Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
When I was 14 years old in the summer of 1974 I watched the
Watergate Hearings from our living room in Stockton, California. Though only 14 I realized their significance and was shocked at how President Nixon acted illegally and was transfixed by the testimony of John Dean that drove the stake through the heart of the Nixon presidency. I have watched every one of the Congressional hearings on the 6 January 2021 attack on the Capitol, including today’s, in which Cassidy Hutchinson, the senior aide to Trump’s Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows was the most compelling witness I have seen testify before any Congressional committee in my life. I am a historian and something of a wonk when it comes to hearings where I know history was being made, so whenever possible I have tried to watch them. I have watched many witnesses testify in Congressional investigations, including Watergate, Iran-Contra, 9-11, and many more. Likewise I can count numerous Supreme Court and major Cabinet nomination hearings, Impeachment hearings, (Clinton’s and both of Trump’s) and now this.
The interesting thing for me today was that instead of a jaded lawyer, a career politician, a long time bureaucrat, lobbyist, or career military, Defense Department, or other National security professionals, think tank representatives, subject matter experts, and other experienced officials, we saw a 25 year old woman, political novice, speaking under oath, when many others have refused to appear, or plead the Fifth to every question but their name.
Ms. Hutchinson is a 2019 a graduate of Christopher Newport University. She interned for Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Steve Scalise, the year before her senior year, before moving to the White House after she graduated where she served as senior advisor to Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. She was at Meadows’ side in almost every high level White House meeting where every senior staffer knew her, and to add to her creditability she was a young and devoted Trump supporter.
She was in the room, or just outside the room seeing and hearing things that troubled her. She had no part in any making policy, directing operations, but trying to advise her boss, Mark Meadows of the things she was seeing, and trying to get him to do something to get Trump to stop the attack. She knew Mike Pence and realized that Trump put Pence’s life in danger.
Her testimony revealed information known to the committee in prior interviews, but not known to the public and her identity was kept secret until today’s testimony. Today we learned things that I believed either possible or probable based on the public information that I had seen or read. She had nothing to gain from it. She had done nothing that could be criminally prosecuted, she didn’t need to be flipped, like the target of an investigation. One might disagree with what her politics were, or maybe still are, but she acted as an American patriot to tell the truth. Now her life is forever changed. She will be threatened and maybe even be killed by Trump fanatics. She will have to always have security and watch her back, for God knows how long. I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump has already put out a hit on her while trying to make it look like he had nothing to do with it, I think that the term is ”plausible deniability.”
Tuesday we learned of the chaos in the White House on 6 January and the days preceding it. We learned of Rudy Giuliani’s unabashed joy in telling her about what was going to happen on 2 January, and Mark Meadows telling her that 6 January would be very bad, and how that and what she heard during Giuliani’s conversations with the Proud Boys and Oathkeepers troubled her. She then recalled how she on the night of 5 January, discouraged Meadows from attending a meeting at what plotters, including Giuliani, Meadows, Steve Bannon, and Roger Stone called the ”War Room,” where the assault was being planned, something that he didn’t do, but said he would dial in on.
The came 6 January. First came the rally on the Ellipse, where Trump was inflamed because the area set aside for the rally was not full. He demanded to know why and was told that many people did not want to pass through the security checkpoint magnetic detectors because the Secret Service would confiscate their weapons. Trump according to Hutchinson, who was with Meadows explained as to why it was necessary. She was there where Tony Ornato, the former head of Trump’s security detail and then working as a member of Meadows’ operational staff told Meadows that weapons including AR-15s and semi-automatic pistols had be confiscated at the checkpoints and the Secret Service observed many armed people in the mob outside the Ellipse.
Trump was infuriated and demanded that the magnetic detectors be taken down and the armed supporters allowed in stating something to the effect of “You know, I don’t even care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me.” So the question of who Trump knew they intended to harm is valid, and the answer is obvious based on his speech and subsequent actions.
In the speech Trump promised to be with his militant supporters and go with them to the Capitol. However, he was thwarted by the commander of his Secret Service detail, something that we learned of yesterday from Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony, which she explained in detail having worked with Mr. Ornato and Mr. Meadows and having gone almost everywhere Meadows went. There are two types of presidential movements that the Secret Service arranges. Planned movements that usually take weeks and months to coordinate. Then there are OTP movements, or Other Than Planned, which are done quickly with only the President’s security detail being involved and knowing the risks.
Evidently Meadows indicated to Trump that the OTP was still a possibility. According to Trump got into the SUV and when he saw that it was not going to the Capitol, Trump became agitated and demanded that his Secret Service detail Chief, Robert Engel take him to the Capitol. According to Ms. Hutchinson she walked into Meadows office where Ornato asked if she knew what occurred in the armored SUV, she recounted what he said in the presence of Mr. Engel, who did not dispute the account at the time.
