As my friend and colleague John Nichols wrote right after Tuesday’s shattering January 6 Committee testimony, Donald Trump assaulted his security detail as he was trying to illegally hold on to the presidency. Trump said, “I’m the fucking president. Take me up to the Capitol now!” 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.
He attempted to grab the steering wheel. Also: He attempted to strangle Engel? Why has it not been easier to send this maniac if not to prison then into political exile?
Meanwhile, Mark Meadows just kept looking down at his phone.
Scrolling, scrolling, presumably doom-scrolling, pretty much all the time. For many days, Trump’s staffers begged Meadows, the former president’s chief of staff, to convince Trump to stop the violent insurrection his staffers saw looming. Meadows aide Cassidy Hutchinson laid bare her boss’s cowardice repeatedly at Tuesday’s “surprise” January 6 hearing. She started trying to get his attention on January 2. But Meadows was always looking at his phone.
January 2 was when the unhinged Rudy Giuliani told Hutchinson, “Cass, are you excited for the 6th? It’s going to be a great day.”
He went on: “We’re going to the Capitol. It’s going to be great. The president’s going to be there. He’s going to look powerful. He’s—he’s going to be with the members. He’s going to be with the senators. Talk to the chief about it, talk to the chief about it. He knows about it.”
When she took that to her boss, anxiously, Meadows, in a running theme, “did not look up from his phone.”
Finally he replied: “I don’t know, Cass. Things might get real, real bad on January 6.”
“That was the first I remembered being scared about what could happen January 6,” Hutchinson told the committee.
Aside from that, Meadows didn’t act, publicly, as if he knew “things might get real, real bad on January 6.” He was afraid of Trump, it seems, but didn’t show that publicly, either. He also saw Trump as the ticket to his retro, anti-women Freedom Caucus triumph—and who’s to say, after the Supreme Court laid waste to women’s rights last week, that he was wrong?
Meadows, surreally, stayed looking at his phone at almost every dramatic moment Hutchinson described. She, or Meadows’s deputy Tony Ornato, or White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, tried to rouse the chief of staff to stop the rising threat of violence, and ultimately the bloodshed of the Capitol invasion we endured. He refused. He’d go back to his phone: Scrolling, scrolling, scrolling.
What was he looking at on his phone? Maybe encrypted Trump messages? Social media posts? Family Facebook posts? Porn? Recipes?
Whatever, it was compulsive.
On the morning of January 6, Hutchinson went into Meadows’s office with deputy chief Tony Ornato to warn Meadows of the weapons that police had spotted coming toward the Capitol that day: AR-15s, Glocks, bear spray, brass knuckles, personal armor, things I hadn’t heard of. Ornato laid out the details for Meadows.
Hutchinson testified, “Mark’s sitting on his couch, on his phone, which was something typical,” she said.
“And I remember distinctly Mark not looking up from his phone.”
Ultimately, Meadows answered Ornato: “All right, anything else?” still looking down at his phone, adding: “Have you talked to the president?” Ornato answered yes, he had. That was enough for Meadows. They could leave.
“Meadows did not act on those concerns?” committee vice chair Liz Cheney asked.
“That’s correct,” Hutchinson answered.
As they left, Meadows stayed looking down at his phone, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling.
Hutchinson went to the Trump speech on January 6. She had to endure the president’s fury that there weren’t enough people there. Thousands of Trump supporters, she testified, remained outside the perimeter. Otherwise, they’d have to go through magnometers—also known as weapons detectors—and give up their weapons: Whether they were AR-15s or Glocks, bear spray, brass knuckles, or flagpoles turned into spears, they didn’t want to do it. They could see Trump from where they were standing, and it would be so much easier to just march over to the Capitol and attack it once their leader finished speaking. Some left before.
Probably the most awful thing Hutchinson testified to was Trump’s effort to let these violent men bring their weapons—“Fuck the magnometers!”—to the rally he addressed. To be clear: He wanted the weapons detectors removed, so the armed could mix with the unarmed, and the adoring crowd before him would be much larger. As Hutchinson testified, he said: “I don’t fucking care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the fucking mags away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here. Let the people in. Take the fucking mags away.”
“They’re not here to hurt me.”
Which forces the question: Who were they there to hurt?
From Hutchinson’s testimony, it seems Meadows knew the answer to that question. There are so many more details from her testimony that stand out, the morning after. Having her boss slam his car door, twice, to keep her from hearing his phone calls, as she tried to alert him to the growing chaos at the Capitol, was chilling. “He’d never done that before,” she said. Later she testified that Meadows sought a pardon from Trump. That was news.
It’s also news that a 25-year-old White House aide had the courage to testify in person at a January 6 Committee hearing, when so many Trump staffers would not. I imagined Meadows looking down at his phone, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, as Hutchinson told the committee about his complicity in what happened that awful day. He did not get his pardon, and increasingly it seems like he needed one.