Editor’s Note: Elie Honig is a CNN senior legal analyst and former federal and state prosecutor, and author of “Hatchet Man: How Bill Barr Broke the Prosecutor’s Code and Corrupted the Justice Department.” The views expressed here are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
In Cassidy Hutchinson, the House select committee on January 6 has found its most compelling witness to date.
Hutchinson, an aide to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, gave the committee and the American public a historically unrivaled look at a president unhinged, enraged and apparently willing to cross any line to remain in power. She provided a riveting firsthand look at wrongdoing by an astonishing range of powerful people, up to and including former President Donald Trump.
Hutchinson’s testimony landed like a bomb. She addressed several of the most pressing questions before the committee, including who knew what and who did what during the crucial moments before and during the January 6 Capitol attack. Hutchinson made clear that Trump did plan to go to the Capitol as the riot was unfolding on January 6, and testified that she was told he had lashed out physically – at one point grabbing for the steering wheel of his armored vehicle and then lunging at a Secret Service agent – when he was told he could not go.
She testified that White House lawyer Pat Cipollone expressed concern that White House officials would get charged with various federal crimes including obstruction of justice, obstruction of the electoral count in Congress and inciting a riot. The President’s key legal adviser recognized that his conduct likely could be charged as criminal.
As the January 6 attack unfolded, Cipollone warned Meadows that Trump needed to do something or else people would die; Meadows, according to Hutchinson, responded that Trump didn’t want to do anything. Later, when Trump learned that the crowd was chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” Hutchinson stated Meadows said Trump thought Pence deserved it, and that the rioters weren’t doing anything wrong.
Most stunning of all, Hutchinson testified that shortly before he addressed the “Stop the Steal” rally on January 6, Trump expressed his displeasure at the size of the crowd. When he was told that the crowd was being scanned at magnetometers for weapons and that people were not entering because they didn’t want to have their weapons seized, she says she overheard Trump respond that the mags should be taken away because the crowd was not there to hurt him and would soon march to the Capitol.
Hutchinson won’t be an easy target for Trump or others to discredit, despite Trump’s immediate effort to distance himself from her on Tuesday. First, she had insider access. As an aide to Meadows, Hutchinson worked in an office just steps away from the Oval Office. Before and during the January 6 Capitol attack, she was inside the White House and observed key firsthand conversations involving Trump, Meadows, members of Congress and other powerful players.
Hutchinson’s testimony was also credible. She didn’t appear to stretch the truth, and she was careful to distinguish what she knew for sure from what she couldn’t quite detail or recall. Her testimony was corroborated in key respects by testimony of other witnesses. For example, her claim that Trump did intend to go to the Capitol on January 6 was supported by independent testimony from former White House aides Nick Luna and Max Miller and by National Security Council chat logs.
Hutchinson has no apparent mixed motives. She does not have immediate plans to run for office or to become a fixture on the speaker circuit, so she doesn’t need anyone’s endorsement or approval. Her self-interest now is best served by testifying truthfully, getting it over with and moving on with her life.
And Hutchinson is not as vulnerable to attacks claiming she is an anti-Trump political partisan. If anything, she has a strong Republican and conservative resume; she previously interned for Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana before joining the Trump White House.
The committee has thus far told a remarkable story of the events leading up to January 6 and on that fateful day (unchecked, it should be noted, by any meaningful cross-examination or other presentation in defense of Trump). Of all the witnesses we’ve heard from so far, none have painted a more damning and believable picture than Hutchinson just did.