For years, it has been fashionable to call Donald Trump “deranged” based on his inflammatory rhetoric and torrent of lies. But until the shocking Tuesday afternoon testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson before the January 6 committee, America had no idea how deranged the former reality TV star turned president actually was.
Hutchinson, the former top assistant to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, recounted a scene in the president’s limousine (called “The Beast”) on January 6, 2021, after Trump had told rallygoers on the Ellipse that he would march with them to the Capitol.
Anthony Ornato, the deputy chief of staff who was there, told Hutchinson that when Trump was informed that it was not safe for him to go to the Capitol, the wild-eyed president tried to grab the steering wheel of The Beast. Then, when Bobby Engel, the lead Secret Service agent, took Trump’s arm, the president tried to grab the agent just below the neck. According to Hutchinson, Engel, who was in the room with Ornato, immediately confirmed this story.
In short, the beast was in The Beast.
But that’s not all. In early December 2020, Attorney General William Barr made a public statement indicating that there was no evidence of widespread election fraud. Shortly afterward, Hutchinson found herself in the president’s private dining room off the Oval Office. As Hutchinson told the committee in live testimony, “towards the front of the room, near the fireplace mantle and the TV, [I] first noticed that there was ketchup dripping down the wall and there’s a shattered porcelain plate.”
Representative Liz Cheney, taking the central role as prosecutor during the hearing, then asked a droll question, “Ms. Hutchinson, was this the only incident that you are aware of where the president threw dishes?” The answer, of course, was no.
Another powerful anecdote that Hutchinson told was based on her firsthand knowledge of Trump’s cavalier disregard, on January 6, that armed insurrectionists would be heading toward the Capitol. Before Trump spoke on the Ellipse, Hutchinson overheard him raging in the tent behind the stage. The president was livid that the Secret Service refused to let people with weapons go through the metal detectors, which are known in White House parlance as “mags.” Hutchinson recalled Trump saying, “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.”
Moses said, in the Bible, “Let my people go.” Trump said at the cusp of a coup, “Let my people in.”
Hutchinson’s testimony has been likened to John Dean’s 1973 appearance before the Senate Watergate committee. The former White House counsel revealed many of the initial details of the Watergate cover-up and told then-President Richard Nixon, in the Oval Office, “We have a cancer within, close to the presidency.” But never did Dean mention ketchup-stained walls.
The 25-year-old Hutchinson, who graduated from college in 2019 after serving as a White House intern, was a poised, yet slightly nervous, witness, never trying to oversell her points. Watching her, it was easy to see why she rose so fast within the competent wing of the Trump White House.
But there was also something endearing about her sincerity. In a small gesture after Trump literally tossed his lunch, Hutchinson recalled, “I grabbed a towel and started wiping the ketchup off the wall to help the valet.”
It is unlikely that Hutchinson pictured herself volunteering for cleanup duty after a presidential temper tantrum when she first imagined her White House service. In 2018, after serving as a White House intern, Hutchinson told her college newspaper at Virginia’s Christopher Newport University, “I am confident I will be an effective leader in the fight to secure the American dream for future generations, so they too will have the bountiful opportunities and freedoms that make the United States great.”
It is impossible to exaggerate how much Hutchinson did Tuesday to preserve the “freedoms that make the United States great.” A strong argument can be made that Hutchinson’s testimony even topped Dean’s words 49 years ago in making a case for a president’s moral and legal guilt.
At the beginning of the hearings, I was personally skeptical about the merits of bringing legal charges against the former president. Despite the popular clamor on the left, I worried about the dangers of making Trump a martyr if a jury failed to convict him or if the Supreme Court later overturned a guilty verdict in a decision authored by Clarence Thomas.
After the first six hearings of the January 6 committee, I am now convinced. In the words of a famous Doonesbury cartoon during Watergate: “Guilty! Guilty! Guilty. Guilty!”
To my surprise, the committee has developed a strong case that at every stage leading up to the January 6 assault on the Capitol, Trump was told that what he was doing was illegal and he knew about and deliberately encouraged the violence. Trump’s behavior was so out of control and so lawless that it overshadowed what was once a shocking revelation from Hutchinson—that the president suggested that his vice president “deserves it” as the mob at the Capitol chanted, “Hang Mike Pence.”
Cheney, in her opening statement, pointed out, “The committee has heard from a significant number of Republicans, including former Trump administration Justice Department officials.… Today’s witness, Ms. Cassidy Hutchinson, is another Republican and another former member of President Trump’s White House staff.”
The implicit message was that some Trump loyalists—those with a remaining shred of honor—drew a line in the sand over the violence and the Proud Boys’ putsch on January 6. Some who behaved impeccably on that sad day, like Pence, have now retreated into the fog of amnesia mixed with unprincipled party loyalty. But others, like Hutchinson, have unreservedly embraced the cause of a righteous defense of democracy.
In one of the most powerful moments during the hearing, Hutchinson recalled her reaction at reading Trump’s inflammatory tweet (“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done”) as the insurrectionists had just breached the Capitol. “I remember feeling frustrated and disappointed—and really, it felt personal,” she said. “I was really sad. As an American, I was disgusted. It was unpatriotic. It was un-American. We were watching the Capitol building get defaced over a lie.”
Whatever Cassidy Hutchinson does with the rest of her career, her nearly two hours of testimony will shimmer forever. Her bravery in coming forward in such a public role should humiliate all the older Trump enablers who now cower in silence trying to erase their complicity in the most dangerous coup attempt in American history.