Former Trump aide testifies: Trump knew mob was heavily armed
Today’s testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson, former senior aide to Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, before the House January 6 Special Select Committee, was historic. It will long be remembered as a potential turning point in the history of American democracy. We learned that Donald Trump knew he was inciting armed extremists to attack the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
On January 6, before he spoke to the crowd gathered near the White House, Donald Trump was informed by the Secret Service that there were armed paramilitary extremists in the crowd, including some in the trees with assault rifles. He was informed they carried assault rifles, pistols, chemical agents, spears, body armor, and other military-style equipment.
The bizarre discussion that ensued had two main threads:
Trump wanted a packed crowd inside the security perimeter, to satisfy his vanity about images of the so-called “rally”;
The Secret Service would not allow anyone in unless they surrendered their weapons, which outraged Trump.
He repeatedly reminded his staff and the Secret Service that he wanted the crowd, including the armed extremists, to march to the Capitol and demand an end to the Electoral College count. Trump wanted the armed extremists to be part of a pro-Trump crowd descending on Capitol Hill, to intimidate members of Congress and the Vice President.
Trump knew he was inciting armed extremists to attack the Capitol.
This is headline number 1 from today. Donald Trump knew the crowd was armed, when he directed inflammatory lies at them, told them to show strength and to “fight like Hell” or they would lose their country. He knowingly incited a mob of armed extremists to attack the Capitol.
Trump expressed confidence that the armed extremists were not there carrying weapons with any intention to harm him. This is extremely telling.
His confidence absolutely annihilates the lie he and others told repeatedly that “antifa” was somehow responsible for the violence. Were that even remotely possible, Trump would not have been confident he was safe.
It also suggests he has some pre-existing knowledge of who is carrying weapons and for what purpose. (This was not said in today’s testimony, but it is a logical conclusion based on Trump’s lack of concern about the weapons.)
His behavior also suggests he wanted the people carrying weapons to keep them.
Not only did he know they were armed; he angrily argued with the Secret Service to get rid of metal detectors and stop confiscating weapons. He attempted to order the Secret Service to allow a mob of armed extremists to gather together, listen to his instructions, then carry their lethal weapons to the Capitol.
Headline 2: Trump wanted an armed mob to use violence, or the threat of violence, to stop the Constitutionally required counting of Electoral College votes.
He acted to assist that mob in keeping their weapons, while he and others sought to incite them to target people opposed to Trump’s efforts to retain power at all costs. It’s worth reminding ourselves here that Trump was told the mob had spears and flag poles that were being fashioned into weapons, as well as chemical agents including bear spray. Each of these were used to attack police guarding the Capitol Building.
By the time Trump finished speaking, the Secret Service already had news of armed rioters breaching the Capitol security perimeter, scaling the scaffolding built for Joe Biden’s inauguration, and trying to invade the Capitol Building by force.
The Secret Service had real-time reports from desperate Capitol Police calling for all available officers from all agencies to assist in what was described as medieval hand to hand combat.
The Secret Service could not allow Trump to travel to the Capitol—both for his own safety and because it was clear to the White House Counsel and other key staff that Trump’s intentions for events at the Capitol were flagrantly criminal.
This is headline number 3: Top White House staff knew in advance of January 6 there was a plot to create a violent and chaotic disruption of the Constitutionally required counting of Electoral College votes.
According to Hutchinson, Cipollone was insistently urging senior officials, for several days before January 6, to cease engaging in what was known to be an extremist plot including possible violence.
Cipollone reportedly insisted that White House staff needed to prevent Trump from engaging in the planned disruption of the Electoral College count and to prevent Trump from joining rioters on Capitol Hill.
Cassidy Hutchinson testified that Cipollone said White House staff would be “charged with every crime imaginable” if they allowed Trump to go to the Capitol and participate in the riot.
On January 2, Mark Meadows met with Rudolph Giuliani and later told Cassidy Hutchinson “things might get real, real bad on January 6.”
Headline 4: The White House Counsel and multiple top-level White House staff knew the January 6 plot was intended to prevent Biden from taking office. They knew it was a coup attempt.
