On Tuesday afternoon, NewsmaxTV host Greg Kelly logged onto Twitter to share his initial thoughts on the Jan. 6 Select Committee’s latest witness, former Trump White House staffer Cassidy Hutchinson:
The tweet was about what you’d expect from Kelly, whose nightly Newsmax show combines rah-rah Trumpism, macho swagger, and apparently genuine stupidity into a package that often feels like a Christopher Guest parody of conservative cable television. The man is an idiot, in other words, but it was revealing to watch him react in real time to the testimony of a witness who came across as anything but.
Hutchinson, who worked as an aide to Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, spent much of January 6, 2021, in close proximity to Trump, Meadows, and other high-ranking White House personnel. She worked steps from the Oval Office, and was backstage with Meadows and the president at the rally that served as the inciting incident of the day’s violence. Speaking to the committee on live TV, she offered clear and direct insight into the links between the violent breach of the U.S. Capitol and the lies, rhetoric, cowardice, and inaction that facilitated it.
Among other things, Hutchinson testified that Trump knew that many in the crowd that day were armed, but did not care because they “weren’t there to hurt him”; that he told the Secret Service to remove the metal detectors that were stopping the armed protesters from filling out the crowd for his big speech, a crowd he would instruct to march to the U.S. Capitol; that he tried to go to the Capitol after the speech, and offered verbal and physical resistance to the Secret Service agents who would not take him there; and that Meadows was among those who asked for a presidential pardon in the aftermath of the day’s events. Her testimony was precise, dispassionate, and articulate. Kelly’s follow-up tweets were not.
Kelly is a replacement-level right-wing pundit on a bargain-basement cable network. (After a brief ratings surge following the 2020 presidential election, his primetime show is now even less popular than Fox News’ 4 a.m. hour) His lazy, sexist takes—which rooted his dismissal of Hutchinson’s testimony in his disdain for her femininity—exemplify some of the more crude and visceral methods by which many on the right have attempted to discredit and diminish Hutchinson. In this telling, the fact that Hutchinson is a pretty young woman is in itself enough to render her an unreliable narrator of public affairs. But patronizing objectification and open misogyny are far from the only tactics that members of the right-wing media have used in their efforts to wave away Hutchinson’s objectively important testimony.
Although Fox News’s primetime shows, conservative talk radio, and various right-wing websites are doing their best to outright ignore the Jan. 6 hearings, every now and then the hearings make so much noise that these outlets have to pay them a little attention, if only to justify their decisions to continue ignoring them. “You may be asking, who’s Cassidy Hutchinson?” said Fox News host Jesse Watters on Wednesday’s episode of Jesse Watters Primetime. “It’s a good question. Took awhile for Primetime to figure it out, but she was apparently a low-level, junior staffer at the Trump White House. But this junior staffer became the leading lady in yesterday’s made-for-TV drama.” Whereas Kelly led with a Tex Avery wolf whistle at Hutchinson, Watters took a slightly more subtle approach, arguing instead that Hutchinson’s testimony is irrelevant because she was merely a low-level staffer whom no one knew and who held no real responsibility.
Watters’ assessment of Hutchinson’s role may be true, but it has no bearing on her credibility; moreover, it is rooted in a distorted, patriarchal interpretation of Washington that willfully misunderstands how the city really works. The White House, the Capitol, and most of the rest of the federal government simply could not function without an endlessly replenishable supply of young people like Cassidy Hutchinson: low-level staffers and interns who coordinate things, follow orders, and are usually there in any given room that contains one or more people who wield actual power. These staffers’ youth, loyalty, malleability, and career ambitions generally lead them to keep their mouths shut; an aide who gets caught blabbing to the press is unlikely to receive a letter of recommendation for grad school. As a result, powerful men speak freely around these young staffers because they do not see them as threats—and they rarely, if ever, see them as people who might spill the beans about what they’ve seen and heard upon receipt of a Congressional subpoena.
