Six takeaways on Cassidy Hutchinson’s explosive testimony
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol heard from its first White House witness Tuesday, scheduling a last-minute hearing and promising bombshells from Cassidy Hutchinson.
Hutchinson, a special assistant to Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, had a front-row view of Jan. 6, operating at the intersection of both the White House and Trump campaign efforts to keep the president in power.
Here are six takeaways.
Testimony adds to possible legal case against Trump
The picture painted by Cassidy’s testimony was one of a president repeatedly warned that his effort to overturn the election was illegal and could lead to violence.
The evidence that he ignored signs of danger and pressed ahead, stirring up his supporters with baseless claims of a stolen election, strengthens the committee’s case that Trump knowingly engaged in criminal conduct in order to stay in office.
But whether the Justice Department believes the evidence against Trump and his inner circle is enough to support an indictment remains to be seen.
It’s unlikely that any single piece of information revealed Tuesday could be considered a smoking gun, but the sum total is compelling evidence that the Trump White House had some foreknowledge of the potential for chaos on Jan. 6 and even the risk that encouraging it would be criminal.
Hutchinson revealed that Meadows and Giuliani met on Jan. 2, and afterwards the White House chief of staff told her “things might get real, real bad on Jan. 6.”
White House Counsel Pat Cipollone warned her that if Trump were allowed to go to the Capitol on Jan. 6, “We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable.” And sometime after the attack, both Meadows and Giuliani asked Trump for pardons, Hutchinson revealed.
It’s unclear how much of the information the Justice Department had been privy to, or if the department is investigating the latest damning allegation the committee leveled on Tuesday, when it showed intimidating messages witnesses had received from unnamed Trump allies before testifying to congressional investigators.
“[A person] let me know you have your deposition tomorrow,” reads one message the committee displayed during the hearing. “He wants me to let you know that he’s thinking about you. He knows you’re loyal, and you’re going to do the right thing when you go in for your deposition.”
Top White House staff knew violence was coming
Hutchinson said she first began to get worried about Jan. 6 four days prior, when she was escorting Trump campaign attorney Rudy Giuliani out of the White House.
He asked if she was excited for Jan. 6.
“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,” Giuliani replied.
When Hutchinson took her concerns to Meadows, he offered his comment about the potential for things to take a negative turn: “There’s a lot going on, Cass, but I don’t know. Things might get real, real bad on Jan. 6,” Meadows said, per Hutchinson.
Hutchinson also told the committee about a conversation she had with then-Director of National Security John Ratcliffe, saying he didn’t want to be involved with any of the post-election strategies.
“He felt it was dangerous for the president’s legacy,” she said. “He had expressed to me that he was concerned that it could spiral out of control and potentially be dangerous, either for our democracy or the way that things were going for the 6th.”
Meadows was no check on Trump’s explosive temper
Hutchinson testified that Meadows barely looked up from his phone when she and Tony Ornato, Trump’s deputy chief of staff, went to warn him of all the weapons spotted among Trump’s supporters.
Trump initially wanted his security to scrap the metal detectors on site — his armed supporters didn’t want to forfeit their weapons to get into the secured area and it was interfering with this size of his crowd.
Before and during the rally, Trump demanded to head to the Capitol alongside his supporters — something his legal team expressly advised against. Meadows, however, repeatedly told Trump that he was working on getting him to the Capitol.
Trump got in his motorcade only to be informed the Secret Service had determined it wasn’t safe. He then tried to grab the steering wheel and lunged at the head of his security detail, according to Hutchinson, who relayed what she was told by Ornato.
The Secret Service has since said they will offer a response to her testimony as both the agent in charge of security that day and the driver reportedly wish to dispute the account.
At other points throughout the day, Meadows also pushed back as others, including Cipollone.
Cipollone burst into Meadows’s office shortly after rioters entered the Capitol, determined to get some kind of response from Trump.
“He doesn’t want to do anything, Pat,” Meadows said.
“Mark, something needs to be done or people are going to die and the blood is going to be on your effing hands,” Cipollone responded.
He approached Meadows again minutes later amid the news of rioters chatting ”hang Mike Pence,” telling the chief of staff they needed to do more.
“You heard him, Pat. He thinks Mike deserves it. He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong,” Meadows responded.
