Former President Donald Trump wanted to march to the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, at the head of an armed and dangerous crowd of insurrectionists that he had urged to “fight like hell” to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. When the Secret Service told the president that was impossible, for security reasons, Trump demanded that he be driven to the Capitol, which was already under attack by his violent supporters, and became “irate” when Secret Service personnel prevented him from doing so.
“I’m the fucking president. Take me up to the Capitol now!” cried the sitting president of the United States when he was told he could not personally lead the insurrectionists into the seat of government. Trump then attempted to grab the steering wheel of the presidential limousine and, when he was stopped by Bobby Engel, the leader of his Secret Service detail, Trump tried to strangle Engel.
Such was the dramatic testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson, an assistant to Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and a longtime Republican congressional aide, who during Tuesday’s extraordinary hearing of the US House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol told members of Congress about Trump’s plotting with January 6 conspirators and his efforts to facilitate their project. The detailed evidence that Hutchinson presented in a surprise public session where she took questions from committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and vice chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) revealed that Trump—amid reports of violence at the Capitol and of rioters chanting “Hang Mike Pence!”—told aides that he did not believe the insurrectionists were doing anything wrong.
That was the signal on January 6 from the man who, as Thompson said at the opening of these hearings, was at the center of a conspiracy to launch a coup against the United States. There will be more testimony from more Republicans with close ties to Trump that will detail the former president’s wrongdoing, but the proof and the evidence is accumulating for the Department of Justice to charge Trump and his top aides with seditious conspiracy to overturn the results of an election and illegitimately maintain Trump’s tenure as president. Hutchinson’s testimony may inspire more aides and allies of the former president to step up, as Thompson and Cheney urged them to do on Tuesday. But it is now clear that January 6th Committee member Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) was right when he said last week, “I think what we’re presenting before the American people certainly would rise to a level of criminal involvement by a president.”
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Kinzinger said that before Hutchinson testified. Now, Hutchinson has pulled the threads together.
The former White House aide linked Trump to the whole of the conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election. She testified that Trump and Meadows were alerted to the threat of violence days before January 6. She testified that Trump ordered Meadows to consult with alleged co-conspirators, such as his ephemeral national security adviser Michael Flynn and longtime Republican agitator Roger Stone, who had attended events with members of the Oath Keepers and other groups that have since been tied to the deadly attack. She testified that Trump objected to the use of weapons screening for people who attended his “Stop the Steal” rally and who would later storm the Capitol. She testified that Trump’s response to reports that members of the crowd were armed was to say, “I don’t fucking care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the fucking [magnetometer screening devices] away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here. Let the people in. Take the fucking mags away.”
When the violence escalated during an assault that ultimately left five dead and injured more than 100 police officers, Hutchinson recalled that White House Counsel “Pat” Cipollone rushed to alert Meadows. “I remember Pat saying to him something to the effect of ‘The rioters have gotten to the Capitol, Mark. We need to go down and see the president. Now!’ And Mark looked up at him and said, ‘He doesn’t want to do anything, Pat.” Hutchinson said Cipollone warned, “Mark, something needs to be done—or people are going to die and the blood is going to be on your effing hands.” She added that Cipollone—who so far has refused to cooperate with the committee—said he was going to confront Trump, and Meadows went with him.
But, as Hutchinson explained, Trump still resisted acting with the immediacy or the boldness that the crisis demanded.
Indeed, under questioning from Cheney, the witness explained how Trump continued to avoid calling the insurrectionists to account even after the attack on the Capitol.
Amid all the chaos that Hutchinson described, she said that Cipollone fretted about Trump’s efforts to lead insurrectionists to the Capitol and warned that if he went ahead, they were “going to be charged with every crime imaginable.”
The fact is that well before the attack on the Capitol, Trump engaged in the crime of seditious conspiracy. Hutchinson confirmed the details of the conspiracy, outlining what Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein described as the “legal, moral and criminal case” against Trump.
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The January 6th Committee will need to make recommendations regarding the criminal prosecution of the former president, and the Department of Justice will need to act on those recommendations. But there is no doubt that former White House counsel John Dean was right when he said, following Hutchinson’s testimony, “She was describing in detail actions that lead right to a crime.”
Americans should hope that Dean was also right when he said, “I am sure her next experience testifying will be in front of a grand jury.”
John NicholsTwitterJohn Nichols is a national affairs correspondent for The Nation. He has written, cowritten, or edited over a dozen books on topics ranging from histories of American socialism and the Democratic Party to analyses of US and global media systems. His latest, cowritten with Senator Bernie Sanders, is the New York Times bestseller It's OK to Be Angry About Capitalism.