Trump’s loyalists may be flipping.
On the sixth, and previously unscheduled day of the January 6 hearings, Cassidy Hutchinson, former top aide to Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, testified. Apparently she only came forward recently (which in itself is a story as we will see).
We were left imagining Trump actually leading the march to the Capitol with an armed crowd many times the actual size. In fact, that apparently was what Trump wanted. Magnetometers (metal detectors) are set up at the entry to any location where the president will be speaking. Those “mags” found that some of those who wanted to enter that area were armed. They were excluded from the area. Trump’s response, according to Hutchinson: “They’re not there to hurt me. Take the f-ing mags [magnetometers] away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.” Some of these people had been found with assault rifles. Others with Glocks. In fact, the Secret Service was reporting one or two people perched in trees nearby armed with assault rifles. Videos confirmed this.
Imagine what would have followed!
Hutchinson also testified that Giuliani had previously made it clear that the pla was to march to the Capitol, with Trump in the lead.
In the event, Trump’s physical laziness may have made a difference. He got in his SUV to be driven to the Capitol. His Secret Seervice minder, Bobby Engel, refused to drive him to the Capitol, driving him to the White House instead. Hutchinson testified that Deputy Chief of Staff Anthony Ornato described what followed: “Tony described him as being irate. The president said something to the effect of ‘I’m the f’ing president, take me up to the Capitol now,’ to which Bobby responded, ‘sir, we have to go back to the West Wing.’ The president reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel. Mr. Engel grabbed his arm, said, ‘sir, you need to take your hand off the steering wheel. We’re going back to the West Wing. We’re not going to the Capitol.’ Mr. Trump then used his free hand to lunge towards Bobby Engel. And Mr. — when Mr. Ornato had recounted this story to me, he had motioned towards his clavicles.”
Again, one has to use some imagination here. Suppose Trump had simply gotten out of the car. What would the Secret Service agents have done? Would they have wrestled him back in? Would they have left the car and walked with him? What would the press have made of this?
Instead, the Secret Service in effect kidnapped the president!
Trump Loyalists in Secret Service
Ornato and Engel have said they will give sworn testimony on this particular claim. We don’t know about Engel, but Ornato had been in the secret service detail before he went to work for the Trump reelection campaign and then for the Trump administration. Commentators from MSNBC later said that there was something of a division within the secret service with some of the agents being thought to be overly politically partial to Trump in such a way as to influence their actions. So if he denies this conversation, he cannot be assumed to be truthful.
Chief of Staff Mark Meadows
Hutchinson also testified to her boss, Meadows, being on a phone call while Trump was speaking at the Ellipse. Meadows, in a break from the usual, did not allow Hutchinson to hear what he was saying. This would have been at the time that a meeting had been arranged with the Proud Boys, the Oathkeepers, Roger Stone and himself. Meadows did not make the meeting, obviously, but the suspicion here is that he was talking with those in that meeting. Throughout the days prior to January 6 and on that day, Hutchinson testified to Meadows being strangely detached… or else he was hiding something.
Attempts to Influence Witnesses
At the end of the hearing, it was revealed that there had been an attempt to intimidate or influence several witnesses. Who made the attempt and which witnesses was not revealed, but this may have been the reason that the appearance of Hutchinson was kept secret up until the hearing itself. The N.Y. Times reported “Ms. Hutchinson recently sat for a fourth interview with the committee, and, with new counsel advising her, informed the panel of previously unknown information that lawmakers felt needed to get out quickly, according to a person familiar with the committee’s work. More so than previous witnesses, the panel had also grown concerned for her security, and lawmakers decided to try to keep her planned testimony quiet for as long as possible, the person said.”
In other words, Hutchinson had testified earlier and had failed to reveal this information. Possibly worried about her own legal liabilities, she volunteered this information this time. Fears over threats to her, possibly coming from the Proud Boys or Oathkeepers, or at least for attempts to pressure her, were well founded. In the hearing it was revealed that other (unnamed) witnesses had been pressured.
“Flipping” the Conspirators
Contrary to what committee chair Bennie Thompson implied, Hutchinson is no hero. The 26 year-old former Trump absolute loyalist simply senses that the tide may be turning. She is looking out for her own future career and possibly her legal jeopardy. That’s why she suddenly “remembered” this information. But she may be the start of a string of such Trump loyalists flipping.
At the end of the hearing, Thompson made this appeal to other witnesses and potential witnesses: “if you’ve heard this testimony today and suddenly you remember things you couldn’t previously recall, or there are some details you’d like to clarify, or you discovered some courage you had hidden away somewhere, our doors remain open.”
He is trying to get others of this criminal conspiracy to flip, as did Hutchinson. He may succeed.
The net is now tightening. So far, attorney general Merrick Garland has been unwilling to indict top aides to Trump. This includes Mark Meadows. (Peter Navarro, former director of trade and manufacturing policy for Trump, is the exception, but only because he publicly thumbed his nose at the entire process.) These hearings in general, and this one in particular, have served to put pressure on Garland. Meadows does seem headed for indictment, but the question is whether the top man in the planning, the center of it all – Donald Trump – will be indicted. If he is, that would touch off a major political crisis.
Two more general conclusions:
First, it has long been noted that Trump is just one of a whole slew of similar right wing demagogues around the world. What distinguishes him is his actual incompetence. He is so self-obsessed that he cannot see a larger and more long term picture. Of course, this corresponds to a general mood of total selfishness among millions of people in the US, but the far right Republican Party leadership must think that they would be better off without him. Somebody like Ron De Santis would fit their needs much better. This hearing might help them achieve that.
Meanwhile, however, a wide layer of Republican nominees for this fall’s elections are closely tied to Trump. Some of them like Dr. Oz, who is running for the Senate in Pennsylvania, and who campaigned based on his endorsement by Trump, recognize that the Trump brand may be a millstone. Oz has now completely eliminated any mention of Trump. John Fetterman, his Democratic opponent, will surely be reminding voters of that. Overall, this means that the Republicans may not have the slam dunk that had previously been predicted. It’s possible that the memory of January 6, 2021, can overcome some of the dissatisfaction over inflation that some voters are feeling. This applies in particular to a layer of white conservative suburbanites who tend to swing back and forth between the two parties.
In both the short term specifics – such as the outcome of this fall’s elections – and the longer term general processes – such as what happens with the bigotry and in some cases outright fascism in the US – a lot is up in the air.