All the Never-Trumpers: We’ve seen this movie many times and it always ends the same

“Bombshell” testimony that promptly falls apart followed by “legal” analysis that the walls are closing in and President Trump is certain to be charged with some unspeakable crime, stop me if you’ve heard it all before.  Regardless, another tired sequel aired just this week in Congress with the same tired stories, only the names have changed.

Earlier this week, the House Select Committee on January 6 announced an unscheduled hearing with an unnamed star witness. Clearly, something big had to be happening. Never-Trump Republican and soon to be outgoing Congressional Representative Liz Cheney set the stage on Tuesday morning by introducing Cassidy Hutchinson, a now-26 year old “former aide” to President Trump’s Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows.  “Up until now, our hearings have each been organized to address specific elements of President Trump’s plan to overturn the 2020 election,” she said. “Today we are departing somewhat from that model because Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony touches on several important and cross-cutting topics, topics that are relevant to each of our future hearings.”  According to Representative Cheney, Ms. Hutchinson, who was 24-years years old at the time after joining the White House as an intern, handled “a vast number of sensitive issues.”  “Ms. Hutchinson spoke daily with members of Congress, with high ranking officials in the administration, with senior White House staff, including Mr. Meadows, with White House counsel lawyers and with Mr. Tony Ornato, who served as the deputy chief of [operations],” she said. “She also worked on a daily basis with members of the Secret Service who were posted in the White House.” “In short, Ms. Hutchinson was in a position to know a great deal about the happenings in the White House,” Representative Cheney concluded her introduction, positioning her witness at the center of events even though she would provide testimony only about things she didn’t see personally and conversations she was not directly involved in.

Some may have been reminded of Anonymous, the man who claimed to represent the resistance to Trump working feverishly inside the White House, the same as the French in Nazi-occupied Paris.  Back in 2018, The New York Times published his uncredited editorial, where he declared “I am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.  I work for the president but like-minded colleagues and I have vowed to thwart parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.”  “Many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office,” he wrote as the Times described him as a “Senior Trump official” and some speculated the person was so senior it was actually Vice President Mike Pence or UN Ambassador Nikki Haley.   It only took two years to learn that the Times billing wasn’t even close.  Anonymous was in fact, Miles Taylor, a chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security who didn’t even work at the White House and had no personal relationship with Trump.  He had slightly more credibility than I might in describing President Biden as an Alzheimer’s patient based on watching recordings of his speeches. Of course, Mr. Taylor’s credibility and access wasn’t the point.  The New York Times was well aware Anonymous wasn’t nearly the person they were advertising, but that was irrelevant when their goal was to undermine and inflame rather than report, happy to do nothing in the face of rampant speculation Trump’s own VP was his enemy.

In that sense, the editorial had the desired effect, launching a thousand companion stories about the dangers of Trump and conjecture about how high up the Resistance really goes.  It wouldn’t have been surprising if someone had claimed Melania Trump was the Ernst Stavro Blofeld of the whole movement in a Sleeping with the Enemy meets James Bond kind of way This time around, we were treated to similarly explosive accusations from a similarly low-level staffer, pay no attention to the fact that it was a combination of hearsay and things she “overheard” instead of all those “sensitive” matters she dealt with on a daily basis.  Thus, the first portion of her testimony described conversations Ms. Hutchinson essentially eavesdropped on before President Trump addressed the crowd on January 6 at the Ellipse, some distance from the Capitol proper and also before the actual breach.  The President was concerned that there were gaps around the stage and the audience would appear less than full for the cameras. He believed those gaps were because the Secret Service had installed magnetometers to check attendees for weapons and their presence was preventing more people from coming in from the mall.  Ms. Hutchinson sets the scene as follows, “when we were in the offstage announce tent, I was part of a conversation — I was in — I was in the vicinity of a conversation.” She explained how Mr. Ornato informed President Trump that “We have enough space, Sir. They don’t want to come in right now.  They — they have weapons that they don’t want confiscated by the Secret Service. And they’re fine on the mall. They can see you on the mall and they’re — they want to march straight to the Capitol from the mall.”

