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What Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony reveals about the truth behind Jan. 6th

Cassidy Hutchinson, former aide to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, describes the actions of former president Donald Trump as she testifies as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds a hearing at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, June 28, 2022. (Mandel Ngan/Pool via AP)
Cassidy Hutchinson, former aide to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, describes the actions of former president Donald Trump as she testifies as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds a hearing at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, June 28, 2022. (Mandel Ngan/Pool via AP)

Cassidy Hutchinson is a former senior aide to Mark Meadows. He knew trouble was coming.

Hutchinson testified that time and again, she wondered when her boss would take action to protect Congress.

But as January 6th rioters closed in on the Capitol, the Trump White House did nothing:

“The rioters are getting really close, have you talked to the President?” Hutchinson recalled. “And he said, ‘No, the President wants to be alone right now,’ still looking at his phone.”

Today, On Point: Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony, and what happens next.

Guests

Chris Whipple, journalist and documentary filmmaker. Author of “The Spymasters” and “The Gatekeepers.” (@ccwhip)

Alan Rozenshtein, associate professor of law at the University of Minnesota. Former Justice Department official from 2014 to 2017. (@ARozenshtein)

Jack Beatty, On Point news analyst. (@JackBeattyNPR)

Interview Highlights

On how Mark Meadows defines the Trump presidency

Chris Whipple: “I once described Mark Meadows as the worst chief of staff in history in an opinion piece for the Washington Post back in January of 2021. The truth is, I didn’t know the half of it. But we learned from Cassidy Hutchinson’s amazing, gripping testimony the other day is that he was not just a world class sycophant. Which, of course, he’d always been. Or missing in action when it came to telling the president hard truths that needed to be told.

“He was all of that. But he was also a coconspirator in a violent attempt to overthrow American democracy. It’s clear from Cassidy Hutchinson’s brave testimony that Meadows and Trump knew exactly what they were doing. They sent an armed violent mob to attack the Capitol, and they didn’t care how many lives were lost. Truly staggering. I mean, it’s sort of almost a definition of the banality of evil.”

Under normal circumstances, how much power does a chief of staff have, if a chief of staff believes that the president is on the path to making a erroneous decision? In the past, what have those chiefs done?

Chris Whipple: “It’s hard to overstate the influence and power of a White House chief of staff. When he or she, and let’s hope there’s a she before too long, is exercising that job the way it should be done, it’s extraordinarily consequential. I write in The Gatekeepers, in my book, that if James A. Baker III had stayed on as White House chief of staff late in Reagan’s first term and into his second term, there would have been no Iran-Contra scandal. I’m convinced that somebody like Baker would have just put a spike through that. That’s how important it can be there. It’s extraordinarily consequential.

“And what does it tell you about these people in the Trump White House that Cassidy Hutchinson, a 25 year old woman, maybe even younger at the time, had to tell Meadows not to go to the war room for the insurrection at the Willard Hotel? Or that, Oh, by the way, maybe you should say something before the vice president is hung? It’s just extraordinary. You couldn’t watch her without thinking, you know, what is it about taking the oath to protect the Constitution, or knowing right from wrong that’s so easy for a young woman in her second job in the White House, and so impossible for a grown up like Meadows.

“I mean, the truth is that Meadows, far from being a chief of staff … I actually write about him in my upcoming book, which is about the Biden White House, the fight of his life inside Joe Biden’s White House. And I covered the transition, and I write that Meadows was really during this period, he wasn’t a chief of staff so much as a glad handing maître d’ who told everybody what they wanted to hear.”

How pivotal was Hutchinson’s testimony for you on Tuesday?

Alan Rozenshtein: “For me, it was pretty jaw dropping. And in my ongoing thinking about whether or not Trump will be and should be, as a legal matter, criminally prosecuted for his actions on January 6th, that was a real turning point. I have generally been skeptical of the criminal case against Donald Trump for his actions on January 6th, though obviously I deplore what he did. But the Tuesday testimony really changed my mind, and I think it is now both as a predictive matter, more likely than not, and as a legal and even moral matter, appropriate to bring charges against Donald Trump.”

