What Donald Trump Knew About Jan. 6 Capitol Riot
On the night of Jan. 2, 2021, Cassidy Hutchinson escorted President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, out of the West Wing to a car waiting to drive him off the White House grounds. The former New York City mayor had just finished a meeting with Hutchinson’s boss, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. “Cass, are you excited for the 6th?” Giuliani said, according to Hutchinson’s testimony at a congressional hearing on June 28. “It’s going to be a great day.”
These remarks caught the young aid off-guard. “Rudy, could you explain what’s happening on the 6th?” she asked him.
His answer wasn’t entirely clarifying. “We’re going to the Capitol. It’s going to be great. It’s going to be great. He’s going to look powerful,” Giuliani told her. “Talk to the chief about it. He is aware of it.’”
Hutchinson walked back to Meadows’ office. He was on his couch, scrolling through his mobile phone. “It sounds like we’re going to the Capitol,” she told him. Meadows didn’t look up from his phone. “There’s a lot going on, Cass, but I don’t know,” he said. “Things might get real, real bad on Jan. 6.”
Trump and his associates have repeatedly stressed over the past 18 months that the Capitol attack of Jan. 6, 2021 was just as shocking for them as it was for everyone else. They claimed that it was a spontaneous political demonstration. The attack was not the fault of President Obama and his associates. One senator called it “a debate about election integrity” that simply got out of hand.
Cassidy Hutchinson, 26, struck an untimely blow to the defense during a rushed hearing scheduled for Tuesday. Hutchinson testified live for two hours before the House Committee investigating Jan. 6, 2017 attack. She stated that Trump had been repeatedly warned of the practical and legal dangers associated with encouraging the march towards the Capitol on that day.
Hutchinson says that he not only urged his supporters to visit the Capitol but also knew that the mob was highly armed and dangerous. Not only did he know they wanted to obstruct the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory, he tried to join them. And not only did he know his supporters posed grave danger to members of Congress and his own vice president, Mike Pence, he thought they “deserved it.”
Trump immediately denied the most explosive parts of Hutchinson’s testimony. In a dozen posts on his social media platform Truth Social, he called her a “total phony” and a “whacko.” Her body language, he fumed, was “that of a total bull…. Artist.” One allegation, in particular, he said was “fraudulent, very much like the Unselect Committee itself.”
But the panel’s sixth hearing demonstrated in graphic, new detail that the political and legal case is still being built against the former president. The Department of Justice may eventually be able to charge Hutchinson for crimes such as conspiracy to defraud America, attempt to obstruct Congress and seditious conspiracy. Harry Litman is a former U.S. prosecutor.
“I think he has gone into a whole different category of potential criminal liability,” Litman tells TIME. “The most serious charges to date have been against the Proud Boys and Three Percenters because they actually were using violence to try to harm a U.S. function. And that’s where Trump is now, too. He’s an absolute co-conspirator.”
Cassidy Hutchinson is a former top aide of Trump White House Chief Of Staff Mark Meadows. She testified during the sixth hearing held by the House Select Committee.
Brandon Bell—Getty Images
“Every Crime Imaginable”
The Jan. 2 meeting between Giuliani and Meadows wasn’t an outlier. Planning around Jan. 6 had taken up an increasing amount of the administration’s time and resources. Trump’s anger was evident in weeks following his election. There were many lawsuits filed seeking to invalidate election results from swing states. When Trump learned about then-Attorney General William Barr’s Dec. 1, 2020, interview with the Associated Press, in which he said that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove widespread fraud during the election, Trump flung a plate of food at the wall, Hutchinson testified, leaving “ketchup dripping down the wall.”
With his efforts to nullify Biden’s wins in six states going nowhere, he turned his attention to urging his supporters to “Stop the Steal,” suggesting that they could block Congress from formally certifying Biden’s victory. “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th,” Trump tweeted on Dec. 19. “Be there, will be wild!”
People around him already raised concerns over the possibility of violence. John Ratcliffe, a former Texas Congressman who had become Trump’s Director of National Intelligence, told Hutchinson “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,” she testified.
