news agency, in which he contradicted the president’s claim that there was widespread cheating in the November 2020 election.
Out of anger, Trump threw a china plate with his lunch against the wall of the West Wing dining room. She then wiped ketchup off the wall with a towel.
But all the grotesque anecdotes that day cannot distract from what remains as the quintessence of Hutchinson’s testimony: Trump was aware that his supporters were ready to use violence. And he incited her with his talk about the stolen election – nevertheless, or maybe because of that?
This question is also relevant to current Attorney General Merick Garland. Because he will soon have to decide whether he will institute criminal proceedings against Donald Trump based on the findings of the investigative committee.
What witnesses like ex-Chief of Staff Meadows could contribute becomes clearer with each passing day that the investigative committee meets. Hutchinson reports that her boss told her that Trump believed his Vice President Mike Pence “deserved” the attacks against him because he persisted in declaring Biden the winner.
On January 6, some attackers went in search of the Vice President with shouts of “Hang Pence”. A wooden gallows had also been erected in front of the Capitol.
Trump did not drive to the Capitol that day. The White House Counsel, Pat Cipollone, also warned him of this, as Hutchinson reports. “We will be charged with every crime imaginable” if the President showed up at Congress, Cipollone said.
Trump relented, but it took him hours to send his supporters home saying, “We love you guys. You are very special. Go home in peace.”
Does this documented reluctance to get a grip on the violence he himself has fomented, along with statements like those made by the 25-year-old Hutchinson, prepare the ground for an indictment? So is Attorney General Garland now taking action and trying to at least prevent Trump from standing again in 2024? The answer is still pending.
For Cassidy Hutchinson, her statement already has consequences. She has been under police protection since it became known that she was cooperating with the investigative committee.
Sitting at the back of the boardroom on Tuesday is another former Trump administration official who knows what it’s like to walk away. Olivia Troye was Mike Pence’s national security adviser and worked for him on the White House coronavirus task force before retiring from government frustrated at how the pandemic was being handled. She is now one of the few conservatives to publicly criticize Trump, and has championed MPs like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger.
Troye says: “Cassidy now has to live with the consequences for the rest of her life with what this step means for her career.” She has shown so much more courage than all the others who denied the truth.
The situation is still difficult for her, reports Troye. But she still hopes that others will now openly say what really happened.
Trump’s behavior around January 6 was catastrophic. Whether the findings of the House of Representatives are sufficient for an indictment? Troye answers with the counter question: “If this is not enough, what then?”