Opinion With surprise witness, Trump’s last line of defense is collapsing

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HR King
May 29, 2001
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By Greg Sargent
Columnist |
June 28, 2022 at 11:28 a.m. EDT

The hearings of the Jan. 6 select committee will probably never produce a political breakthrough as powerful as the Watergate hearings did. But if there’s one person who might end up qualifying as this saga’s John Dean, it might be Cassidy Hutchinson.
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Hutchinson, who was a top aide to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, is the surprise witness who will testify to the committee on Tuesday. During Watergate, White House counsel John W. Dean III testified to direct knowledge of extraordinary corruption. In the Trump administration, Hutchinson was herself placed deep inside the White House.
Hutchinson’s testimony also hints at a broader endgame in the hearings. The final ones will refocus on the mob assault of Jan. 6, 2021, demonstrating with fresh clarity that Donald Trump weaponized the mob to complete the coup effort that has been laid bare before the nation.
Which in turn hints at a new understanding of this whole saga. One by one, the committee is systematically demolishing each of Trump’s defenses, which have buffered him almost as a series of concentric circles, with him at the center.


Those defenses are as follows: Trump really believed he had won the election; he exercised what he thought were his legal options in response to that belief; and the mob he incited is best understood as a protest that got out of hand.
Hutchinson is in a good position to help wreck that last defense. Her testimony has reportedly been moved up amid fears for her safety around what she knows.
So what does Hutchinson know? Well, she confirmed to the committee that on Jan. 6, 2021, Trump made some comment to the effect that Vice President Mike Pence deserved to be hanged.
Hutchinson reportedly can also testify about intense plotting between Meadows and a gang of House Republicans to pressure Pence to subvert the electoral count in Congress. Hutchinson had already testified to the committee that House Republicans sought pardons from Trump; reiterating this in person could add force.
And Hutchinson has privately testified to witnessing a Secret Service agent telling Meadows that intelligence indicated there might be violence on Jan. 6. We already know Trump’s lawyers directly informed coup architect John Eastman that their scheme could precipitate street violence, which it did.
Taken all together, it looks as though Hutchinson could substantially add to the evidence that Trump and his allies acted with corrupt intent throughout.
The demonstration of corrupt intent has been key to wrecking each of those concentric circles of defense around Trump.
The first round of hearings demonstrated that Trump was repeatedly told by his own advisers that he’d lost the election. This destroyed any effort to sustain an aura of innocence around his alleged “belief” to the contrary.
The second round illustrated Trump’s corrupt pressure on Pence to abuse his power to delay the electoral count in Congress. This would buy time for states to revisit the voting, “find” fraud and certify electors for Trump, tipping the election.
During this second round, the committee demonstrated that Trump was repeatedly informed that he was pressuring Pence to do something illegal. And it showed that Trump pressured top Justice Department officials to manufacture the impression that the election was fraudulent.
These corrupt acts interlocked: That manufactured impression would create the pretext for Pence to illegally delay the count, to buy time for the coup’s completion.
All this wrecks the second line of defense: the idea that Trump merely thought he was exercising his legal options. In fact, Trump knew he was pressing for highly improper or illegal acts at multiple levels — by both Pence and top law enforcement officials — yet did so anyway.
In short, the entire scheme was carefully, elaborately and corruptly premeditated.
Now, if the committee can show that Trump came to see the mob as a weapon to complete the procedural coup, that will demolish his last line of defense: that the assault on the Capitol was merely a protest gone wrong.
Hutchinson may be able to help this along. She may testify to the line about Pence deserving to hang and to the possibility that Trump and his coup plotters had good reason to know pursuing their scheme would spark violence, demonstrating appalling disregard for this possibility at the very least.
Even beyond what Hutchinson tells us, the hearings are scheduled to conclude in July with a focus on this point. They are expected to detail what Trump said and did while the violence raged and Trump resisted entreaties to call his supporters off — a period that lasted longer than three hours.
To be clear, the committee doesn’t have to prove that Trump came to see the mob as a weapon to intimidate Pence into carrying out his scheme. As legal experts Ryan Goodman, Norman Eisen and Barbara McQuade detail, there are likely many other ways to show Trump acted with criminal intent throughout the whole procedural-coup phase of the plot.
But the violence is when the whole effort reached its climax, commanding the attention of the country and the world. Demonstrating Trump’s corrupt intent at that point in the story would effectively demolish what’s left of his already-collapsing defenses.