While Hutchinson wasn’t privy to substantive discussions about the extremist groups that would ultimately assault the Capitol, she recalled hearing the words “Oath Keepers” and “Proud Boys” in the West Wing in the days leading up to the attack.
There were obvious signs from outside that January 6 was a day of high violence potential. Far-right groups had been openly preparing for weeks for the day they saw as a “final stand” to keep the President in power. Dozens of the MAGA faithful had already been arrested at precursor “Stop the Steal” rallies. As Trump “continues this incendiary rhetoric, he’s inciting his supporters and inflaming the situation,” Chuck Hagel, a Defense Secretary under President Obama and former Republican Senator from Nebraska, told TIME on Jan. 5, 2021. “I’m concerned about violence.”
Continue reading: Washington Braces for Chaos as Trump Supporters Descend for ‘Final Stand’
This was an assessment that was shared internally by national security and Secret Service officials, who warned senior White House staffers, including Meadows, about intelligence that indicated there was a likelihood of violence and armed protestors on Jan. 6, according to Hutchinson’s testimony, as well as concerns that Congress would be a target.
Trump attempted to organize a rare presidential visit at the Capitol that would be attended by his supporters. White House Counsel Pat Cipplone pleaded with Hutchinson to stay behind for the scheduled rally at the White House on Jan. 6. “Please make sure we don’t go up to the Capitol, Cassidy,” he said. “Keep in touch with me. We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen.”
She was present when Tony Ornato, White House deputy chief of staff, warned Meadows of all the weapons that the protestors had brought. These included knives, guns, rifles, bear spray, body armor, and pistols. “These effing people are fastening spears onto the ends of flagpoles,” she recalled him saying. Hutchinson also said Ornato that he told Trump the exact same thing.
She was surprised to hear Trump’s concern not over the possibility of violence but about the large crowd. The rally space at the Ellipse was not full, the Secret Service told him, because many of his supporters were armed and didn’t want to go through the magnetometers, known as “mags,” to gain access. “I don’t effing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the effing mags away,” he said, according to Hutchinson. “Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.”
He did not get his request from the Secret Service. The President delivered his speech at noon. This is the same address that the Jan. 6, committee had repeatedly heard during their hearings. Rep. Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming and the committee’s vice chair has said that Trump, who is known to ad-lib during public speeches, mostly stuck to the script at that event. But as noteworthy as what was in the speech—dark warnings like “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore”—is what was left out.
Hutchinson testified that Trump wanted to include language promising to pardon his supporters who marched to the Capitol to thwart Biden’s election certification, but was convinced by Cippolone to leave it out. “I understood, from White House Counsel’s Office coming into our office that morning, that they didn’t think it was a good idea to include that in the speech,” Hutchinson said in pre-taped video testimony.
Trump entered the room after Trump’s speech was over. AThe bulletproof vehicle of the president was demanded by his security team to take him to Washington. The Jan. 6 committee obtained national security chat logs that showed the Secret Service had at one time prepared to open a path for Trump to take. When Trump’s lead security detail, Bobby Engel, conveyed to him that going to the Capitol was not secure and they had to return to the White House, the president was furious.
What happened next has become a matter of dispute since Tuesday’s hearing. Hutchinson testified that Ornato, with Engel in the room, told her Trump said, “I’m the effing President, take me up to the Capitol now.” After he was rebuffed, Trump allegedly tried to grab the steering wheel. “Sir, you need to take your hand off the steering wheel,” Engel told him, while grabbing his arm. Trump then lunged at him and grabbed the agent’s throat, Hutchinson said Ornato told her. Trump denied that the incident took place.
Shortly after, Trump arrived back at his White House residence as protestors broke into the Capitol. The day was becoming more violent and Pence being among the most vulnerable, Cipollone called upon Meadows for help, Hutchinson said. “Something needs to be done or people are going to die and the blood is going to be on your effing hands,” he said, according to Hutchinson’s account. “Mark, we need to do something more, they’re literally calling for the Vice President to be effing hung.” Meadows responded with “something to the effect of, you heard him, Pat. He thinks Mike deserves it,” Hutchinson told investigators.
