On Tuesday, the House select committee delivered a two-hour masterclass on the threats posed by Donald Trump to our republic and democracy. Cassidy Hutchinson, a deputy to Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff, may have placed Trump’s name on a federal indictment for seditious conspiracy. The Capitol had been defaced for the “sake of a lie”, Hutchinson declared.
Hutchinson testified that Trump attempted to strangle his secret service agent and lunged for the steering wheel when he was told that he would not be driven to the Capitol to join the rioters. Hutchinson also testified that Trump said that Mike Pence “deserved” to be hanged for his refusal to overturn the election. On Tuesday night, NBC’s Washington correspondent Peter Alexander reported that both the lead agent and the presidential limousine driver are “prepared to testify under oath that neither man was assaulted and that Mr Trump never lunged for the steering wheel.”
Hutchinson “isn’t crazy”, a Trump White House veteran confided to the Guardian a few hours before the hearing. But she is a “timebomb”. Sadly, her testimony proved the aide right. The 45th president relished the violence committed in his name. Trump knew that people might die as the mob vied to demonstrate its devotion. He was our mad king.
Hutchinson placed Trump; Meadows; Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s TV lawyer; and Roger Stone, the veteran Republican operative, in the middle of the run-up to the insurrection. Beyond that, she made clear that the threat of violence loomed large in the days and moments before the invasion of the Capitol.
Trump reacted angrily when armed rioters were barred from standing in the area closest to the stage. “Take the f-ing [magnetometers] away,” he declared. When Trump said that the crowd “would walk down to the Capitol”, he was pining for the mayhem that followed.
The ex-gameshow host knew he would have been spearheading an army. Hutchinson also conveyed that her boss, Mark Meadows, showed no reaction when he heard of the catalog of weapons confiscated at the rally held on the morning of 6 January. Can you say, “complicit”?
Make no mistake, Hutchinson’s political pedigree places her solidly amid the ranks of the right. Before moving to the West Wing, she interned for the likes of Representative Steve Scalise, the House Republican whip, and Senator Ted Cruz.
Both Scalise and Cruz voted against certifying the election. For good measure, Scalise affixed his name to a baseless amicus brief to the US supreme court that sought to block Joe Biden’s election, and has refused to acknowledge Biden’s legitimacy. Come January 2023, Scalise is poised to be House majority leader.
Back in 2016, as president-elect, Trump posited that his loss of the popular vote resulted from voter fraud. Unfortunately for America, that lie never died. Indeed, too many around the president did whatever they could do to stoke that acrid flame.
Less than a year ago, Steve Bannon confided to Jeremy Peters of the New York Times that Trump rated among the worst presidents in US history, along with James Buchanan and Millard Filmore, who failed to halt the march to civil war.
Bannon now faces a July trial for contempt of Congress for his refusal to appear before the select committee. The court has already rejected his claim of executive privilege. He left the White House in the summer of 2017; the insurrection followed more than three years after.
This sixth hearing also crystalized what can be right with Washington. At risk to herself, Hutchinson put country ahead of party.
She joined the ranks of patriots like Liz Cheney; Adam Kinzinger; Judge Michael Luttig; Greg Jacob, Mike Pence’s lawyer; Brad Raffensperger; and Eric Herschmann, a member of Trump’s legal team. They knew that the fate of a nation was on the line.
On the other hand, Trump the mob boss was on display too. Representative Cheney recalled messages from former Trump staffers about the threats they received in connection with their possible appearance before the committee. Trump reads transcripts. He could have played Joe Pesci in Goodfellas.
Hutchinson also remembered wiping ketchup hurled by Trump from White House walls. The Donald meet King Saul.
The Book of Samuel records ancient Israel’s first king hurling a javelin at the young David. That story ends with God’s prophet stripping Saul’s line of its claim to the throne.
Whether Trump’s rage has any impact in primaries and elections in the coming months and years remains to be seen. A reminder, for Trump’s base violence is what helps make Trump their guy.
This coming Monday, the US again celebrates its independence. Happy birthday.