How much did President Donald Trump and his top advisers know ahead of the Jan. 6 attack about the potential for violence? Until the past few weeks, the answer to that question had been unclear.
But the Jan. 6 committee hearings have removed much of the doubt: Trump and his aides knew that the rally he held near the White House that day was likely to escalate into an attack on the Capitol.
Yesterday, testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson — a former aide to the White House chief of staff — offered the clearest evidence yet that Trump knew violence was possible. He learned early on Jan. 6 that some rally attendees were armed, but wanted security to let them in, Hutchinson said. “They’re not here to hurt me,” she recalled him saying.
Hutchinson also said yesterday that:
Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff at the time and Hutchinson’s boss, told her on Jan. 2 that “things might get real, real bad on Jan. 6.”
The White House knew that the Proud Boys, a far-right group with a recent history of political violence, planned to be in Washington on Jan. 6. Hutchinson heard the group discussed before Trump’s rally, when Rudy Giuliani was present, and Giuliani said on Jan. 2 that Jan. 6 would be “a great day.”
Tony Ornato, another aide, told Meadows and Trump before the attack that some Trump supporters had come to hear his speech outside the White House armed with knives, bear spray and other weapons.
Trump wanted the Secret Service to let armed supporters into his rally. “Take the f-ing mags away,” Hutchinson overheard Trump say, referring to the magnetometers used to screen attendees. “They can march to the Capitol from here. Let the people in.”
Trump wanted to join the protesters at the Capitol after his speech. After learning he was instead being driven back to the White House, Hutchinson testified, Trump cursed at his security detail and tried to wrest the steering wheel from his driver. Trump denied the story yesterday, and Secret Service officials said agents would testify that he did not reach for the wheel.
(Here’s a timeline of Hutchinson’s account of Jan. 6, with videos from her testimony.)
Most of Hutchinson’s testimony, which was under oath, referred to conversations she witnessed or to events that other Trump aides described to her. “Hutchinson is joining the lineup of explosive witnesses to appear at congressional hearings,” The Times’s Carl Hulse wrote, comparing her to Oliver North, who testified about the Iran-contra scandal, and John Dean, who testified about Watergate.
(Our colleague Maggie Haberman profiles Hutchinson here.)
The committee will hold more hearings in the coming weeks, and other details will no doubt emerge. But the fundamental story of Jan. 6 is clear: A United States president who lost re-election was aware of — and encouraged — a violent attack on the Capitol intended to prevent the transfer of power to his opponent, the election’s victor. Afterward, most members of that defeated president’s party decided not to hold him accountable for doing so. Instead, with rare exceptions, they largely ignored or even repeated his lies about the election.
There is also reason to believe that Trump or other Republicans may attempt to overturn a future election. Altogether, it represents the most serious threat to American democracy in many decades.
More on the hearing
The committee described phone calls to witnesses, made by Trump allies, that it suggested were meant to intimidate the witnesses.
Hutchinson testified that Trump, enraged by a denial from his attorney general that the election was stolen, threw his lunch against a White House wall. (The Times’s Peter Baker catalogs Trump’s rage in the final days of his presidency.)
The committee played video of Mike Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, taking the Fifth Amendment after Representative Liz Cheney asked him if he believed in the peaceful transfer of political power.
Meadows and Giuliani sought presidential pardons for their role in Jan. 6.
A lawyer for Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, said she would not testify to the committee.
Yesterday’s session played like the Watergate hearings as punched up by the writers’ room of “24,” our TV critic writes.
Hutchinson reminds us that being a public servant means stepping up to do hard things, Times Opinion’s Michelle Cottle writes. Bret Stephens asks if the hearings will finally bring down the cult of Trump.
The case for prosecuting Trump just got stronger, David French of The Dispatch argues. (Legal experts told The Times that Hutchinson’s testimony raised the likelihood that Trump would face criminal charges.)
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