Resetting Our Politics
Did Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony change anything?
Almost exactly 11 months ago, when news broke that the Congressional committee investigating the events leading up to the Capitol riots would have no Republican members in good standing with the caucus, I wrote,
The problem with both arguments is that they assume the committee had any hope of coming up with a comprehensive picture of the events of that day that will be perceived as legitimate. If one holds that assumption, I don’t see how Pelosi had any choice. Banks and, especially, Jordan are clowns who have made no bones about their contempt for the process or the truth. McCarthy’s selection of them was a big Fuck You to the investigation and received the response he had to know was coming.
Given that former President Trump is the de facto target of the investigation and that it is coming in a Democratic-led House, it is going to be seen by his supporters as a partisan witch hunt. Given that Republicans overwhelmingly still support him, with a majority believing that the election was stolen from him, persuading them of his culpability is a lost cause.
Theoretically, at least, the investigation could at least provide those interested in the truth a better picture of what happened. But I’m skeptical we’ll learn much useful that we don’t already know. Congress has subpoena power, of course, but unless they’re going to provide immunity from criminal and civil liability, we’re likely to see a string of people invoking their 5th Amendment rights.
Over time, I came to believe that, even if the hearings didn’t change the mind of a single Trump voter, there was a duty to history to document the event in as much detail as possible. And, in that regard, it has succeeded beyond my hopes, in that we do indeed know a lot of details that we didn’t before that make clear that President Trump and his closest advisors know that their claims of a stolen election were false.
Yesterday’s testimony by previously unknown aide Cassidy Hutchinson made clear what most of us had already presumed: that Trump not only intended to incite a mob to storm the Capitol but he planned to lead them in personally until stopped by the Secret Service. Was it a “surprising, crystallizing moment” that changed the national narrative? It’s too soon to say but there are signs that it might have been.
Multiple columns out overnight by staunch conservatives—albeit not Trumpers—express a sense that the needle has moved.
David French, “The Case for Prosecuting Donald Trump Just Got Much Stronger,” The Dispatch
Earlier this afternoon she gave the most extraordinary congressional testimony I’ve ever seen. She testified that the president was so committed to walking to the Capitol with his own supporters that he allegedly tried to grab the wheel of his Secret Service vehicle. She painted the picture of a president utterly out of control, a man so committed to preserving his own power that he approved of the riot and believed that Mike Pence deserved to face mob justice.
Hutchinson claims she overheard Trump say about the crowd, “You know, 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. Let the people in. Take the effing mags away.”
As Jake Tapper noted, the “mags” refer to magnetometers deployed to keep armed individuals away from the president.
In light of this evidence, Trump’s admonition that the mob march “peacefully and patriotically” looks more like pro forma ass-covering than a genuine plea. It was a drop of pacifism in an ocean of incitement—especially considering other statements made by Trump allies before and during the January 6 rally itself
Bret Stephens, “Will the Jan. 6 Committee Finally Bring Down the Cult of Trump?” NYT
If what she says is true, no longer are we dealing with a committee that is putting a fluorescent light to a set of facts with which we were already broadly familiar.
This is something else: testimony that the president didn’t care that the mob that stormed Congress was armed and that he even tried to lead it by grabbing for the steering wheel of his armored limousine.
“You know, I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons,” Hutchinson testified she overheard the president saying during his rally on Jan. 6. “Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.”
Until now, Trump’s supporters have told themselves an exculpatory story about Jan. 6 that goes like this: The president sincerely believed he had been robbed of the election. His efforts to reverse the outcome were the result of honest indignation. His “Be there, will be wild!” tweet inviting people to the Jan. 6 rally was just his usual hyperbole, not a threat.
So too — to continue with this story — was his call at the rally itself to “fight like hell,” which was ordinary free speech, not an incitement to riot. The people who assaulted the Capitol were a mix of enthusiastic patriots, a few hooligans who got out of hand and probably a few antifa provocateurs. Mike Pence, surrounded by bodyguards, was never at serious personal risk. Congressional Republicans who questioned the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s victory were no worse than the congressional Democrats who questioned the legitimacy of Trump’s four years earlier.
But the committee’s work made nonsense of that narrative. Trump knew perfectly well that fraud hadn’t caused his defeat: So he had been told, in no uncertain terms, by his loyal attorney general, Bill Barr. The theory that Pence had the authority to stop the counting of electoral votes struck even the author of that theory, John Eastman, as a nonstarter in any court. We heard that Rudy Giuliani admitted he had no evidence of significant fraud. Republicans who aided the president’s attempts sought pardons for themselves, hardly admissions of innocence. Among them, according to Hutchinson, was Meadows himself.
