In the public testimony that’s come so far, the House Select Committee has carefully laid out the evidence showing that the assault on the Capitol was not a spontaneous event, but the result of a widespread conspiracy that went on over a period of months. That conspiracy put the Proud Boys in place to break through police lines and lead the way into the Capitol. It fabricated claims of election fraud that ensured thousand of the most gullible would be on hand, ready to be shaped into a weapon. It pressured local and state officials in an effort to create some some appearance of fire beyond waves of smoke. And it sent slates of false electors to Washington in order to bolster a faux-legal assault on democracy.
But until a 26-year-old assistant to the White House chief of staff testified on Tuesday, the central figure of that conspiracy largely remained hidden. Until Tuesday, the big missing hole in that conspiracy was Donald Trump.
It’s not that Trump’s name hadn’t come up over and over. Trump was on the phone with state and local officials, trying to cajole, bully, or threaten them into giving him the votes he wanted. Trump was there in the meetings with attorney John Eastman, where they worked out the scheme to turn Jan. 6 from a ceremonial event into a last-ditch effort to derail the government. Trump was there with would-be Attorney General Jeffery Clark. There with Rudy Giuliani. Bent over a table with disgraced former general Michael Flynn and with no one-should-take-me-seriously Sidney Powell. Trump was there months, even years, earlier, undermining the foundations of democratic elections.
But for the most part, Donald Trump’s private words were passed along in snippets and generalities, his attitudes and actions rarely seen in detail when outside the public eye.
What Hutchinson’s testimony did was fill in an essential gap. Not the gap that described how Trump was desperate to join the conspirators at the Capitol so that he could personally lead his forces in assault—though that’s certainly an important thing to know. What Hutchinson’s testimony provided was a chance to see Trump. To see him raging through the halls of the White House, slinging a plate against the wall in a scene that is shockingly familiar to a million victims of domestic abuse. It was visceral testimony. Testimony that made it patently obvious just how hard others were still working not to admit to the kind of man they had helped.
Hutchinson’s testimony was shocking especially because it provided such a clear vision of the angry, petty, raging, and abusive man driving the nation to the brink. It was the first time we were told that the Trump who appeared on stage—to mock disabled people, brag about his love for violence, and spew vile about his every perceived slight—was even worse in private. It presented scenes of a man not only completely lacking in any kind of self-control, but unaware that self-control was something he should have.
This wasn’t Trump described in generalities and paraphrased statements. This was Trump with ketchup running down the walls and the broken plates still on the floor. It’s the man at the center of the conspiracy who was there all along, but who America has been so reluctant to see.
On Wednesday morning, Republicans were rushing forward with unnamed sources to claim that both Security Chief Bobby Engel and other members of Trump’s Secret Service team are ready to testify that Trump didn’t grab the wheel of the presidential limo, or assault Engel.
However, there’s absolutely no doubt that the House select committee would not have put Hutchinson’s testimony before the public if they did not already have corroboration of everything she said. Rep. Bernie Thompson would not risk the reputation of the investigation on unsupported testimony. None of the members of the committee—several of whom have ambitions that go beyond their current position—would risk their political futures on being tied to testimony that could be readily knocked down.
Hutchinson testified she was told about the events in the limo by White House Chief of Operations Anthony Ornato, and it’s a good bet that the committee already has Ornato agreeing to that story.
The more interesting thing about the Republican response to Hutchinson’s testimony is just how specific that response has been. They’ve zeroed in on just a few seconds in that limo, because that’s the only part where Hutchinson wasn’t actually present. The only part where they can bring it back to something … vague. Something with the rage and ugliness stripped away. Maybe they can get Engel or some Secret Service agents to say Trump didn’t actually put his hands on the wheel. Maybe they can find someone who will use a term other than “lunged.” Maybe they’ll say that his efforts to get to the Capitol fell short of “assault.” Maybe.
But none of those Trump apologists seem to be going after the statements that Hutchinson made concerning her own direct experience. None of them are hurrying to have House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy sit down to testify about the phone call he made to Hutchinson while Trump was on stage at the rally on the Ellipse. None of them are encouraging Pat Cipollone to step forward and explain why he and so many others did not want Trump going to the Capitol. None of them are telling Mark Meadows to get up there and explain how his former aide is wrong. None of them are challenging Hutchinson about the observations she personally made, day after day, both before and after the election.
In her testimony, Hutchinson came off as absolutely believable. The statements that she made about Trump were absolutely believable. What’s unbelievable is how many people, even at this late date, are still trying to cover up for a man whose actions and statements make him beneath contempt.
Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.