Hutchinson described being told by Ornato what had happened next: Trump got into an armored presidential vehicle with Robert Engel, the chief of his Secret Service security detail. Engel, according to Hutchinson’s account, then told Trump he could not travel to the Capitol. It was not secure, and Trump would have to return to the White House. “The president had a very strong, a very angry response to that,” Hutchinson said, relaying Ornato’s account. “The president said something to the effect of, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’ to which [Engel] responded, ‘Sir, we have to go back to the West Wing.’”
She also noted Ornoto’s more detailed account which allegedly he and Engel dispute in regard to Trump trying to grab the steering wheel and attack Mr. Engel, but not that Trump demanded to be taken to the Capitol:
She said Deputy Chief of Staff Anthony M. Ornato told her that Trump was “irate” that he wasn’t allowed to go to the Capitol with his supporters after his speech on the Ellipse. She summarized Ornato’s account like this: “The President reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel. [The head of Trump’s Secret Service detail Bobby] 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 when Mr. Ornato had recounted this story to me, he had motioned towards his clavicles.” She said Engel never disputed what Ornato had said. If they dispute the details of her account they should do so under oath and not under the cover of a non-sworn statement issued by the Secret Service.
Thus, from this account we now can establish that Trump knew that his supporters were heavily armed, that they had been incited by Giuliani and Representative Mo Brooks to prepare for war and go into battle, and egged on by Trump who basically threatened the life of Vice President Pence if he ”didn’t do the right thing.” He then promised to be with them when they marched on the Capitol. When I heard Trump say those words on 6 January, I believed that he was lying to them in order to stir themselves up without endangering himself. Evidently, I was wrong. It was his intent to go to the Capitol, evidently with the intent of stopping the Electoral count and in doing so unlawfully overturning the election and peaceful transfer of power in order to remain in power. Who knows what would have happened if he reached the Capitol? I can only imagine that there would have been a massive firefight and probably a massacre, in which Pence and every presumably disloyal Senator or Congressperson, Democrat or Republican present among those slaughtered.
When word came that the Capitol had been breached and the insurgents were inside, Ms. Hutchinson and others including White House Counsel Pat Cipolloni tried to get Meadows to intervene. Hutchinson testified that Meadows responded to calls for more action on Jan. 6 by saying “something to the effect of, ‘You heard him, Pat; he thinks Mike deserves that. He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong.’”
Cipolloni, has now been subpoenaed by the Committee. I expect that since Ms. Hutchinson said that he told her to make sure that they stayed away from the Capitol. in her words, “We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen,” she recalled him saying, enumerating crimes that could include obstruction of justice, defrauding the election and inciting a riot.
I believe that others will be subpoenaed based on Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony, and I expect others to volunteer to tesify. I fully expect that as they continue their investigation by the Committee that the Justice Department will take evidence, along with what they are accumulating and charge Trump with multiple counts of felony obstruction election results. There could well be more, which likely will involve Federal and State charges from his attempt to get Georgia’s Attorney General to change that states by thousands of votes so he would win.
I have seen Tweets by people on the left condemning her for not speaking out sooner. Such criticism is unwarranted and nothing more than self-righteous grandstanding. When I was her age I was a young Republican and Army officer. I was a devoted follower of Ronald Reagan, and during the Iran-Contra hearings I had no problem condemning the actions of Oliver North and others, but could not bring myself to believe that Reagan was culpable for anything, and it took me until the outbreak of AIDS that there might be something morally wrong in his administration. That did not stop me from remaining rock solid in my support for Republican Candidates for President, though I often split my down ballot votes. I supported George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, and George W. Bush, even after I began to see the grim results of the criminal invasion of Iraq.
It was only after returning from Iraq, shattered by what I saw there, and stunned by the lies I saw coming from the Administration, Fox News, and people like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, which had been my source of news for a decade. I was then, coupled with tremendous racist tropes of Limbaugh and others directed at Barak Obama, and the nomination of Sarah Palin, a completely unqualified airhead and Christian Nationalist nutcase for Vice President that ai quit the GOP and became an ever more thoughtful and strong opponent of it.
So I can understand how a young, idealistic person could support someone like Trump. Crap, how many of us as young people supported candidates and causes that later disgusted us? I guarantee that there are a lot of us. My support of Republicans because I was a Navy brat whose dad served in Vietnam, and how many Democrats and liberals demonized the military, demonization that I experienced as an Army ROTC Cadet at UCLA when some guy started screaming at me ”ROTC Nazi off campus!” That remained with me for years because if there was one thing I was not, it was a Nazi or Holocaust denier. It was probably the one single thing that kept me in the GOP and being an apologist for people I now know were criminals. Thus, I have to commend her for her courage at such a young age to tell the truth when doing so will only endanger her life.
I have to stop for the night, but I have other things that I need to do before bed. I need to take some time to rest, read, and watch our Papillons play.