The most damning testimony heard yet linked Trump directly to January 6 violence: 'It ups his exposure'

The most damning testimony heard yet linked Trump directly to January 6 violence: 'It ups his exposure'
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  • A young White House aide delivered bombshells Tuesday about efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

  • Cassidy Hutchinson recalled Donald Trump seeming to welcome violence on January 6, 2021.

  • She also recalled tense moments as Trump tried unsuccessfully to go to the Capitol.

His desire to march on the Capitol. His request to remove the magnetometers and allow armed supporters to attend the "Stop the Steal" rally. His lunch hurled against the wall, a young aide coming in with a towel to help clean up the ketchup.

The evidence is stacking up against Donald Trump.

An abruptly scheduled hearing of the House committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol delivered bombshell after bombshell Tuesday, as a key aide to the White House chief of staff Mark Meadows provided some of the most damning testimony to date of the congressional panel's half dozen public hearings.

Previous hearings featured live and recorded testimony from top Trump administration officials who recounted the president's effort to pressure his vice president, Justice Department appointees, and others to help overturn the 2020 US election. But it was a 25-year-old former aide, Cassidy Hutchinson, who on Tuesday drew from her access to Trump a window into his mindset as he pressed baseless claims of election fraud and appeared to invite — and even delight in — the violence of January 6.

Indeed, Hutchinson's recollections connected Trump to the Capitol attack and eroded the notion that he lacked awareness about the risk of violence on January 6, legal experts said. Her testimony, coming amid signs that the Justice Department's criminal investigation was closing in on senior members of Trump's orbit, offered some of the strongest evidence to date supporting the House committee's contention that Trump carried out an illegal scheme to prevent the peaceful transfer of power.

"The prior hearings focused a lot on the machinations to try to overturn the election prior to January 6 — the fake electors and the pressure on the Justice Department and the Georgia officials. This was the most compelling evidence tying Trump directly to the violence on January 6, encouraging it and wanting it to happen," said Randall Eliason, a former top public-corruption prosecutor who is now a George Washington University law professor.

"It ups his exposure," he added.

The depiction of Trump embracing armed supporters' convergence on Washington, DC, could also provide fodder for separate civil lawsuits from House lawmakers and Capitol Police officers who allege that he helped instigate the violence of January 6. Rep. Ruben Gallego said Hutchinson's testimony showed Capitol Police officers "were sent to be potentially slaughtered" on January 6.

In two hours of testimony, Hutchinson said Trump dismissed concerns that his supporters were armed with guns at a rally that immediately preceded the Capitol attack, telling the Secret Service earlier on January 6 to remove metal-detecting magnetometers from the fenced-off area where he delivered a fiery speech filled with claims about the election that his own officials told him were false.

"Take the effing mags away — they're not here to hurt me," Hutchinson quoted Trump as saying.

Later on January 6, Hutchinson recounted, Trump tried to grab the steering wheel of his Secret Service armored SUV in a failed effort to direct the heavily armored vehicle to the Capitol. And in the days leading up to January 6, as Trump expressed an eagerness to go to the Capitol on the day Congress was set to certify Joe Biden's electoral victory, the top White House lawyer warned of the legal ramifications of such a move.

"We're going to get charged with every crime imaginable," Hutchinson recalled the White House counsel Pat Cipollone telling Trump.

And as the Capitol attack unfolded on January 6, Trump appeared unfazed by reports that his supporters were chanting "hang Mike Pence." Trump instead defended his supporters ransacking the Capitol and suggested that Pence "deserves it," Hutchinson testified.

At one point, when Cipollone implored Meadows to persuade Trump to try to stop the violence, Hutchinson testified, Meadows responded: "You heard it, Pat. He thinks Mike deserves it. He doesn't think they're doing anything wrong."

Hutchinson also recalled seeing the tweet in which Trump said Pence didn't have the "courage to do what needs to be done." Aides testified in a previous hearing that they had warned Trump and his legal advisors that it would be unlawful for the vice president to reject electoral votes certified by Congress.

"As a staffer that works to always represent the administration to the best of my ability and to showcase the good things he had done for the country, I remember feeling frustrated, disappointed, and it felt personal — I was really sad," Hutchinson said. "As an American, I was disgusted. It was unpatriotic, it was un-American."

White House Counsel Pat Cipollone (R) waits for the beginning of a cabinet meeting in the East Room of the White House on May 19, 2020 in Washington, DC. Earlier in the day President Trump met with members of the Senate GOP.
The former White House counsel Pat Cipollone.Alex Wong/Getty Images

'Pretty good evidence'

Hutchinson's testimony came within a week of clear indications that the Justice Department has moved beyond the on-the-ground violence of January 6 to examine the actions of lawyers and other officials involved in Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

As that Justice Department inquiry unfolds, legal experts said Hutchinson's testimony Tuesday provided insight into Trump's state of mind — including his knowledge of potential criminality — that could support prosecution against him on charges of obstruction or conspiring to defraud the United States.

Other legal experts saw "smoking gun" evidence that could support a charge of seditious conspiracy. And at the hearing's conclusion, the House panel presented evidence of witness tampering connected to the January 6 investigation.

"If you have your White House counsel saying, 'Do this and we're going to get charged with every crime imaginable,' that's pretty good evidence of your state of mind," Eliason told Insider. "You got legal advice that this would be criminal."

The concerns about legal risk continued after January 6. In the aftermath of the Capitol attack, Hutchinson said, Meadows and Rudy Giuliani sought pardons from Trump. Neither received one.

It was a time, Hutchinson said, in which Trump grew so furious at the Secret Service and his own aides that he displayed a penchant for throwing meals at the wall. Weeks before January 6, Hutchinson recalled, she heard a loud noise down a White House hallway around the time the Associated Press reported remarks in which Attorney General William Barr said the Justice Department hadn't uncovered evidence of widespread election fraud.

"I first noticed there was ketchup dripping down the wall and there was a shattered porcelain plate on the floor," she said.

She grabbed a towel and began helping the valet with the cleanup.

Read the original article on Business Insider