Cassidy Hutchinson: Sinister phone call before former White House aide’s testimony to Congress
Saturday - 02/07/2022 06:52
Before delivering testimony that rocked the US this week, a former White House staffer allegedly received an ominous phone call.
Immediately after Cassidy Hutchinson, a former White House staffer, delivered her explosive testimony before US Congress this week, the committee to whom she was speaking revealed something troubling.
Ms Hutchinson, who worked for Donald Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, had just shed new light on the then-president’s actions before and during the Capitol riot on January 6, as a mob of his supporters stormed Congress in an attempt to stop the certification of his election defeat to Joe Biden.
Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney, a member of the congressional committee tasked with investigating the riot, thanked Ms Hutchinson for coming forward.
“Our nation is preserved by those who abide by their oaths to our Constitution. It is preserved by those who know the fundamental difference between right and wrong. I want all Americans to know that what Ms Hutchinson has done today is not easy,” said Ms Cheney.
“The easy course is to hide from the spotlight, to refuse to come forward, to attempt to downplay or deny what happened.”
That brought Ms Cheney to “a different topic”.
“While our committee has seen many witnesses, including many Republicans, testify fully and forthrightly, this has not been true of every witness. And we have received evidence of one particular practice that raises significant concerns,” she continued.
“Our committee commonly asks witnesses connected to Mr Trump’s administration or campaign whether they have been contacted by any of their former colleagues, or anyone else, who attempted to influence or impact their testimony.”
She proceeded to provide two examples of answers the committee had received, without identifying the witnesses in question.
“What they said to me is, as long as I continue to be a team player – they know that I’m on the team, I’m doing the right thing, I’m protecting who I need to protect – I’ll continue to stay in good graces in Trump World,” the first witness recalled.
“And they have reminded me a couple of times that Trump does read transcripts, and just to keep that in mind as I proceeded through my depositions and interviews.”
“(A person) let me know you have your deposition tomorrow,” the second witness was told.
“He wants me to let you know that he’s thinking about you. He knows you’re loyal, and you’re going to do the right thing when you go in for your deposition.”
Ms Cheney took a dim view of these attempts, in her view, to pressure witnesses.
“I think most Americans know that attempting to influence witnesses to testify untruthfully presents very serious concerns,” she said.
CNN later confirmed that Ms Hutchinson was one of the two witnesses, citing multiple sources, though it was unable to glean which one.
Committee foreshadows criminal charges
Witness tampering is a crime in the United States. Speaking to America’s ABC News on Thursday, Ms Cheney suggested her committee could make criminal referrals to the US Justice Department, leading to prosecutions.
“It gives us a real insight into how people around the former president are operating, and the extent to which they believe they can affect the testimony of witnesses before the committee,” Ms Cheney said.
“It’s something we take very seriously, and it’s something people should be aware of. It’s a very serious issue. And I would imagine the Department of Justice would be very interested in it, and we’ll take that very seriously as well.”
Another of the committee’s members, Democrat Zoe Lofgren, told CNN she was concerned about Mr Trump’s allies seeking to influence witnesses by paying for their lawyers.
“Let’s just say this: it’s a concern. And anyone who is trying to dissuade or tamper with witnesses should be on notice that it’s a crime, and we are perfectly prepared to provide any evidence we have to the proper authorities,” said Ms Lofgren.
Meanwhile Mick Mulvaney – who served as Mr Trump’s acting chief of staff for more than a year before Ms Hutchinson’s boss, Mr Meadows, replaced him – said the allegation of witness tampering was more significant than anything she’d said in Tuesday’s hearing.
“The real bomb that got dropped was the implied charge of witness tampering. If there is hard evidence, that is a serious problem for the former president,” he argued.
“There is an old maxim: it’s never the crime, it’s always the cover-up. Things went very badly for Trump today. My guess is that it will get worse from here.”
Trump associates accused of ‘hiding’
Ms Cheney is a rare specimen: a conservative Republican who openly opposes Mr Trump’s influence within her party.
That stance has left her in an awkward position. She’s too conservative to appeal to Democrat-leaning voters (this week, for example, she praised the Supreme Court ruling which will allow states to ban abortion, even in cases of rape and incest). And she’s too disloyal to Mr Trump to appeal to most Republicans.
So her career is now under threat. She’s up for re-election in November, and faces a primary contest against a Trump-endorsed challenger in August. Defeat in that primary would lead to her being booted from Congress and replaced by a Trump loyalist.
Making the situation harder for her, Ms Cheney happens to represent a district in Wyoming, which voted for Mr Trump over Joe Biden by a bigger margin than any other state in 2020. Not exactly fertile ground for the birth of an anti-Trump movement.
