Trump aides see testimony and brace for damage

WASHINGTON (AP) — Devastating new testimony from a former White House aide that described a president desperately clinging to power, indifferent to the danger threatening his No. 2 and potentially manipulating congressional witnesses, has raised concerns among current and former advisers to Donald J. Trump on Tuesday about the potential legal and political fallout.

Reactions were far from unanimous, however, with some confidants of the former president saying they doubted whether the testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson, a former adviser to Trump’s White House chief of staff, ranked particularly high in the pantheon of controversies to entangle him. in his six years as a national political figure.

A Trump associate, speaking on condition of anonymity, downplayed the impact of Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony and acknowledged that it painted a picture of Trump as unhinged on Jan. 6, but said this should surprise no one at this point.

Still, some current and former Trump associates raised concerns that the entirety of Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony would cause him serious political damage as he considers a third presidential campaign.

“Things went very wrong for the former president today,” Mick Mulvaney, a former White House chief of staff, wrote on Twitter. “I guess it will get worse from here.”

A trusted current adviser called the testimony “killer.”

Ms. Hutchinson told the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack that Trump had demanded that attendees stop security checkpoints, with metal detectors, at his Ellipse rally before the riot, though some supporters with guns had already been turned away, to ensure that a larger crowd appeared in television shots during his speech. She said that Trump had done so despite knowing that some in the crowd were armed, explaining that his supporters were not there to attack him.

Ms. Hutchinson testified that a Secret Service agent had told her that Mr. Trump had lashed out violently, grabbing the steering wheel and lunging at another agent’s collarbone, when his protection team refused to take him to the Capitol as protesters arrived. walking. , insisting instead on returning him to the White House.

And, when asked about chants by Trump supporters that Vice President Mike Pence should be hanged, Ms. Hutchinson testified that her boss, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, had quoted Trump saying that “Mike deserves it”.

Current and former Trump aides sent each other messages while the hearing was taking place, describing a series of revelations they admitted were potentially quite damaging, primarily politically but also potentially legally.

If Trump was warned that people were armed and still encouraged them to walk to Capitol Hill, some aides said privately, that could bolster an incitement charge against him.

Others said Trump excused himself for urging protesters to march “peacefully” on Capitol Hill in his speech.

Within hours of Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony ending, several Trump advisers seized on her account that Mr. Trump tried to grab the wheel of the van he was being driven in as by far the most recent allegation. explosive against him, and the only one. they most hoped to discredit.

But several also raised concerns about the committee’s suggestion, late in the day’s hearing, that someone close to Trump tried to manipulate or intimidate the committee’s witnesses by reminding them that Trump reads the panel transcripts. Such interference could be criminally prosecuted.

Mr. Mulvaney, who called the hearing an “impressive two hours”, called the warning about witness tampering a “real bombshell that was dropped”.

Tuesday’s testimony was just the latest instance in which a former Trump aide or administration official raised his right hand and testified under oath about shocking scenes of Trump’s behavior behind closed doors. And Trump has long demonstrated a gravity-defying ability to escape the most dire predicaments and even turn them to his advantage.

His first impeachment trial, in early 2020, was a fundraising bonanza for his re-election campaign and led to a brief uptick in public opinion polls. His second impeachment trial attracted bipartisan support but ultimately failed, and Trump quickly cemented, and has preserved, his position as the most powerful figure in the Republican Party.

Trump reacted to Tuesday’s hearing by posting a dozen messages on his Truth Social website attacking Hutchinson and denying her most explosive testimony.

He said he never complained about the size of the crowd at his Jan. 6 rally, never claimed Pence deserved to be hanged, and never tried to grab the steering wheel when Secret Service agents refused to take him to Capitol Hill.

“Her false story that I tried to grab the wheel of the White House limousine to take her to the Capitol building is sick and fraudulent, much like that of the deselection committee itself,” Trump wrote.

Trump’s modus operandi has long been to punch holes in specific elements of an accuser’s story as a way to discredit the larger narrative and insist that he’s not particularly concerned about the threat posed by an investigation.

That focus was maintained on Tuesday, as her aides emphasized the extent to which the most explosive parts of Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony were based on rumors that she was relaying to the committee rather than what she herself had witnessed, and asserted that other elements of his account did not agree with his understanding of the facts.

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