This is the day, pronounced Bob Woodward on Tuesday, in reference to Cassidy Hutchinson’s explosive Capitol Hill testimony, that the Jan. 6 committee “has written Donald Trump’s political obituary.”
“Never before in American history have we ever seen credible testimony this shocking against a president of the United States before Congress,” declared presidential historian Michael Beschloss. “This is a day that will loom very large in American history.”
Will it? Or will desperate efforts by Trump toadies like Fox News’ Sean Hannity, who characterized the testimony as just more bunk from a “kangaroo court” (as Mr. Trump called it) rescue him?
Ms. Hutchinson, just 26, who was the top aide to Mr. Trump’s then-chief of staff Mark Meadows, was poised, precise and convincing. She weaved a portrait of a White House-turned-madhouse, of unparalleled presidential depravity. Of an enraged Donald Trump demanding to join an armed mob attack on Capitol Hill that, he was warned, could kill his vice-president. He was bent on actually participating in the overthrow of American democracy on the basis of his deranged belief that the election was stolen from him.
The mob’s actions on that day of infamy were not something that spontaneously spun out of control. Mr. Trump, the Hutchinson testimony revealed, knew in advance of the upheaval coming, of the risks and ramifications. But it didn’t faze him. “I don’t care that they have weapons,” he cried, demanding that magnetic detectors be removed to allow the mob to get closer to a rally stage in a park near the Capitol, where he gave a speech just before the insurrection.
But Ms. Hutchinson’s biggest bombshell – that Mr. Trump lunged at a secret service agent in his SUV, grabbing the steering wheel, demanding that he be driven to the site of the siege – was based on second-hand information. Some media reports have noted that Mr. Trump’s security agents are disputing that it went this far.
That gives an opening for the Trump defenders, the apologists, the crackpots, the zealots, to discredit her testimony. Which is what they are doing. But even if her description was embellished on that particular incident, there were many other jackhammer moments in her two hours of testimony that could have dire consequences, political and legal, for Mr. Trump.
Ms. Hutchinson cited the president’s legal counsel, Pat Cipollone, as warning her that if the president went to the Hill, “we’re going to get charges of every crime imaginable.”
Former federal prosecutors cite several possible criminal charges for which Mr. Trump might be vulnerable. They include incitement to violence, seditious conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and witness tampering.
More than 800 people have been charged thus far as a result of actions in the Jan. 6 riot, for offences ranging from low-level misdemeanours to serious felonies. It’s the largest prosecution in the history of the U.S. Department of Justice.
If that many participants can be charged, what then of Mr. Trump, who might well be called the ringleader of the whole affair – the pivot man? How can he go scot-free?
Federal agents have recently served search warrants and subpoenas that show an investigation moving closer to Mr. Trump’s inner sanctum. But Attorney General Merrick Garland is regarded as a cautious man who won’t take the monumental step of charging a former president unless he is dead certain he has the goods.
In terms of political consequences, the belief prior to the testimony of Ms. Hutchinson, a staunch Republican, was that the hearings would not have much effect. Minds were already made up. Trump Republicans were sealed off in their cocoons, oblivious to the goings-on of the Jan. 6 committee.
A great many were convinced the election was indeed stolen, that the big lie was no lie.
An ABC News/Ipsos poll released on June 19 showed that 58 per cent of Americans were of the view that Mr. Trump should be charged, but only 19 per cent of this group were Republicans.
That number, if there is any sanity left in the country, should now go up appreciably. Here, as an indication, is how the very conservative Washington Examiner newspaper concluded an editorial Wednesday: “Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson’s Tuesday testimony ought to ring the death knell for former President Donald Trump’s political career. Trump is unfit to be anywhere near power ever again.”
But to help ensure that happens, the testimony of the remarkably courageous Ms. Hutchinson must be corroborated.
The Jan. 6 committee is far from finished. Someone senior in the White House need now come forward. Someone like Mr. Cipollone, whose position was equivalent to that of Nixon lawyer John Dean during the Watergate scandal, must shed his cowardice.
Then the deed may well be done. Then the memorable words of Gerald Ford, on taking over from Richard Nixon, may well be uttered again: “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”
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