Opinion | The explosive hearing raises a question: why was Trump’s lawyer terrified?

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Testimony delivered Tuesday before the House select committee on January 6 by Cassidy Hutchinson, who was chief of staff to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, was packed with bombshells. But one may have escaped some people’s attention: the moment he describes White House counsel Pat Cipollone warning of criminal liability then-President Donald Trump and others could face when crowds invaded Capitol Hill on 6 January 2021.

Hutchinson’s testimony had many dramatic moments. There was the revelation that Trump expressly wanted the metal detectors removed so that armed supporters could join the rally crowd; The incredible scene of him grabbing the steering wheel of the presidential limousine when the Secret Service refused to take him to the Capitol; and testimony that Meadows and Trump’s legal adviser, Rudolph Giuliani, sought presidential pardons afterward.

Trump, in a social media post on Tuesday, has denied the accusations.

But on the morning of January 6, Hutchinson testified, Cipollone urged her to prevent Trump from going to the Capitol building with the growing crowd of protesters he had gathered nearby. Hutchinson described the scene this way:

Mr. Cipollone said something like, “Please make sure we don’t go to the Capitol, Cassidy. Keep in touch with me. We will be charged with every crime imaginable if we make that move happen.”

Keep in mind that one of Cipollone’s jobs as White House counsel was to prevent people in the White House, including the president, from committing crimes, something Hutchinson said clearly concerned him.

In particular, Cipollone’s fear intensified as January 6 progressed. Hutchinson testified that when the Capitol riot got out of hand, Cipollone came “speeding down the hall to our office” to tell Meadows they needed to talk to the president. She continued:

And Mark looked up and said, “He doesn’t want to do anything, Pat.” Cipollone then responded, “Mark, something has to be done or people are going to die and the blood will be on your fucking hands. This is getting out of control. I’m going down there.

As enlightening as it would be to hear from him, Cipollone has refused to cooperate with the committee. So what exactly was Cipollone afraid of here?

It is possible, of course, that in that last reported exchange, Cipollone was simply expressing his horror as an American at what was about to happen, not his assessment as a lawyer. But remember that days before, Cipollone would have raised specific concerns about legal exposure related to the Capitol.

In a discussion on January 3, Hutchinson testifiedCipollone urgently warned that Trump’s visit to Capitol Hill on Jan. 6 would raise serious legal concerns. Hutchinson and Cipollone had discussions about possible statutes that could be involved, she said.

While it’s not entirely clear which statutes they discussed, a reasonable guess based on their testimony is obstruction of an official proceeding (the congressional voter count) and conspiracy to defraud the United States (conspiring to obstruct the electoral count, a lawful function of the government).

And so when Cipollone saw the crowd of Trump supporters heading to the Capitol and ran down the White House Lounge to warn Meadows that this needs to stop, he might have had legal concerns on his mind.

“It seems that if he was thinking potentially in legal terms, he was thinking about obstruction of Congress and conspiracy to defraud the United States.”, Randall Eliason, white collar criminal law specialisthe told us.

What is critical here is that Trump and his advisers have never admitted that the mob assault on Capitol Hill was in any way related to their efforts to nullify the election procedurally (they also do not acknowledge that it was criminal or wrong, but leave it alone). aside for now). now).

However, Cipollone clearly seemed to see Trump’s manipulation of the mob directly related to Trump’s efforts to subvert the electoral count, which Cipollone seemed to see as potential criminality.

“This is what was so devastating about today,” Eliason says, noting that Tuesday’s hearing provided the most direct evidence yet linking Trump’s machinations “directly to the mob and violence.”

Neal Katyal, a former US attorney general, points out that when Hutchinson testified that Trump expressly wanted armed supporters allowed into the Ellipse rally, that could also have pointed to a legal vulnerability.

“The picture painted today is of Trump helping with an insurrection,” Katyal told us, noting that this could implicate the federal statute against rebellion or insurrection, or rendering aid and comfort to either.

What remains unclear is whether Trump saw the use of the mob to pressure his Vice President, Mike Pence, as part of the plan in the days leading up to January 6, 2021, or whether he came to see violence as a weapon in real time, as it unfolded.

But as Eliason points out, even if it’s the latter, that might not necessarily be exonerating. After all, Trump refused to suspend the mob for more than three hours, which helped bring about horrific destruction and death, apparently as part of a broader effort to disrupt the conclusion of the election.

“The failure to try to stop it and encourage it is further evidence of the overall conspiracy to obstruct,” Eliason said.

“He sat on his hands for the three hours of the attack, providing massive assistance to the insurgents who stormed the capitol,” Katyal added.

And keep this in mind: The vice chair of the Jan. 6 committee, Rep. Liz Cheney, concluded by saying that during upcoming hearings, the committee will go into even more detail about what Trump did as the violence raged. Things will get worse for Trump.


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