Administration

Meadows’s image takes a beating from Jan. 6 hearing

The House hearings on the Jan. 6 riots have cast an unflattering spotlight on Mark Meadows, dealing one blow after another to the former Republican congressman-turned-White House chief of staff.

Many revelations from the Jan. 6 hearings have reflected poorly on Meadows, but no testimony has been as damaging as that of Cassidy Hutchinson, who on Tuesday depicted a man who spent key moments leading up to the violence on Jan. 6 scrolling through his phone and declining to intervene at key moments.

Chris Whipple, who authored a book on White House chiefs of staff, wrote an op-ed in January 2021 declaring Meadows the worst chief of staff of all-time. Whipple said in an interview Wednesday that Hutchinson’s testimony only solidified Meadows’s claim to the dubious title.

“We didn’t know the half of it until yesterday when Cassidy Hutchinson testified,” Whipple said. “And what we now know is he wasn’t just a sycophant or missing in action when he should have been telling the president hard truths, he was a co-conspirator.”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest indication that Meadows and other senior staff at the White House were aware of the risk of violence on Jan. 6, but did little to try to temper former President Trump’s tone or step in to keep things from reaching crisis mode.

Hutchinson on multiple occasions on Tuesday portrayed Meadows as seemingly uninterested in the risk of violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6. She recounted telling Meadows on Jan. 2, 2021, about Rudy Giuliani’s description that Trump would be up at the Capitol on the 6th looking “powerful.”

Meadows was scrolling through his phone and did not look up, Hutchinson testified, but “said something to the effect of, ‘there’s a lot going on, Cass, but I don’t know, things might get real, real bad on Jan. 6.”

In another bit of damaging testimony, Hutchinson recalled then-deputy chief of staff Tony Ornato informing Meadows how many people were gathered near the White House for Trump’s Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse and how some in the crowd were carrying weapons.

“And I remember distinctly Mark not looking up from his phone,” Hutchinson testified.

On the afternoon of Jan. 6, Hutchinson said Meadows had been sitting in his office as rioters closed in on the Capitol. Once again, she walked in to find Meadows scrolling silently through his cell phone, she said, and indicating he had not talked to Trump because the president wanted to be alone.

“I remember thinking in that moment, ‘Mark needs to snap out of this, and I don’t know how to snap him out of this, but he needs to care,’” Hutchinson told the House panel in a closed-door deposition that aired during a Tuesday hearing. 

More broadly, testimony and evidence presented by the House committee investigating the riots over the past month has painted Meadows as an enabler who did not discourage Trump from pursuing baseless theories around election fraud or overturning the election, and in some instances encouraged the former president’s impulses.

Hutchinson testified that she heard Trump believed he would be able to go to the Capitol after his Jan. 6 speech because Meadows gave him that impression.

Former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen testified last week that Meadows had called him to ask him to investigate a baseless conspiracy theory that people in Italy had used satellites in the 2020 election to switch votes from Trump to Joe Biden, a request Rosen refused.

Meadows was present for the lengthy January 2021 call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in which Trump pressed for Raffensperger to find the nearly-exact vote total needed to flip the state in his favor.

Marc Short, former chief of staff to former Vice President Mike Pence, told CBS News on Sunday that Meadows appeared to be telling different audiences different things after the 2020 election.

“Mark would often say to me that he was working to try to get the president to concede and accept the results of the election. And at the same time it was clear he was bringing in lots of other people into the White House that were feeding the president different conspiracy theories,” Short said in an interview with “Face the Nation.” 

In the day since Hutchinson testified publicly, some former Trump administration officials have privately expressed doubts about her recollection of certain events. 

Sources close to the Secret Service told some news outlets Tuesday night that Ornato and Robert Engel, the special agent in charge of Trump’s detail on Jan. 6, disputed Hutchinson’s account that Trump lunged for the steering wheel of a presidential vehicle and then at the agent when he was told after his speech on the Ellipse that day that he could not go to the Capitol.

George Terwilliger, a lawyer representing Meadows, said he believed Hutchinson’s testimony “would not withstand a basic cross examination and, if that is correct, it is unlikely to stand the test of time either.”

But those who have interacted with Meadows in the past viewed Hutchinson as a credible witness, particularly on matters related to the former chief of staff.

“I don’t know Cassidy Hutchinson, and I can’t speak to how things worked at the White House, but when Meadows was on the Hill he always insisted that she be in *every* meeting he had, no matter how small. It was odd then, and doesnt seem to be working out for him now,” Brendan Buck, a former aide to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), tweeted on Tuesday.

Mick Mulvaney, who served with Meadows as a member of the Freedom Caucus and later served as Trump’s acting chief of staff before being replaced by Meadows, tweeted during Tuesday’s hearing that “there was probably no one closer to Meadows than Cassidy Hutchinson.  As a [special assistant to the president] and the ‘principal aide’ she would be familiar with just about everything that Meadows did/said/heard.”

Hutchinson’s final piece of testimony on Tuesday, that Meadows raised the possibility of a pardon with Trump, could only heighten attention on the former chief of staff in future hearings.

Meadows has defied a subpoena from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riots, with the matter now caught up in the courts. The Department of Justice late last month said it would not prosecute Meadows for contempt of Congress despite the House referring him for criminal charges for defying the select committee’s subpoena.

But some observers believe Hutchinson’s testimony ups the stakes for Meadows, who may face greater legal exposure based on what the committee has learned and is sharing with the public.

“One thing is clear in my mind: Meadows will get indicted for his failure to appear,” Mulvaney tweeted. “My guess is that ultimately he shows.”

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