The Memo

The Memo: Jan. 6 panel looks to build on Cassidy Hutchinson testimony

The congressional investigation into Jan. 6 returns for its seventh public hearing on Tuesday, two weeks to the day since former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson stunned Washington with bombshell testimony. 

The panel will be hoping to build on the details Hutchinson provided. The forthcoming hearing will apparently be focused on the role played by the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers and other extremist groups around the Capitol insurrection.

Several experts who spoke to The Hill emphasized the connection between the topic of Tuesday’s hearing and the account delivered by Hutchinson.  

Then-President Trump knew that people trying to join the crowd at his Jan. 6, 2021, address on the Ellipse were bearing weapons, according to the 26-year-old former aide to Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows. Trump wanted to lead them to the Capitol anyways, Hutchinson added. 

In a video deposition replayed at the June 28 hearing, Hutchinson testified that, backstage at the Ellipse, she had heard Trump say “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t effing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the effing mags [magnetometers] away. Let my people in, they can march to the Capitol from here.’”  

This point is more legally significant than the secondhand story Hutchinson recounted in which Trump allegedly lunged for the steering wheel of his vehicle after the Ellipse speech and tussled with a Secret Service agent. The specifics of that account are disputed. 

The argument that Trump was aware of the possibility of violence and was willing to inflame and direct the crowd is of critical importance, some say. 

Harry Litman, who served as a U.S. attorney during the Clinton administration, said that up until Hutchinson testified, much of the focus of the inquiry had been on Trump’s efforts to stop the congressional certification of the 2020 election. 

“She completely changed the question to one of whether he purposefully fomented the violence,” Litman said.   

In doing so, particularly regarding what Litman termed Trump’s “manic desire to go to the Capitol,” Hutchinson had “put him in the category of the most serious crimes anyone has considered, which are seditious conspiracy and inciting a riot.” 

Susan Del Percio, a Republican consultant but a strong critic of Trump, contended that Hutchinson’s testimony had framed the central question for the rest of the House select committee’s hearings. 

“The president said, according to Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony, ‘Let my people in, they aren’t here to hurt me.’ The real point is, did he think or know that they were there to hurt other people?” Del Percio said. 

To be sure, Trump and his allies continue to insist that they have suffered little damage in the hearings, or from Hutchinson’s testimony in particular. 

Soon after the former aide testified, Trump claimed, “I hardly know who this person, Cassidy Hutchinson, is, other than I heard very negative things about her.” Trump also denied he had wanted to “make room for people with guns to watch my speech. Who would ever want that?” 

The committee has no power to criminally charge Trump. It can make a referral to the Department of Justice with that goal in mind, but the agency would not be obligated to act upon it. 

Looking further down the road, it is difficult to imagine a jury convicting Trump, at least if the jury was anywhere close to representative of the general population.  

Opinion polls show that roughly 40 percent of the population hold a favorable view of Trump. A Monmouth University poll released last week indicated that about 1 in 3 American adults view the events of Jan. 6 as a “legitimate protest.” 

That’s not to say that Trump has emerged unscathed from the hearings, however.  

An Associated Press-NORC poll at the end of June indicated that 48 percent of Americans believe Trump should face criminal charges over his conduct. An ABC News-Ipsos poll, also conducted last month, put that figure even higher, at 58 percent. 

Casey Burgat, director of the legislative affairs master’s program at the George Washington Graduate School of Political Management, said of Hutchinson: “Her testimony was extremely significant. We can tell that because we are still talking about it — and that is pretty rare for anything in D.C., where the next headline is always coming.” 

Burgat also argued that the panel had been able to use Hutchinson’s appearance as “leverage” to get other Trump insiders to come forward, or to at least consider doing so.  

The most obviously example in that regard is former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who met with the committee behind closed doors for about eight hours on Friday. 

Former Trump chief strategist Stephen Bannon is also now hoping to testify in public, though that appears to be mostly about providing a counternarrative to the damaging details that have emerged for the former president so far. 

On Monday, the House select committee made clear it would not hold an eighth hearing on Thursday, as had been speculated.  

It’s not entirely clear how many more hearings it plans. 

But the committee will be back center stage on Tuesday. 

That is bad news for Trump. As usual, the key question is, how bad? 

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.

Tags Donald Trump Jan. 6 Capitol attack Jan. 6 Committee Mark Meadows Pat Cipollone Susan Del Percio
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