Maybe Hutchinson is lying, but she was under oath. Trump supporters may find it easy to dismiss Democrats like Adam Schiff or even anti-Trump conservatives like Judge J. Michael Luttig.
But Hutchinson is a source from within the inner sanctum. On Tuesday, she was a picture of credibility. If Meadows continues to refuse to testify to the committee, that credibility will be enhanced.
Which gets us to the headline:
Maybe this is where the cult of Trump will begin to crack.
Margaret Singer, a clinical psychologist who studied cults, noted that among the ways cults succeeded was by creating “a closed system of logic” and belief.
That, of course, has always been essential to Trump’s messaging. Either you love Trump or you are an enemy of the people. Either you want to Make America Great Again or you hate America. Either you accept that Trump is always right, even when he contradicts your deepest values — or when he contradicts himself — or you are deficient in loyalty to him and hatred of his enemies. Either you stick with Trump or you’re a Republican in name only, a RINO, and we know what Trump loyalists like Missouri’s Eric Greitens plan to do with RINOs.
All this was central to the Trump playbook. But after Tuesday, the threat of a legal indictment has become very real. The president may indeed be liable for seditious conspiracy, especially if he tried, via Meadows’s calls to Roger Stone and Michael Flynn, to reach out to extremist groups.
To Trump’s supporters, his name was all but synonymous with their sense of America. They saw in him a proudly raised middle finger to progressives who found more to fault than praise with the country. Now it doesn’t entirely compute.
I doubt there will be any sort of moment when the Sean Hannitys and Laura Ingrahams of the world will tell the faithful: We were wrong; we made an idol of the wrong man. But there may be a quiet drifting away. In a moment like this, that might be just enough.
John Podhoretz, “Trump Is In Deep, Deep, Deep, Deep Trouble,” Commentary
And here’s the rub for Trump. He has so far been protected by Meadows and Cippolone because they have refused to testify to the committee under claims of executive privilege—that Congress does not have the power to force them to speak about their direct conversations with the president or the actions they may have taken under his direct authority because the executive branch is not subordinate to the legislative branch. But they can testify if they choose. If they do not, they will, in essence, be allowing Hutchinson’s testimony to stand. If they do, and they do not say everything she said was a lie, her testimony will stand and be bolstered by them. And if they testify and say their recollections of the days were different, they will have to report in what way they were different—and will not be able to refuse to answer questions they find uncomfortable.
But if they do remain silent and Hutchinson’s testimony is not somehow rebutted, they can be made to testify if Attorney General Merrick Garland convenes a grand jury on the basis of the revelations of the January 6 committee and subpoenas them. Failure to testify under those conditions will lead to prison time.
Neither Podhoretz nor I are lawyers but I don’t think this is right. They could almost certainly plead the 5th unless offered immunity.
I did not think this day would come. I have said as much on our podcast many times. But as a result of the bombshells today, there’s no question now that Donald Trump is staring down the barrel of an indictment for seditious conspiracy against the government of the United States.
And I haven’t even gotten to the possible witness tampering!
As I said yesterday, the aftermath of Hutchinson’s testimony marked “the first time that I’ve thought it remotely possible that the former president would face federal charges for his role” in the riots. But, while I would certainly like to see him behind bars and his reputation forever ruined, it’s more important to me that we get the country back operating on a common set of facts and a basic respect for the rule of law and our institutions.
I was just shy of 11 when Gerald Ford conceded to Jimmy Carter in 1976, so don’t have clear memories of that. But I very much remember Carter’s gracious concession to Ronald Reagan in 1980. And George H. W. Bush’s to Bill Clinton in 1992.
Even after the extreme and divisive bitterness that marked the dispute over the election results in 2000, Al Gore ultimately did his part in helping the nation heal. And, unlike the others, he did so even though he’d gotten more votes than his opponent. Even though he didn’t like it, the Supreme Court ruled against him and the game was over. He was exceedingly gracious and kind about it, however much he seethed inside.
Trump was soundly defeated and tried to steal the election. And he’s convinced his supporters, against all evidence, that the outcome was somehow rigged—even though he lost states where those counting and certifying the contest were fellow Republicans.
If these hearings can break their illusion that Trump is a heroic figure—that, indeed, he’s a coward and a bully—maybe there’s a chance of restoring some semblance of normalcy to our politics.