At some point, she claimed to have “overheard the President say something to the effect of, you know, I – – I don’t effing care that they have weapons.  They’re not here to hurt me. Take that effing mags away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here. Let the people in. Take the effing mags away.” This single statement alone was enough to prompt the mainstream media to insist that President Trump intentionally wanted an armed mob on hand for his planned assault on the Capitol. The charge they are bandying about is seditious conspiracy, but even Ms. Hutchinson imparts no malevolent motive to the purported outburst. She said specifically in a much less reported statement, “One of the reasons which I’ve previously stated was because he wanted it to be full and for people to not feel excluded because they had come far to watch him at the rally.” This is undoubtedly true when you consider that the incident itself did not occur on the Capitol steps and was not directly related to the breach of the building.  Nor was it in reference to allowing weapons that weren’t already on site or weren’t already known by the authorities, meaning the removal of the “mags” did not alter the course of events in any way.  The portion of the crowd believed to have weapons still had them on the mall, even closer to the Capitol building than where President Trump wanted them during his speech.  Therefore, the real question quickly becomes: How do we get from the reality everyone knew – there was going to be a large crowd in attendance that day, some of them would have weapons of various kinds, and there was a potential for violence, all well documented before January 6 – to Trump’s concern about crowd size in front of the stage turning into seditious conspiracy to arm a mob to attack the Capitol building when the evidence as presented by the star witness and carefully curated by the Committee doesn’t come close to supporting the charge?  What magic transmutes typically Trumpian concerns into serious accusations which have never been made before against a President in our 250 year history?  Neither the Committee nor the media actually says.  Instead, they tell us just enough to create an illusion that’s the case, and then repeat this illusion as if it was fact even though the whole of it (or at least most of it) disappears in a puff of smoke once you examine the details.

Sadly for the entire country, the next portion of her testimony deemed explosive by the media has also disappeared in a puff of smoke.  Perhaps even worse, one has to question why it was allowed at all given the entire episode was hearsay and not told to Ms. Hutchison directly, not even in a way she could overhear.  She describes the scene after they returned from the speech at the Ellipse.  “When I returned to the White House, I walked upstairs towards the chief of staff’s office, and I noticed Mr. Ornato lingering outside of the office. Once we had made eye contact, he quickly waved me to go into his office, which was just across the hall from mine.”  Once inside, Ms. Hutchinson claims Mr. Ornato told her “did you f’ing hear what happened in the beast? I said, no, Tony, I — I just got back. What happened?”  She continued, “once the president had gotten into the vehicle with Bobby, he thought that they were going up to the Capitol. And when Bobby had relayed to him we’re not, we don’t have the assets to do it, it’s not secure, we’re going back to the West Wing, the president had a very strong, a very angry response to that.  Tony described him as being irate. The president said something to the effect of I’m the f’ing president, take me up to the Capitol now, to which Bobby responded, sir, we have to go back to the West Wing. The president reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel. Mr. Engel grabbed his arm, said, sir, you need to take your hand off the steering wheel.  We’re going back to the West Wing. We’re not going to the Capitol. Mr. Trump then used his free hand to lunge towards Bobby Engel. And Mr. — when Mr. Ornato had recounted this story to me, he had motioned towards his clavicles.”  To corroborate the story, Ms. Hutchinson noted that Bobby, Mr. Engels, was in the room and “did not correct or disagree with any part of the story.”

Stop me if you know the rest:  Within hours of this supposedly explosive testimony, Mr. Engel and the other Secret Service agent in the vehicle, actually the Presidential SUV and not the Beast as Ms. Cassidy described it, came forward and demanded to testify in public that the event never happened.  We also learned that they had previously testified to this same Committee on two separate occasions, and presumably told a different story.  The following day, representatives of Mr. Ornato himself came forward and said he was “shocked” to hear what Ms. Hutchinson said and he too is ready to dispute the story in public.  Nor was this the only instance where her testimony has been called into question.  Also in dispute is her claim to have written a note while the violence at the Capitol was unfolding.  The note was part of remarks planned for President Trump to compel people to leave the scene, including “Anyone who entered the Capitol without proper authority should leave immediately.”  These remarks were never delivered, leading to the accusation, however unsupported by the evidence or testimony, that Trump was pleased with the behavior of the mob, because he personally organized it in the most ridiculous telling.  The note, however, was actually written by a former White House lawyer, Eric Herschmann.  “The handwritten note that Cassidy Hutchinson testified was written by her was in fact written by Eric Herschmann on January 6, 2021,” a spokesperson said. “All sources with direct knowledge and law enforcement have and will confirm that it was written by Mr. Herschmann.”  In addition, it appears she mixed up the identity of an individual she claims had met with Rudy Giuliani to plan disputes over the results of the election.  Ms. Hutchinson insisted Mr. Giuliani met with Jeff Clark, but that Mr. Clark has given testimony claiming these meetings never happened and the former NYC Mayor appears to have met with another person entirely, Justin Clark.

