In testimony Tuesday before the House committee investigating the events leading up to the deadly riots of Jan. 6, 2021, a brave young woman exposed another passel of Donald Trump’s lies, and also cleared up some mysteries that remained, at least in my mind.
Here’s one of those mysteries. When he was inciting the armed mob that attended his White House rally that day, I remember Trump promising the rabid, armed crowd that he would be “with them” at the Capitol. Then he didn’t show up, and his supporters were the ones that got beaten and arrested and some are now serving prison sentences or still facing charges.
I had chalked Trump’s no-show at the riot to be evidence of his cowardice and carelessness about putting the chumps into harm’s way, while he sat safely in the White House. But on that score, at least, I apparently underrated Trump.
The Tuesday testimony strongly indicated that Trump really did want to go physically from the White House, where he incited the crowd, to the Capitol, where he would presumably have incited a riot that might have prevented the House of Representatives from certifying Joe Biden’s solid 306-232 Electoral College victory.
Whether that makes you upgrade or downgrade your impression of him, I hereby apologize to Trump for thinking that he lied to the crowd, at least about wanting to go with them.
The latest testimony makes clear that Trump really wanted to accompany his rioters to the Capitol and had to be physically restrained and dispatched back to the White House to watch the carnage he had inspired.
But if, perchance, that generates any sympathy or respect for Trump, the rest of the day’s revelations points in the opposite, more familiar, self-serving jerk direction.
Cassidy Hutchinson, a former principal aide to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and the only witness at the hearing, provided key evidence, much of which struck mortal blows to whatever is left of Trump’s reputation.
Hutchinson told of a meeting before the Jan. 6 rally, in which officials were warned the mob was bringing knives, guns and other homemade weapons (like spears made of flagpoles with knives attached).
Trump’s Deputy Chief of Staff Tony Ornado made clear that Trump had been told that the mob would be armed, which did little to diminish his appetite for inflaming and deploying them. Au contraire.
One of the biggest bombs Hutchinson dropped on Trump (at least according to me) was that, during her White House stint, she saw Trump pitching a fit that many of the Trumpites who wanted to attend a rally at the White House (to hear him speak before going to the Capitol) were being stopped at the White House gates because they were heavily armed.
People with guns and clubs are barred by law from carrying them onto the White House grounds. Trump wanted the rally full, for appearances sake, but there were empty seats because of all the armed Trump admirers being stopped at the gates, she testified.
“Likely the primary reason [Trump was upset] was that he wanted it full, and he was angry that we weren’t letting people through the ‘mags’ with weapons,” Hutchinson said. [‘Mags’ refers to the magnetometers used to detect weapons concealed on those getting onto the White House grounds] …
She continued: “I was in the vicinity of a conversation where I overheard the president say something to the effect of, ‘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.” [P.S. She was using “effing” to stand in for a well-known expletive that begins with an “f.”]
Hutchinson said Trump “was very concerned about the shots we would get” — meaning, for example, camera shots of the White House grounds less than full — when he spoke to the crowd. But if her quotation of Trump was accurate, and I doubt it not at all, Trump [presumably] wanted his armed supporters to remain armed for their planned march on and assault of the Capitol after the “rally.”
Understanding that this armed mob would be heading to the Capitol where the counting of the electoral votes was to occur soon after Trump spoke, and understanding that that counting would certify that Joe Biden had defeated Trump, Hutchinson told her direct boss, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, that something needed to be done. But Meadows [would it be rude for me to say “unsurprisingly”] did nothing, Hutchinson acknowledged.
Hutchinson was told by Rudy Giuliani that Trump planned to march down to the Capitol with the protesters after the White House rally, but that Trump’s plan had not been announced publicly. And, as you know, Trump had told the crowd that he would walk with them to the Capitol to somehow insist that enough electoral votes pledged to Joe Biden be either invalidated or (if possible) switched to Trump.
He didn’t, as you know, walk with them to the Capitol. But I learned from Tuesday’s testimony that he tried to fulfill his seditious promise to lead the mob to the Capitol.
Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy reached Hutchinson by phone (her boss was the deputy chief of the White Staff) and told her to stop Trump from leading the mob to the Capitol.
(A small aside. Hutchinson’s testimony Monday was a combination of her speaking live to the committee and videotape of her previous statements to the committee staff. The next quote was played to the committee from the previous staff interview, in which she was asked what she thought Trump was going to do if he got to the Capitol, to which she replied):
“I remember hearing a few ideas discussed about that: maybe give a speech from outside the Capitol, maybe go into the House Chamber (where the electoral vote count was actually occurring).”
In any event, the cooler heads prevailed, at least on that one point. The Secret Service told him no, his limousine wouldn’t be allowed to take him to the Capitol. (Here’s a full writeup of how that went down, including Trump lunging at an agent and yelling “I’m the f—ing president. Take me to the Capitol now,” and trying to grab control of the steering wheel.
She also told of a conversation between her boss Mark Meadows and White House Counsel Pat Cippollone, for which she was present, in which Cippollone said that Trump must not go to the Capitol while the electoral votes were being counted by Vice President Pence and while the pro-Trump mob was chanting that it wanted to “hang Mike Pence,” adding “We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable” if Trump shows up there. (Cippollone, by the way, has declined to testify in the current hearings to explain his thinking further.)