Republican lawmakers further implicated
The committee has already detailed the actions of a number of sitting Republican lawmakers who had joined Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results. On Tuesday, new revelations emerged that further entrenched several of those lawmakers in the events of Jan. 6.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Hutchinson testified, called her in the middle of Trump’s speech at the Ellipse. He was “frustrated and angry,” she said, because Trump had just promised the crowd that he would join them in their march to the Capitol — a scenario the White House had ensured McCarthy would not happen.
“‘You told me this whole week you aren’t coming up here. Why would you lie to me?’” Hutchinson said, relaying McCarthy’s message. “I said, ‘I’m not lying. I wasn’t lying to you, sir. We’re not going to the Capitol.’ And he said, ‘Well, he just said it on stage, Cassidy. Figure it out.’”
The episode suggests that McCarthy, who is scrambling to remain in Trump’s good graces as he seeks the Speaker’s gavel next year, was highly concerned about the protests on Jan. 6, even as he joined with most House Republicans in voting to overturn the election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), another stalwart Trump defender, also surfaced during Tuesday’s proceedings. Jordan had called Meadows during the Capitol attack, Hutchinson said, but Meadows was with Cipollone trying to convince Trump to call off his supporters. She answered the phone instead, she said, and delivered it to Meadows in the White House dining room, where the topic was focused on Pence’s safety.
“They had a brief conversation. And in the crossfires — you know, I heard briefly, like, what they were talking about,” Hutchinson said in pre-recorded testimony aired Tuesday. “But in the background I had heard conversations in the Oval Dining Room with the — at that point talking about the hang Mike Pence chants.”
Committee highlights witness tampering – and asks for others to come forward
Vice Chairwoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) noted that Hutchinson is not the only one to face pushback after cooperating with the committee.
Without identifying who else has been contacted, one witness told the committee that they have been reminded that “Trump does read transcripts.”
“What they said to me is as long as I continue to be a team player, they know I’m on the right team. I’m doing the right thing. I’m protecting who I need to protect, you know, I’ll continue to stay in good graces in Trump World,” the witness relayed to the committee.
Another witness got a call saying, “He wants me to let you know he’s thinking about you. He knows you’re loyal and you’re going to do the right thing when you go in for your deposition.”
The committee did not specify who “he” is.
“It’s a crime to tamper with witnesses, it’s a form of obstructing justice,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said after the hearing. “The committee won’t tolerate it, and we haven’t had the chance to fully investigate it or fully discuss it, but it’s something on our agenda.”
Chairman Bennie Thomson (D-Miss.) also reissued a prior call for those who might have information to step forward.
“Because of this courageous woman and others like her, your attempt to hide the truth from the American people will fail,” he said in reference to those who have defied the committee.
“And to that group of witnesses, if you’ve heard this testimony today and suddenly you remember things you couldn’t previously recall, or there are some details you’d like to clarify, or you discovered some courage you had hidden away somewhere, our doors remain open.”
Investigators build momentum heading into July
Tuesday’s hearing came as a surprise.
The House had left Washington last week for a long Fourth of July recess, and Thompson had said the next public airing wouldn’t happen until lawmakers returned next month. The long break had raised concerns among some Trump critics that the panel would lose some of the narrative steam it had built with its five hearings over the course of June.
The last-minute rescheduling caught Washington off guard, heightened the expectations that explosive testimony was forthcoming — and raised the burden on the committee to deliver it.
Hutchinson, who was not only a poised witness but also revealed a steady string of damning new evidence, delivered the goods the panel had promised. Even allies of the former president were forced to acknowledge that her testimony created plenty of new headaches for Trump and his defenders.
“A stunning 2 hours,” tweeted Mick Mulvaney, who served as acting chief of staff under Trump.
Mulvaney pointed to the day’s most explosive revelations, including new indications that Trump knew the crowd on Jan. 6 was heavily armed; that a pair of top aides — Meadows and Giuliani — had requested presidential pardons; and the investigators have evidence suggesting Trump’s team has tampered with witnesses.
“That is a very, very bad day for Trump,” Mulvaney said.
Hutchinson’s testimony lends the investigative panel a good deal of momentum heading into the next series of hearings in July, which promise to offer more bombshell disclosures from her closed-door depositions and dig deeper into the witness tampering allegations.
The panel is also racing to secure the cooperation of Cipollone, who has so far declined to be deposed. Based on what Hutchinson has revealed of his interactions with Trump on Jan. 6, Cipollone could prove a crucial witness.
Mychael Schnell contributed.
This story was updated at 10:50 a.m. on June 29.