Cassidy Hutchinson’s day in court

Did Donald Trump rush a Secret Service agent in attempt to take the wheel of the Beast and drive himself to the Capitol on January 6? That is what former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson said she was told happened in her testimony before the House January 6 Committee yesterday.

Hutchinson’s appearance was a surprise addition to the committee’s hearings and it made for easily the most compelling and headline-grabbing of the public sessions yet. There were wild details to the stories, many of them second-hand, relayed by Hutchinson. The former aide to Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows said she “overheard the president say something to the effect of, ‘I don’t fucking care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the fucking mags away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.’” She told of ketchup-splattered White House walls after the president lost his cool in the dining room. The picture painted was of a man out of control with rage.

But parts of Hutchinson’s testimony were soon undermined by others who were there on the day. The commandeering-the-Beast anecdote seems more than a little shaky, with agents reportedly willing to testify that it never happened. Also disputed: a handwritten note displayed at the hearing concerning a statement from Trump denouncing the violence at the Capitol that was never released. Former Trump lawyer Eric Herschmann claims he is the note’s author, not Hutchinson.

I have mixed feelings about Hutchinson’s account. On the one hand, she was the right-hand woman to the president’s chief of staff. That may not be a senior role, but it put her close to the action. In other words, she was well-positioned to pick up details concerning, and a general sense of, the president’s mood and conduct on January 6. And I have no reason to suspect that Hutchinson decided to come to Congress and lie about her former boss under oath. Her account of that day is, therefore, a valuable one. On the other hand, we cannot brush over the apparent problems of her version of events. These details are hugely important — especially if the committee is trying to pile on the pressure for a prosecution of the former president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was the best example yet of the way in which the January 6 Committee is an unhelpfully one-sided and over-produced affair. It is committed first and foremost to storytelling, with all the omissions and oversimplifications that entails, not fact-finding. Sworn testimony that helps tell a story is amplified, anything that detracts from that story remains behind closed doors. Hutchinson’s eyewitness account would all the more potent if it could stand up to cross examination, and if she emerged from a grilling with most of her story in tact. But Democratic leadership decided against various due process measures early on. In doing so, they limited the committee and its findings’ potential potency.

But that misstep does not obviate the importance of much of the evidence presented. I happen to think that the pre-existing, undisputed publicly available evidence Trump’s post-election conduct is disqualifying. The committee process has only added more detail to that extensive record of his disgraceful behavior in the weeks building up to, and on, January 6. Unfortunately, it has done so in a way that allows the former president’s defenders to cry foul play.

*** Sign up to receive the DC Diary in your inbox on weekdays ***

Painting Pittsburgh red

The Cook Political Report has updated its closely watched House race ratings. Six races shift in the Republicans’ direction and two move towards the Democrats. The overall outlook is that Republicans pick up between twenty and thirty-five seats in November.

Perhaps the most intriguing rating change is in PA-12, which encompasses Pittsburgh. That race has moved from being a safe Democrat seat to “Likely Democrat,” meaning it is still a long-shot Republican pick up. The change in rating is down to two things. First, the narrow win for Bernie Sanders-endorsed State Representative Summer Lee, whose progressive policy positions bring electoral risks. Second, the fact that the Republicans have nominated as their candidate an insurance businessman with the same name as the outgoing moderate Democratic incumbent.

As the Cook Report’s David Wasserman writes: “Ordinarily, Democrats wouldn’t have to sweat a House race in the city of Pittsburgh. But redistricting pushed this seat out into conservative Westmoreland County, reducing the Biden margin from +30 to +20. And Republicans are hoping a perfect storm of Lee’s stances on policing and healthcare alienating moderate voters, name confusion among longtime Doyle voters and an exceptionally pro-GOP year put this unlikely seat in play.

Posted to Poland

Joe Biden strengthened America’s commitment to European security yesterday. At the NATO summit in Madrid, the president told allies that the US would establish a new permanent army headquarters in Poland, as well as beefing up the US military presence across the continent. The Poland move is a major step and a sign of the times: the first permanent US forces on NATO’s eastern flank.

What you should be reading today

Gilbert T. Sewall: An American inquisition
Billy McMorris: The rise of the corporate abortion
Amber Athey: Greg Abbott is right about open borders
Max Eden, Washington Examiner: Arizona opens up the final frontier in school choice
Astral Codex Ten: What caused the 2020 homicide spike?
Miranda Devine, New York Post: Why Hunter’s dealings with China aren’t a ‘big fat nothing burger’ for his father

Poll watch

President Biden job approval
Approve: 38.8 percent
Disapprove: 56.9 percent
Net approval: -18.1 (RCP Average)

Views on abortion law in red states
Percentage of red-state residents who support an outright ban on abortion: 11 percent
Percentage of red-state residents who would allow court proceedings for out-of-state abortions: 13 percent (Monmouth)

Sign up to receive the DC Diary here.