These two details—having foreknowledge and understanding the purpose of the planned violence—are hugely significant, because they condition every other thing we know about the events of January 6, and the behavior of key figures before, during, and since the attack. For instance:
We know that Mark Meadows, Trump’s Chief of Staff, knew Trump was involved in and supportive of a plot to overthrow the Constitution.
We know that Rudolph Giuliani was involved in that plot.
We learned today that both Meadows and Giuliani expressed interest in Presidential Pardons for their activities related to the events of January 6.
Headline 5: Meadows, Giuliani and others sought pardons for their activities on and around January 6.
When disgraced former general Michael Flynn was asked by Vice Chair Liz Cheney whether he believed the violence of January 6 was morally and/or legally “justified”, he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
When asked if he believed there should be a peaceful transfer of power in the United States, he again invoked his Fifth Amendment rights and refused to answer.
That senior White House officials knew there were plans for a violent disruption of the Constitutional certification of the election of Joe Biden provides a lot of information that is relevant to Flynn’s pleading the Fifth.
Headline 6: Mike Flynn pled the Fifth instead of sharing his views about the violence of January 6.
In criminal prosecutions, the accused is innocent until proven guilty. This is a legal condition. In our observation of the events of the case, however, it is perfectly reasonable to ask how Flynn—who has so often and so brazenly lied—could refuse to answer questions about whether he supported a criminal coup attempt.
Why not simply say he doesn’t support violence and that he does believe in the peaceful transfer of power? The only logical explanation is that he has reason to believe there may already be evidence on the record of his involvement, in which case his lie would be discovered, putting him in still further legal jeopardy. Afraid to tell the truth or to lie, he declines to answer citing his right against self-incrimination.
All of this also puts in context all of the complaints from others implicated in the political coordination around the events of January 6. Unless and until they cooperate, testify under oath, and provide all evidence that is required for a full investigation of the events of January 6, their complaints simply cannot be believed.
Let’s review the six headlines we have identified so far:
Trump knew he was inciting a heavily armed mob to attack the Capitol.
Trump wanted an armed mob to disrupt the counting of votes.
Top White House officials knew in advance about the plans for violence.
Top White House officials knew the January 6 plans were a coup plot.
Meadows, Giuliani and others close to Trump sought pardons.
Mike Flynn refused to denounce the violence of January 6.
Today’s hearing connected Trump himself to the knowing incitement of violence on January 6. Trump knew what he was doing, acted in line with ongoing and often expressed intentions, and took specific actions intended to ensure a mob of extremist supporters would be armed when they arrived at the Capitol.
This brings us to headline number 7, which is most significant because it appears to show Trump was personally heavily invested in joining the armed mob at the Capitol:
Trump may have assaulted his lead Secret Service protector on January 6.
According to Cassidy Hutchinson, Tony Ornato called her into his office where he recounted what happened when Trump learned the Secret Service would not allow him to join the riot on Capitol Hill. Hutchinson recalled Ornato explaining that Trump lunged for the steering wheel of the SUV he was riding in, then lunged at the clavicles (or throat) of the lead agent in his security detail when he acted to block Trump from grabbing the wheel.
Trump is reported to have lunged at the throat of a man whose job was to take a bullet for him if it came to that.
This suggests Trump’s desire to join the riot was more than just vanity or enthusiasm.
It suggests Trump had a plan for actions he would take inside the Capitol Building, to disrupt the counting of Electoral College votes.
This adds to the legal theory that Trump intended for armed paramilitaries to terrorize Congress and intimidate those he wanted to convince to join his criminal cause.
It raises many additional questions about who knew what about the intended activities inside the Capitol Building on January 6.
Tony Ornato has since managed to convince the Secret Service to issue a statement saying he denies ever having recounted this event to Cassidy Hutchinson and that the agents in the vehicle will testify under oath.
MSNBC reported that Tony Ornato is the same famously pro-Trump agent Pence and his staff did not trust.
When Ornato demanded Pence get into a motorcade under the Capitol Building, Pence refused, citing his Constitutional duty to remain and to certify the election results.
