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Congressional hearings examining the Capitol rampage in January 2021 have dramatically turned into a startling question:
How close did the United States come to a violent coup led by a president who wanted to personally join the rioters in their insurrection, who knew his supporters were armed and was unconcerned by that fact, who could have entered the besieged building himself? And who believed that the vice president who defied him by refusing to tamper with the vote count deserved a public hanging?
The conclusion that was inevitable Tuesday afternoon: Very close.
Indeed, the scene that emerged from the testimony of a 26-year-old witness to history – a woman who, in the capital phrase conveying intimate knowledge, was “in the room” – was from a Washington noir, a bleak tale of cynicism. and moral ambiguity. And the prospect of Donald Trump himself storming the Capitol, his most fervent and dearest wish, thwarted by the Secret Service and some White House aides, spawned images of riots and insurrections in Guinea and Yemen. It was not the stately limousine procession of American presidents and challengers that defeated them en route to the Inauguration Day ceremony at the Capitol, a stage that on January 6, 2021, became a crime scene.
Of all the shocking news stories to emerge from the unrest on Capitol Hill, the notion that Donald Trump physically tried to wrest control of the presidential limousine from a Secret Service driver, and that he assaulted the agent, may be the most surprising.
Of all the disturbing behaviors Americans have learned about their presidents in the White House, the image of ketchup dripping from the wall of the executive mansion and broken china on the floor of the free world leader’s private dining room may be among the most vivid.
Of all the revelations about what transpired in the seat of the executive branch while members of the legislative branch were in protective hiding, the paralysis of top presidential advisers during the gravest constitutional crisis of modern times may be the most staggering.
Of all the revelations made by White House aides during congressional investigations over the past half-century, the testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson, 26, a former aide to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who in calm language and serene demeanor, he shared his horror at the episode, it may have been the most moving.
Of all the warnings White House officials have given the presidents they serve, the one from presidential counsel Pat Cipollone that presidential aides “would be charged with every conceivable crime” if Trump headed to Capitol Hill. it was the most vivid. .
Of all the reports about Trump’s seeming indifference to the fate of former Vice President Mike Pence, the testimony that the president believed Pence deserved his fate and that those who threatened him were doing nothing wrong may be the most shocking. .
Those shock waves prompted comparisons to earlier episodes in American history. Ms. Hutchinson was bravely playing the role of John Dean III, who revealed discussions inside Richard Nixon’s White House during Watergate. The smashed plates of the executive mansion echoed how Mr. Nixon’s private language, broadcast on the White House tapes as “expletive removed,” shattered public notions of proper presidential behavior. The overall demeanor of how Mr. Trump demeaned the White House was reminiscent of how Warren G. Harding (in a closet), John F. Kennedy (in the pool), and Bill Clinton (in an Oval Office lobby) fogged the building with extramarital sexual exploits.
The difference is that the Trump equivalent of this kind of demeaning behavior happened at the Trump White House in less than 24 hours.
Mr. Trump represented a departure from presidential norms in multiple ways: his personal attacks on rivals, his defiance of tradition and custom, his disregard for experience and for the officials who populated his own government, and yet, his treatment of Robert Engel, the boss. of his security detail, he is the one most likely to shake up the Washington establishment. Since the assassination of William McKinley in Buffalo in 1901, Secret Service agents have been tasked with protecting the president. Unanimously, the 18 presidents that followed saluted the officers who risked their lives to protect their lives, often with astonishment and extravagant praise.
The image of Trump lunging at Engel in an effort to seize the wheel of the presidential car, a tantrum that Hutchinson described, albeit secondhand, will long tarnish the president’s image, because his intention was clearly to join troublemakers he knew. that they were armed and determined to block the peaceful transfer of power that has been an American hallmark for more than two centuries.
On Tuesday, Trump described Ms. Hutchinson as a “total fake and a leaker” and said he barely knew her. Now all of America knows her. And her story was chilling and, as history will show, unforgettable.