Opinion | With Surprise Witness, Trump’s Last Line of Defense Collapses

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The January 6 select committee hearings will probably never produce as powerful a political breakthrough as the Watergate hearings did. But if there’s one person who could end up qualifying as the John Dean of this saga, it might be Cassidy Hutchinson.

Hutchinson, who was a top adviser to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, is the surprise witness who will testify before the committee on Tuesday. During Watergate, White House counsel John W. Dean III testified to direct knowledge of extraordinary corruption. In the Trump administration, Hutchinson was herself placed deep inside the White House.

Hutchinson’s testimony also hints at a broader end to the hearings. The latter will refocus on the mob assault of January 6, 2021, showing with new clarity that Donald Trump armed the mob to complete the coup effort that has been laid bare to the nation.

Which in turn suggests a new understanding of this entire saga. One by one, the committee is systematically demolishing each of Trump’s defenses, which have cushioned him almost like a series of concentric circles, with him at the center.

Those defenses are as follows: Trump really believed he had won the election; he exercised what he thought were his legal options in response to that belief; and the mob he incited is best understood as a protest gone out of control.

Hutchinson is in a good position to help screw up that last defense. According to reports, the testimony of him has been advanced. amid fears for his safety around what she knows.

And that does it Hutchinson know? Well, she confirmed to the committee that on January 6, 2021, Trump made a comment to the effect that Vice President Mike Pence deserved to be hanged.

Hutchinson may also reportedly testify about the intense conspiracy between Meadows and a gang of House Republicans to pressure Pence into subverting the electoral count in Congress. Hutchinson had already testified before the committee that House Republicans were seeking a pardon from Trump; reiterating this in person could add strength.

And Hutchinson has testified privately about how a Secret Service agent told Meadows that intelligence indicated there might be violence on Jan. 6. We already know that Trump’s lawyers directly informed coup architect John Eastman that his plan could precipitate street violence, which it did.

Taken together, it appears that Hutchinson could substantially increase the evidence that Trump and his allies acted with corrupt intent throughout.

The demonstration of corrupt intentions has been key to destroying each of those concentric circles of defense around Trump.

The first round of hearings showed that Trump was repeatedly told by his own advisers that he had lost the election. This destroyed any effort to maintain an aura of innocence around his supposed “belief” to the contrary.

The second round illustrated Trump’s corrupt pressure on Pence to abuse his power and delay the electoral count in Congress. This would give states time to review the vote, “find” fraud and certify voters for Trump, tilting the election.

During this runoff, the committee showed that Trump was repeatedly informed that he was pressuring Pence to do something illegal. And it showed that Trump pressured top Justice Department officials to fabricate the impression that the election was rigged.

These corrupt acts were intertwined: that fabricated impression would create the pretext for Pence to illegally delay the count, to buy time to complete the coup.

All of this ruins the second line of defense: the idea that Trump simply thought he was exercising his legal options. In fact, Trump knew that he was pushing for highly inappropriate or illegal acts on multiple levels, both by Pence and top law enforcement officials, but he did it anyway.

In short, the entire scheme was carefully, elaborately, and corruptly premeditated.

Now, if the committee can show that Trump came to see the mob as a weapon to complete the procedural hit, it will demolish his last line of defense: that the Capitol storming was simply a protest gone wrong.

Hutchinson can help with this. She can testify to the line that Pence deserves to be hanged and to the possibility that Trump and his coup plotters had good reason to know that following his scheme would trigger violence, showing at least egregious disregard for this possibility.

Even beyond what Hutchinson tells us, the hearings are scheduled to conclude in July with a focus on this point. Is it so detail is expected what Trump said and did as violence raged and Trump resisted pleas to suspend his supporters, a period that lasted more than three hours.

To be clear, the committee does not have to show that Trump came to see the mob as a weapon to intimidate Pence into carrying out his plan. As legal experts Ryan Goodman, Norman Eisen and Barbara McQuade detail, there are likely many other ways to show that Trump acted with criminal intent throughout the procedural phase of the plot.

But the violence is when the whole effort reached its climax, drawing the attention of the country and the world. Demonstrating Trump’s corrupt intent at that point in history would effectively demolish what remains of his already crumbling defenses.


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