Hutchinson, too, was initially reluctant to testify in public, perhaps because her Trumpworld lawyers advised her not to do so (she has since switched attorneys). Her change of heart has led many conservative pundits to do what they’ve done to other unknown women who have testified about the bad behavior of “great” men: to imply that she is an unreliable opportunist who is out for personal glory. “According to the Federalist, and people I’ve spoke to, after January the 6th she wanted to work for Donald Trump: that bad person she’s now testifying against,” said Fox’s Sean Hannity on Hannity Tuesday night. “Cassidy Hutchinson—little background on her—just dumped her pro-Trump lawyer for a Democrat-friendly lawyer, three weeks before her testimony. And all of the sudden her testimony is filled with bombshells. What a coincidence,” said Watters on Wednesday. “And she had her lines down pat.”
There were several ugly and false things these arguments implied. One is that Hutchinson’s testimony is unreliable because she “switched teams.” Another is that she was testifying in a calculated bid for a book contract, or a contributor’s gig at CNN or MSNBC, or a job with George Soros, or something like that. The final one is that Hutchinson was either making things up or exaggerating in order to tell the left what it wants to hear.
But only in the fever dreams of choleric MAGA insurrectionists are America’s top networks and publishers coordinating their stories and conspiring to financially reward low-level staffers for lying under oath to Congress. And yet many on the right have insisted that Hutchinson is fibbing to Congress while seizing on her minor apparent discrepancies—Hutchinson said that she was told that Trump tried to grab the wheel of the presidential limousine known as the “Beast” after the initial Jan. 6 rally, while photographs indicate that Trump was actually riding in an SUV—to attempt to discredit the entirety of her testimony.
Speaking to the committee on Tuesday, Hutchinson said that, on Jan. 6, Secret Service agent Bobby Engel told her and deputy chief of staff Tony Ornato that Trump had lunged for the wheel and grappled with a Secret Service agent, so desperate was he to drive down to the Capitol. Since then, various reports have appeared in various mainstream outlets—often attributed to some anonymous source— saying that Engel, Ornato, and others in the Secret Service dispute Hutchinson’s recollection, and that they would be willing to testify under oath to that effect. To many on the right, Hutchinson’s on-the-record, under-oath testimony was canceled out by the various reports disputing that testimony.
Why? Well, first and foremost because the right has good reason to not want to believe that President Trump had a slap-fight with the Secret Service because they wouldn’t let him go over to Congress and further incite an armed crowd to riot. But it also doesn’t hurt that Engel is a male cop, while Hutchinson is a “filthy mouthed woman,” in Kelly’s words; that Hutchinson was “a star witness no one ever heard of [who] testified about something she didn’t see, which right there makes her testimony as legitimate as smoke signals from Liz Warren,” as Fox’s Greg Gutfeld put it on Gutfeld! (Take that, Liz Warren?)
The disparity between Hutchinson’s testimony and Engel’s apparently contradictory recollection of the incident could likely be resolved if Engel and others who were there that day would indeed testify under oath in front of the committee, which would surely love to have them. They haven’t done it yet. But regardless of what career opportunities do or do not come her way as a result of her testimony, the fact remains that Hutchinson did choose to testify in public—even as her former boss, Meadows, refused to do so; even as cowards such as Gen. Michael Flynn, upon being questioned in private by the committee, invoked the Fifth Amendment when asked whether he believed in the peaceful transfer of power; even as Tony Ornato is yet again disputing a story about his time in the Trump administration told by a woman who was in the room with him while not yet choosing to swear to his own story under oath.
It is easy to predict precisely how the right will continue to besmirch Hutchinson—and other witnesses—in their ceaseless efforts to protect the traitors and cowards of Jan. 6 from facing any consequences whatsoever for their actions. And it is immensely depressing that it all will basically come down to “she’s a silly, conniving young woman, which is precisely why she doesn’t matter.” On his NewsmaxTV show Tuesday night, Kelly told his viewers all about “this very junior person, her name is Cassidy Hutchinson. … Now, uh, let’s see, what’s special about her? Quite frankly, I think they picked her, in part, because of her looks. Yes, a lot of this stuff was done based on optics. Absolutely. We’ll get to what she said in a moment.” He didn’t need to. What she actually said never mattered to them to begin with.