Beforehand, your skepticism was grounded by the fact that President Trump on that day was simply speaking. And that wasn’t adequate enough for any sort of direct connection, or to bring charges against him.

Alan Rozenshtein: “That’s correct. I thought that, or my view was that there was not enough evidence, at least that was public, that Trump either had the requisite intent, or that Trump did anything more than deliver an admittedly inflammatory and lie-filled speech. But within our tradition of broad First Amendment protections and a general culture of broad, unfettered political discussion, I didn’t think it was appropriate, on those facts, to bring a criminal prosecution. But we’ve learned a lot, not just on Tuesday, but throughout the hearings. About both his state of mind, and also additional things that he did beyond just the words that he spoke at the quote-unquote, Stop the Steal rally.”

On what Hutchinson revealed about what Trump said about weapons in the crowd

CASSIDY HUTCHINSON [Tape]: I was in the vicinity of a conversation where I overheard the president say something to the effect of, you know, I don’t f’ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the f’ing mags away. Let my people in. They can march the Capitol from here. Let the people in. Take the f’ing mags away. 

Why is that so important? 

Alan Rozenshtein: “I think it’s important for two reasons. And I will just say, I have listened to that clip a number of times now, and I still find it gobsmacking, that the president would have said that. And I’ll also point out that although since Hutchinson’s testimony, there has been some dispute about some of the details that she put forward, especially about the car ride. No one, as far as I can tell, has really disputed that point. The remarks that you just played. And I think that’s really important, because they go primarily to the issue of intent.

“Donald Trump, I think it’s really beyond a reasonable doubt, understood that the crowd was armed, that the crowd was dangerous, that the crowd was potentially up to no good, and quite possibly wanted that. And at the very least, just didn’t care. And within the law, not caring about bad outcomes that you know are reasonably foreseeable is not a defense.

“So that, I think, goes to the question of intent. But also, I think this is really important, it actually also goes to the question of the actual actions that Trump did. I think up until Tuesday, the assumption, or at least my assumption, was that Trump went and gave a speech. But he did more, as we know, than just give a speech. He gave an order. He tried to get the magnetometers removed. Which would make the situation more dangerous.”

On evidence of actions Trump took on Jan. 6th to possibly incite a riot

Alan Rozenshtein: “I think, again, when we’re dealing with the president potentially inciting a riot to attack the Capitol, we are dealing fundamentally in uncharted waters. And there’s just no way we can read the statutes or the case law and really know how they apply. That’s just not how the law works. So we have to make some judgments. I think that by itself, the president’s statements were kind of borderline, just the statements themselves that he made in the speech.

“But I do think if there really is evidence and again, you have to be established in a court of law and that’s its own thing. If there really is evidence that the president gave an order to decrease the safety, knowing that those people were then going to march to the Capitol. That strikes me as a separate and quite damning action to encourage a riot or obstruction of Congress, or potentially even seditious conspiracy.”

On standing up for democracy, and possible prosecution 

Alan Rozenshtein: “I think this is the time. I think the problem — and this is a fundamental problem for all policymakers, and I’m very glad that I’m not the attorney general — is that we can’t know, we just can’t know what the second, third, fourth order effects of a decision to prosecute or the decision to not prosecute Donald Trump will be. We really are in fundamentally uncharted territory.

“And in that case, I think at some point you have to give up trying to prognosticate, and instead go back to your fundamental principles. And I think the fundamental principles have to be that we are a nation of laws and no one, not even the president, is above them.”

Related Reading

Washington Post: “Mark Meadows has earned his title of worst chief of staff in history” — “In a secure tent on the Ellipse last week, as President Trump prepared to incite an angry mob ahead of its assault on the U.S. Capitol, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, smiling from ear to ear, mugged for a video with Donald Trump Jr., as Laura Branigan’s 1982 hit ‘Gloria’ blared in the background.”

Lawfare Podcast: “The Jan. 6 Committee, Day Six” — “It was a blockbuster day at the Jan. 6 committee hearings. Cassidy Hutchinson, former aide to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows testified in riveting detail about what the president was up to and what the people around him were up to in the days leading up to Jan. 6 and on the day itself.”

Exhibits from the House Select Committee

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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