The rapid combination and accumulation of errors has prompted the mainstream media to adjust our expectations:  Suddenly, none of these details are the relevant parts of her testimony.  We should pay no attention to the flaws and still accept her as credible, but why would we do that when the very same people are simultaneously insisting President Trump is now in deep legal trouble based entirely on her testimony? We don’t even have to turn to progressives for this line of thinking.  Republican Never Trumpers are also making these claims on the basis of a single witness, despite three falsehoods in her testimony in less than 48 hours.  John Podhoretz is a classic example.  Writing for Commentary immediately after the testimony, he declared that “Trump is in deep, deep, deep, deep trouble” as if multiple uses of the word somehow makes it more true.  He begins by noting that the “The testimony this afternoon of Cassidy Hutchinson, the aide to Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, cannot be dismissed.” As a result, he is convinced the end is near for Trump, writing “I did not think this day would come. I have said as much on our podcast many times. 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.”  Of course, Mr. Podhoretz was wise enough to caveat the claim, noting that this was true if “what she has testified to…is not countered or contradicted” and it’s “possible her memory is faulty, or that she is fantasist and that none of this has happened.”  In other words, Mr. Podhoretz is aware the word of one person is rather flimsy stuff, especially without a single shred of additional evidence, but that doesn’t prevent him from proclaiming that Trump might well be the closest thing to a traitor under the law, something no President has ever been accused of.  Is he going to retract the article now?

Of course not, the same argument continues to be made, just in retreat as more contradictions come to light, an occurrence with a disturbing side effect.  Somehow, if you point these flaws out, you are the bad guy.  The one that doesn’t want to know the truth.  The one that doesn’t want accountability for Trump and others.  You are the problem.  For some reason, it never occurs to them to question the motivations of the very Committee putting on an obvious show trial for political purposes.  They had months to prepare for this hearing and validate every aspect of the testimony.  They had testimony from others that must’ve disagreed with Ms. Hutchinson’s claims and yet for whatever reason they still chose to include it.  There is a parallel universe out there where they got these details right and details matter. Even a single word can be crucially import. For example, Ms. Hutchinson claims that Mr. Ornato told her specifically that President Trump was in the Beast. This might sound minor, but she was specifically quoting Mr. Ornato, who would’ve known what vehicle he was in a few minutes earlier. He wasn’t likely to make that mistake, but if Ms. Hutchinson were making it up, she could easily have confused the two because she wasn’t actually there and had no first hand knowledge. The Committee itself could’ve made sure they got these and other facts right, but instead they proceeded with sloppy at best, intentionally biased and misleading at worst testimony that damages the credibility of their star witness, predicated entirely in my opinion on driving media coverage for the seditious conspiracy charge they desire. Putting this another way, it is entirely their fault that we are having this conversation in the first place and if  you’ve been following the news for the last seven years, this isn’t the first time we’ve been told that “bombshell” testimony or evidence has placed President Trump in “deep” legal jeopardy and it’s only a matter of time before the walls close in.  It’s become a never ending story from Russia-gate to Ukrainian impeachment with emoluments in between.  The breathless reporting and legal analysis is precisely the same, only the names have changed, like a bad horror movie sequel except without the thrills and chills along the way.

Ultimately, all of this can be seen as evidence of the sick un-seriousness underlying our politics.  Seditious conspiracy is, to paraphrase Mr. Podhoretz, a serious, serious, serious, serious charge, much less when leveled at a former President of the United States.  There is no question that any trial of President Trump on these or anything close would plunge the country in chaos and cause a true Constitutional crisis.  Nothing like it has ever happened in our history, and given the former President retains the near absolute support of somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of the country, it is reasonable to assume the United States would be rocked by protests and perhaps even violence on both sides regardless of the eventual outcome.  If you think our current divisions are too deep and the resulting partisan warfare too bloody, a potential trial of President Trump would be much closer to a true Civil War by comparison.  This is not to suggest that a President or their advisors should not be held accountable if indeed they committed criminal actions.  The truth and the justice that follows from it is important.  It does, however, mean that these matters should be treated with the utmost care, prudence, and attention to detail.  These are not minor claims.  They are momentous issues, and yet the Committee itself exhibits absolutely no desire to ensure their work is accurate, error free, and able to withstand the scrutiny they know is coming.  Instead, they make bold claims, only to have them disputed in practically real time, all without any concern of the repercussions that would result from sentencing a former President to prison.  Then, they blame us for pointing it out while proclaiming themselves the protectors of Democracy.  It’s not difficult to conclude that these are not the serious people they claim they are.  They’re the Gossip Girls of the government, spreading rumor and innuendo instead of fact with no care for the damage they do, and we’ve all seen this movie many times before.

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