After 20 million people tuned in to its inaugural hearing earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol attracted waning attention in the following weeks. Television ratings dropped. The Americans political news media became preoccupied with other coverage, including of the U.S. Supreme Court’s highly consequential decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that had guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion in America. But then, this past Tuesday, the committee stunned official Washington, the U.S. media, and Americans generally with the testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson, a 26-year-old former aide to President Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows—an explosive account of what she’d seen and heard in the days leading up to January 6th and during the chaos of the day, concerning what Trump and his aides knew, what they were thinking, and how they behaved. It was all unusually dramatic, even by the standards of Trump-related news. But how important is it?

Alan Rozenshtein is an associate professor of law at the University of Minnesota, a senior editor for Lawfare, and formerly an attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice. According to Rozenshtein, some of Hutchinson’s testimony—for instance, her second-hand description of an irate Trump having thrown a lunch plate, apparently with a volume of ketchup on it, against the wall—probably wouldn’t be relevant to any potential prosecution of Trump by the U.S. Justice Department. But her statements about the former president’s advanced knowledge of potential violence—and about his intentions and general state of mind on January 6th—are a different matter. In the nearer term, Rozenshtein sees them as increasing the likelihood that other Trump associates will be more cooperative with the congressional committee, as its hearings continue over the summer. In the farther term, he sees them as increasing the odds of Trump facing criminal charges from the Justice Department—another surreality of the times in a country where the former president remains the most powerful person in the Republican Party and may yet seek reelection to the White House two in two years.

Graham Vyse: What are the key points in Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony?

Alan Rozenshtein: Her testimony was largely an account of important events on—and in the days leading up to—January 6th. She testified that the White House, including Trump and Meadows, had advanced knowledge that some of the people going to the “Stop the Steal” rally were armed with guns, knives, spears, and other weapons.

She also offered remarkable testimony about what took place on the day of the rally: Trump was very frustrated that the crowd wasn’t closer to him, because that would have looked better on TV. When he was told that people in the crowd were armed—and that they couldn’t get closer because of the “mags”—the magnetometers, otherwise known as metal detectors—according to Hutchinson, he said, “I don’t effing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the effing mags away.”

She testified to second-hand knowledge, as well—via Tony Ornato, then the deputy White House chief of staff—from after the rally, when Trump was in his armored vehicle nicknamed "the Beast.” The president wanted the Secret Service to drive him to the Capitol so he could join the crowd gathering outside the building. When the Secret Service refused, Trump tried to grab the vehicle’s steering wheel, and then lunged at a Secret Service officer, before calming down and returning to the White House.

The White House

Hutchinson described Trump’s continued unwillingness to do anything about the rioting once he got back there. She relayed a particularly powerful scene in which White House Counsel Pat Cipollone was basically begging Meadows to go with him to convince Trump to do something, noting that rioters were chanting, “Hang Mike Pence!” Meadows said that Trump thought the rioters weren’t doing anything wrong—and that Pence deserved to be hanged. The president later sent out a tweet criticizing Pence, which may have inflamed the whole situation further.

Vyse: What in Hutchinson’s testimony was new information?

Rozenshtein: This was the first time the public heard that story about Trump in the Beast, as far as I know, and she provided new testimony about the president being told about armed people in the crowd. That language about “they’re not here to hurt me” and his desire to take away the mags was most notable to me. Hutchinson also testified that she had to clean ketchup off a wall in the White House dining room after a valet told her that an “extremely angry” Trump threw his lunch plate. Of course, shattering a plate against a wall isn’t a crime.

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