For weeks, many conservative commentators have remained silent as the House committee has heard testimony, mainly from Republicans, about Trump pressuring state officials and top Justice Department officials to help him overturn the election, sometimes invoking wild conspiracy theories. These pundits have dismissed the Jan. 6 panel as a purely partisan operation and said it won’t affect the election.
But after the compelling testimony by Cassidy Hutchinson, the former top aide to Mark Meadows, some are engaging on the substance.
In Fox prime time, Laura Ingraham said: “I spoke with some former White House staffers, three or four of them in the afternoon, and they knew her well. And not one person had anything good to say about her performance today…And as their surprise witness testimony blows up in their faces, there’s another problem for the Democrats. It turns out the voters just don’t care about this January 6 charade.”
Sean Hannity called Hutchinson “the so-called witness,” adding: “We heard more rumors, a ton of hearsay, and wow, a lot of impeached testimony.”
As a counterpoint, Commentary Editor John Podhoretz tweeted: “I did not think this day would come… But as a result of the bombshells today, there’s no question now that Donald Trump is staring down the barrel of an indictment for seditious conspiracy against the government of the United States.” That, of course, is up to the Justice Department.
Trump’s former acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, has jumped off the train. Mulvaney, who knows Hutchinson, told “CBS Mornings”: “I don’t think she’s lying. I thought her testimony yesterday was very compelling and very credible…Count me among one of the Republicans that hopes he’s not the nominee at this point.”
Fox News contributor Andy McCarthy called the witness’ account “devastating.”
The New York Times quoted “one trusted current adviser” as calling Hutchinson’s testimony “a killer,” while others conceded the disclosures were “potentially quite damaging, mostly politically but also, potentially, legally.”
The conservative Washington Examiner said in an editorial that the testimony “ought to ring the death knell for former President Donald Trump’s political career. Trump is unfit to be anywhere near power ever again.”
The former president, who has ripped Hutchinson as a “leaker” and a “wacko” and denied most of her accusations, was back on Truth Social yesterday. He said she “lost all credibility,” called her “a phony social climber who got caught” and accused her of joining those peddling “lies and fabricated stories” to the committee. This is a “disgrace,” Trump said. “No cross-examination, no real Republicans, no lawyers, NO NOTHING…Unselects should be forced to disband. WITCH HUNT!”
Now Hutchinson, 26, made distinctions between what she personally saw and heard and what she was told by other top officials, and when she wasn’t sure of an exact quote said “words to the effect of.”
But an issue has emerged that could tarnish her reputation.
One of Hutchinson’s most explosive allegations is that when Trump got into the presidential SUV and his demand to be taken to the Capitol was rejected, he got into a physical altercation. She said she was told this by deputy chief of staff Tony Ornato and that the lead Secret Service agent, Robert Engel, was in the room and did not dispute the account.
The Times reports that “Secret Service officials who requested anonymity to discuss the potential testimony said that both Robert Engel…and the driver of the vehicle were prepared to state under oath that neither man was assaulted by the former president and that he did not reach for the wheel.”
One committee member, Jamie Raskin, has dismissed these accounts (also reported by Fox and other networks) as “anonymously sourced rumors.” I’d just point out that the committee has interviewed both Ornato and Engel, and it’s hard to imagine that Liz Cheney would have elicited Hutchinson’s account if the other two men had disputed it.
This underscores a problem with the way the Democratic-controlled committee has done its business. Why not release that testimony? It’s a one-sided panel building a case, and while the presence of pro-Trump Republicans would have disrupted the highly scripted television show, that would have bolstered the committee’s credibility.
Even though afternoon hearings don’t draw huge ratings, many networks have been replaying extended clips of Hutchinson’s testimony, with Watergate intensity. A former president has now been accused of wanting people with weapons to march to the Capitol because he didn’t feel threatened; of demanding to lead the crowd of protestors because “I’m the F***ing president”; and of saying that Mike Pence deserved to be threatened with hanging and the rioters did nothing wrong.
Andy McCarthy writes in National Review that “things will not be the same after this.” I think he’s right.
The hearings may fade, no charges may be filed, most of the public may not care in November. But the barrage of social media posts shows that Trump is concerned about his reputation, and some of his conservative media supporters are ramping up their defense.