Those grim political calculations have not dissuaded her from pursuing the investigation into January 6.
Speaking at the Reagan Libary the day after Ms Cassidy’s testimony, Ms Cheney praised the former White House staffer and other “young women” who had come forward.
“(They) seem, instinctively, to understand the peril of this moment for our democracy,” she said of the witnesses.
“I have been incredibly moved by the young women that I have met and that have come forward to testify to the committee.
“(Ms Hutchinson’s) superiors – men many years older – a number of them are hiding behind executive privilege, anonymity and intimidation. But her bravery and her patriotism yesterday were awesome to behold.
“Little girls all across this great nation are seeing what it really means to love this country, and what it really means to be a patriot.”
She said the committee’s work was allowing “the full picture” of Mr Trump’s actions before and during the riot to “come into view”.
“We are confronting a domestic threat that we have never faced before. And that is a former president who is attempting to unravel the foundations of our constitutional republic,” she told the audience of influential conservatives.
“And he is aided by Republican leaders and elected officials who have made themselves willing hostages to this dangerous and irrational man.
“No party, and no people, and no nation can defend and perpetuate a constitutional republic if they accept a leader who has gone to war with the rule of law, with the democratic process, or with a peaceful transition of power. With the Constitution itself.
“It has become clear that the efforts Donald Trump oversaw and engaged in were even more chilling and more threatening than we could have imagined.”
What Hutchinson told Congress
Most of Ms Hutchinson’s testimony involved second-hand information – she didn’t actually witness Mr Trump’s behaviour herself, but was told about it by those who did.
The exception to that was also the most significant morsel of evidence she offered to the committee. Ms Hutchinson said she was in a tent behind the stage prior to Mr Trump's speech to supporters on January 6, shortly before the riot, when she overheard him ordering Secret Service officers to remove metal detectors and allow armed supporters into the crowd.
“You know, I don’t f***ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me,” Mr Trump allegedly said.
“Take the f***ing mags away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here. Let the people in. Take the f***ing mags away.”
This allegation – that Mr Trump knew members of the crowd were armed, but encouraged them to march on the Capitol anyway – is what several legal experts highlighted after Ms Hutchinson’s testimony, saying it could expose him to criminal culpability (however far-fetched the prospect of a former president being prosecuted may be).
Ms Hutchinson also described a conversation she’d witnessed between Mr Meadows and White House counsel Pat Cipollone, as the two men discussed Mr Trump’s state of mind during the riot.
Mr Cipollone, in her telling, was particularly agitated about members of the mob calling for vice president Mike Pence to be hanged for disloyalty.
“I remember Pat saying something to the effect of, ‘Mark, we need to do something more. They’re literally calling for the vice president to be f***ing hung,’” she recalled.
“And Mark responded (with) something to the effect of, ‘You heard him Pat. He thinks Mike deserves it. He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong.’ To which Pat said something like, ‘This is f***ing crazy. We need to be doing something more.’”
And she recounted a conversation she’d had with Mr Trump’s deputy chief of staff, Anthony Ornato, who told her the president was “irate” when he entered his limousine after the speech to his supporters and clashed with the head of his security detail, Robert Engel.
“Once the president had gotten into the vehicle with Bobby, he thought that they were going up to the Capitol. And when Bobby relayed to him, ‘We’re not. We don’t have the assets to do it. It’s not secure. We’re going back to the West Wing,’ the president had a very strong, very angry response to that,” Ms Hutchinson told the committee.
“He 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 and said, ‘Sir, you need to take your hand off the steering wheel. We are 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 recounted this story to me, he motioned towards his clavicle (collarbone).”
This last allegation, regarding Mr Trump’s behaviour in the limousine, has sparked pushback from Secret Service sources. Mr Ornato and Mr Engel are reportedly prepared to testify that no assault took place, nor was there any attempt to grab the steering wheel.
They have yet to do so under oath.
Trump labels Cassidy a ‘phony’
Writing on his social media platform, Truth Social, Mr Trump called Ms Hutchinson a “total phony” and disputed her testimony.
“Her body language is that of a bulls*** artist. Fantasy land,” he said.
“There is no cross-examination of the witness. This is a kangaroo court!”
Mr Trump said he hardly knew Ms Hutchinson but had “heard very negative things about her”. He specifically disputed her account of his behaviour in the limousine.
“Her fake story that I tried to grab the steering wheel of the White House limousine in order to steer it to the Capitol Building is sick and fraudulent,” said Mr Trump.
“Wouldn’t have even been possible to do such a ridiculous thing.”