Updated at 6:28 p.m. ET on June 28, 2022.
Donald Trump knew the protesters marching on the Capitol on January 6 were armed. He knew they could do harm to someone. He wanted to go to the Capitol with them as they marched that afternoon. And he did nothing to stop them as they attacked.
These are the stark and rattling takeaways from today’s hearing of the House committee investigating former President Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election, which centered on first-person accounts from the former Trump aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who was deep inside the president’s inner sanctum in the days leading up to the insurrection and that day.
By the morning of January 6, Trump’s attempts to steal the election had largely failed. Every lawsuit had foundered, every state-level ploy seemed to have stalled, and Vice President Mike Pence had declared that he would not engage in chicanery concocted by the attorney John Eastman and his confederates. There was one last hope: somehow disrupting Congress’s certification of the result.
When Trump arrived at a rally on January 6, he saw that the space for the speech was not totally full, Hutchinson testified today. Ever attentive to optics, he wanted the area filled, but many attendees were outside a cordon, because they weren’t allowed in: The Secret Service had set up magnetometers, or mags, and these people were carrying weapons. They didn’t want to disarm, and couldn’t enter while carrying. But Trump didn’t care.
“They’re not here to hurt me,” he said, according to Hutchinson. He demanded that the Secret Service “take the fucking mags away,” and added, “They can march to the Capitol after this is over.”
That is the most damning moment to emerge from the hearings so far. Trump’s supporters’ defense of the president’s behavior that day up until now has been that he simply wanted a peaceful demonstration, and didn’t anticipate the violence that broke out when his supporters stormed the Capitol. Some allies have denied that demonstrators were even armed. The defense has never been especially plausible, but Hutchinson’s testimony demolishes it.
Her account establishes that Trump knew the crowd was armed and understood they were there to threaten or harm someone—specifically, his opponents—and that he wanted them to march on the Capitol with those weapons. Once the rioters had begun to approach the Capitol, Trump refused to lift a finger to stop the violence. When the top White House lawyer told Chief of Staff Mark Meadows that the president had to act, Meadows replied, according to Hutchinson, “He doesn’t want to do anything.” Later, when rioters chanted that Pence should be hanged, Hutchinson recalled, Meadows told the same lawyer, “He thinks Mike deserves it. He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong.”
These are only two of many astonishing moments from the hearing, abruptly announced yesterday. Hutchinson’s testimony also indicated that Trump desperately wanted to go to the Capitol with the rioters, and perhaps enter the building. When he was not allowed to do so, he was livid, trying to grab the wheel of the presidential limousine and lunging at a Secret Service agent. Separately, Hutchinson recalled that an irate Trump threw his lunch, leaving ketchup streaming down a wall, after then–Attorney General Bill Barr publicly refuted his claims of election fraud. (Hutchinson noted that this wasn’t the first time she knew of Trump doing so.) The committee also played taped testimony from Michael Flynn, the former general and national security adviser, who refused to answer whether he thought the violence of January 6 was justified or whether he supported a peaceful transition of power, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
The hearing especially filled out the public picture of what Trump did on the day of the insurrection. During his speech at the rally, Trump told the crowd to march on the Capitol. “And after this, we’re going to walk down, and I’ll be there with you, we’re going to walk down, we’re going to walk down,” he said. Instead, he returned to the White House, and was mocked in some quarters as a chickenhawk who sent his minions to do his bidding.
Those attacks turned out to have been unfair, or at least incorrect; perhaps it would be better to be a coward than do what Trump envisioned. In the days before the rally, Trump and some of his aides wanted him to go to the Capitol, either on foot or by car, and maybe enter the building or make another speech there. A different group, which included Secret Service agents and White House lawyers, were insistent that couldn’t happen. By the morning of January 6, the second group had won, and a trip had been ruled out—though its members were still nervous. According to Hutchinson, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone called her that day to reiterate his point. “Please make sure we don’t go up to the Capitol, Cassidy,” she recounted him saying. “We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we let that happen.”
But Trump was still under the impression he was headed to the Capitol. Hutchinson testified that when the president returned to his limousine after the speech and was told he was going back to the West Wing, he lost his temper, grabbing at the steering wheel of the car. A Secret Service agent told him to let go of the wheel, and Trump lunged at the agent.
As the rioters overran Capitol police, broke windows and doors, and streamed into the building, Meadows seemed listless, Hutchinson testified. She tried to rouse him into action, but he seemed either resigned to or uninterested in stopping the violence. When a frantic Cipollone came to insist that Trump do something, Meadows shrugged him off, bowing to the president’s support for the attacks.
Hutchinson’s testimony is an act of exceptional courage. Just 26 years old, she quickly rose in the White House to become one of Meadows’s essential aides. By testifying today, she becomes one of the most prominent apostates to the MAGA cult—and given her age and relative inexperience, she doesn’t have the same resources to fall back on that some other Trump aides turned critics have. She has already become the target of attacks by the former president and his fans. (As the hearing ended, Vice Chair Liz Cheney read off apparent attempts to intimidate witnesses by Trump allies.)
Some of Trump’s defenders will, of course, seek to explain Hutchinson’s testimony away and apologize for him. They will contend that if the president wasn’t heard explicitly saying, I want a violent mob to topple Congress, harm members, and overturn the election that I lost, he cannot be held responsible for what happened that day. This is nonsense. If you pour gasoline all over a building, tell some people it is essential the building burn, and make sure they’re carrying matches and lighters, you are to blame for the arson that follows—especially if you then decline to call the fire department and condone the inferno. What Trump wanted to put up in flames on January 6 was American democracy.
This article previously misidentified when Trump threw his lunch.