THROUGHOUT THE Donald Trump era in American politics, there have been many days of explosive testimony before congressional committees or inquests: James Comey, the former FBI director, testified about his abrupt sacking; Robert Mueller, a special prosecutor, detailed the extent of Russian interference in the 2016 election; Christine Blasey Ford accused Brett Kavanaugh, now a justice on the Supreme Court, of sexual assault. Yet none of these may prove as indelible as that of Cassidy Hutchinson, who on June 28th delivered testimony to the select committee investigating the attack on the Capitol on January 6th 2021 by a pro-Trump mob.
For two hours Ms Hutchinson, who was a senior aide to Mark Meadows, the president’s final chief of staff, calmly detailed her observations of Mr Trump and his coterie on and around that fateful day. The testimony was damning. Mr Meadows was repeatedly alerted about the possibility of violence, acknowledging, according to Ms Hutchinson, that things could get “real, real bad” on January 6th, the day that Congress would be counting the electoral-college votes affirming Joe Biden’s election victory.
When the president’s supporters, incensed by fabricated charges of voter fraud, congregated in front of the White House before storming the Capitol, Mr Trump appeared to grasp the mob’s violent intent. Some armed members of the group refused to pass through magnetometers (or mags for short) set up by the secret service. This would give television cameras the impression that the rally was not at maximum capacity. The president, according to Ms Hutchinson, found that displeasing. “I don’t effing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the effing mags away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here,” she reported Mr Trump as saying.
After the rally, the president was intent on joining his supporters at the Capitol itself—something he had pledged to do in his speech. When Mr Trump’s security detail refused to allow him to go, Ms Hutchinson relayed (she was not present for the incident) that he tried to grab the steering wheel of the presidential limousine and lunged at a member of the secret service. The president was intent on a harebrained scheme to arrive at the vanguard of his irregular army—a plan that Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, warned Ms Hutchinson would mean “we’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable.”
Ms Hutchinson testified that she heard Mr Meadows and Mr Cipollone speaking after a meeting with an irate Mr Trump later that day. “He doesn’t want to do anything,” Mr Meadows said about emerging news of the storming of the Capitol, to which Mr Cipollone allegedly replied: “Blood is going to be on your fucking hands.” Referring to a conversation in which Mr Trump was told that the mob was chanting to hang Vice-President Mike Pence, who had refused to usurp the electoral count, Mr Meadows allegedly said, “You heard him, Pat. He thinks Mike deserves it. He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong.”
Members of the president’s cabinet were so disgusted with his actions that they seriously contemplated invoking the 25th Amendment, which would have removed the president from power. The next day, Mr Trump had to be dissuaded from mentioning the possibility of pardons for those who had taken part in the attempted insurrection. Mr Meadows and Rudy Giuliani, the president’s lawyer (who filed frivolous lawsuits about voter fraud and put pressure on state legislators to decertify lawful election results), would later both seek presidential pardons.
The hearing, scheduled with little advance notice, is the sort of prime-time spectacle that could break through to Republicans who have largely tried to push the magnitude of Mr Trump’s transgressions out of their minds. The former president is still plainly at the helm of the party—the man assiduously courted by many candidates in a continuing series of Republican primaries.
But neither Ms Hutchinson nor other prominent witnesses called by the committee can easily be dismissed as never-Trumpers. And they are laying out in painful detail the extent of Mr Trump’s plot to subvert the American republic: an assertion of voter fraud with reckless disregard for the truth; the concoction of an absurd legal theory that the sitting vice-president had in essence plenary authority to determine the next president; and the intense campaign of pressure waged against state legislatures and Mr Pence simply to go along with this self-coup. All of this culminated in the tragedy of the day, and the stain on the American body politic which the Republican Party has, as yet, shown precious little resolve to help efface.
Democrats have often hoped that a forensic accounting such as this one would break the Trumpian fever that has afflicted the Republican Party for the better part of a decade. Each time, they have been disappointed to find that the forces of extreme partisanship, combined with the sycophancy of the party elite, are too powerful to be overcome. A remarkably large share of Republicans still attest to the central lie of Mr Trump’s campaign—that the election was robbed from the rightful winner. If testimony like this is not enough to spur the Republican Party into excising it, it is hard to imagine what could.■