It has been reported that Ornato intended to convince Pence to get into vehicles just in case, but that Pence and his team believed Ornato would remove him from the Capitol against his will.
Trump’s reaction to news that the armed mob he sent to Capitol Hill were chanting “Hang Mike Pence” gives us headline number 8:
Trump sided with would-be assassins, effectively aided them by inaction.
When White House staff raised the alarm that immediate action was needed to stop the riot, as rioters were hunting Pence and other officials, Trump refused to intervene and instead sent a tweet inciting the mob to continue their angry hunt for Pence. We learned today that when White House Counsel Cipollone asked Meadows to intervene, Meadows responded only that Trump doesn’t want to do anything and that “he thinks Mike deserves it”.
Think about that for a moment: Trump thought his Vice President should be assassinated—for following the law and upholding the Constitution.
It is relevant that Trump knew the mob was armed, including with combat weapons and military style gear.
Meadows told Cipollone Trump didn’t want to do anything, so he wasn’t going to do anything either.
This was an overt act, not simply an omission; it was one in a series of actions that created opportunity for armed militants to threaten key officials, to sway the outcome of a Constitutionally mandated process.
Headline 9: Trump’s dangerous criminal acts raised possibility of suspending his presidency under the 25th Amendment.
We learned today that multiple Cabinet secretaries had conversations about the possibility of invoking Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, to remove Trump by Constitutional means for being “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”. Constitutional scholars and Presidential historians say what we heard today was the most significant such discussion in the nation’s history.
We also learned that a flurry of activity inside the West Wing ensued on January 6 and 7, urging Trump to deliver an address to the nation denouncing the violence of January 6 and accepting the election results. This was partly an effort to avoid application of the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.
Headline 10 is, simply:
Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony was an incredible act of courage, especially considering that so many people more powerful than herself have cowered in fear of Trump and refused to testify. Rep. Liz Cheney, Vice Chair of the Special Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack, said in her closing remarks:
“I want to begin by thanking Ms. Hutchinson for her testimony today. We are all in her debt. Our nation is preserved by those who abide by their oaths to the Constitution. Our nation is preserved by those who know the fundamental difference between right and wrong. And I want all Americans to know that what Ms. Hutchinson has done today is not easy; the easy course is to hide from the spotlight, to refuse to come forward, to attempt to downplay or deny what happened.”
Cheney did not stop there; she revealed yet more vital history-making evidence.
Headline 11: There is evidence of coordinated witness tampering.
Rep. Cheney shared with the hearing room and nation the fact that the Committee has evidence that people linked to Trump have been pressuring witnesses to influences their testimony. She did not share the names of the perpetrators of the targets of this illegal harassment, nor did she specify the criminal penalty for such actions, but it is worth exploring:
Section 1512 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code (18 U.S. Code § 1512) makes it a crime to harass, threaten, intimidate, or otherwise corruptly influence any person to alter their testimony or to withhold testimony from an official proceeding.
The penalty for such witness tampering is the highest statutory penalty for the most significant of the crimes one seeks to conceal.
It should be noted here that today’s hearing was rushed, called with just one day’s notice, with lawmakers having to rush back to Washington from their extended July 4 break. It was suggested the night before the hearing that the witness might face pressure if her identity were known.
The courage of Cassidy Hutchinson raises the question:
How many key witnesses have been intimidated into silence? By what means, by whom, at whose urging, and with whose knowledge?
Federal prosecutors can begin investigating the evidence already obtained that suggests witness tampering is happening and might be coordinated. Those prosecutions can also be far more aggressive now, as there is clear evidence Trump and others knew they were inciting armed extremists to use violence to stop a Constitutionally required process to certify the already decided choice of the voters.
THE big takeaway: The former President knowingly incited armed extremists to attack the Capitol, urged them on when they spoke of assassination, and actively sought a violent overthrow of the Constitution of the United States.
Congressional and criminal investigations must now chase down every detail of the plot surrounding Trump’s actions. This will not be easy, but we should take heart in the courage of one young White House staffer who put service to country over party, career, and convenience.