Soon after, Trump tweeted, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.”
During the House Select Committee’s third hearing, an image of Donald Trump was displayed in the Cannon House Office Building. It took place on June 16, 2022.
Drew Angerer—Getty Images
“No More Credible Person Than That”
The new revelations from Hutchinson—someone who witnessed many of these conversations firsthand—is the most damning testimony to date.
Trump and his associates tried to destroy her credibility. However, many former officials in the administration praised her integrity and honesty. “I worked with her, I saw her every day in the West Wing. She was front and center, actively a major part of the West Wing operation,” Olivia Troye, a former homeland security and counterrorism advisor to Pence, told TIME. “They can try to discredit her,” she went on, “the reality is she was Mark Meadows’ right-hand person. There is no more credible person than that.”
Ex-White House Chief of Staff Mick MulvaneyAn ex-White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah MatthewsEx-Director of Strategic Communications at the White House Alyssa Farah GriffinHutchinson was also supported on Twitter.
Even Fox News, perhaps Trump’s most influential defender, acknowledged that Hutchinson’s testimony was damaging. While the some of the network’s most prominent personalities have painted the committee’s work as a “Stalinist” witch hunt, and it’s top executives refused to preempt Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity on June 9 to carry the first hearing live, anchor Bret Baier didn’t hide his astonishment in response to the June 28 hearing. “I’ve covered politics a long time,” Baier said on air. “I don’t think there has been testimony like this—that is kind of jaw-dropping, in a way—on the inside workings of a White House … since Watergate.”
It’s a reality that is leading many legal experts to believe that what was once unthinkable is now entirely possible—a former president might be indicted. “I think her testimony makes it more likely that we’ll see criminal charges,” says Jennifer Rodgers, a former federal prosecutor and now a lecturer at Columbia Law School.
Before Hutchinson’s deposition, the committee had mostly depicted the different ways White House advisers, Department of Justice and state election officials had repeatedly told the president that his claims of voter fraud were baseless—showing how Trump ignored them all, pressing on with his efforts to overturn the election anyway.
According to legal experts, Trump still had the right to assert that even though all that evidence was potentially harmful, he was still exercising his First Amendment right of expressing a conviction. In other words, it’s the legal defense version of the George Costanza line, “It’s not a lie, if you believe it.”
But Hutchinson’s explosive testimony, particularly about how Trump knew many of his supporters were armed and sent them to the Capitol anyway, have changed the equation.
“For the first time, this testimony tied him to advance knowledge of the violence. And that’s huge,” Rodgers tells TIME. “I thought that was a direct hit for him, understanding that there was a very strong potential for violence, and he didn’t care one bit.”
Even though the evidence at the hearing on June 28 was helpful in building the case against Trump, it also helped to prove that he attempted to block a congressional proceeding. The Justice Department may be facing additional charges. Jan. 6, 2016, the committee found new evidence that Trump associates tried to intimidate witnesses with messages sent before they testified. “He knows you’re loyal and you’re going to do the right thing when you go in,” one such message said. Punchbowl News reports that one of these messages was actually sent to Hutchinson.
“I think he has gone into a whole different category of potential criminal liability,” Litman says. “The big thing is that he’s now in the territory that he hasn’t been before of both seditious conspiracy and fomenting insurrection”
Many are skeptical that Trump will be indicted by Attorney General Merrick Galrland, and may even be able to appoint an extra prosecutor for such cases. After all, the Justice Department has not prosecuted any former president. But there’s a greater likelihood now than there has ever been.
“It’s a federal crime to intimidate or assault members of Congress,” former Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew McCarthy said on Fox News after the hearing. “What would the Capitol Police have done if the President of the United States was leading the mob? How could they conceivably have contained that?”
McCarthy and Litman believe that these revelations could lead to the President being charged with conspiracy to injure or impede a government official. It’s a crime that carries up to six years in jail.
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