Politics

So That’s What a Trump Tantrum Is Really Like

Cassidy Hutchinson’s bombshell Jan. 6 testimony gave us a historic peek into Trump’s rage.

A woman in a white blazer touches her breastbone as she speaks seated at a mic with other people in the hearing room looking on
Cassidy Hutchinson, a top former aide to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, testifies at the Capitol on Tuesday. Mandel Ngan/Pool/Getty Images

The House Jan. 6 committee wasn’t scheduled to hold a hearing on Tuesday. Its members, with the rest of Congress, were supposed to be on recess, recharging for the next slew of hearings following the July Fourth holiday. On Monday, though, the committee announced a surprise hearing for the following day to present “recently obtained evidence” that apparently could not wait.

The Cannon Caucus Room, where all the hearings have been held, looked a little different given the last-minute announcement. There were fewer members of Congress in attendance as spectators. The composition of the press corps was a little different too, as some regulars had flown the coop while the committee was supposed to be on leave. (One reporter, at least, had flown back to D.C. from Florida for the hearing.) As former Nixon counsel John Dean, a lead witness in the Watergate investigation, tweeted Monday, it’d “better be a big deal” if you call a last-minute, surprise hearing.

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It was a big deal.

The hearing Tuesday afternoon, the sixth that the committee has held since the beginning of June, shone the spotlight on Cassidy Hutchinson, a former top aide to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. In the Watergate hearings, it was a surprise witness who revealed the existence of a White House recording system. In these hearings, Hutchinson was presented as the recording system personified. She was a nexus of activity in the administration, liaising not just with Congress but between key staffers like Meadows, White House counsel Pat Cipollone, and their deputies, as well as frequent guests like Rudy Giuliani. She witnessed it all. And, perhaps with the urging of the new lawyer representing her, she was ready to share it all in plain view.

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When the hearing began at 1, the chatter in the hearing room stopped, and everyone turned in their seats toward the rear entrance from where Hutchinson and her entourage were entering. A fellow reporter noted that it was like a wedding.

As the hearing began, Reps. Bennie Thompson, the committee chair, and Liz Cheney, the vice chair, spent time detailing just how close to the action Hutchinson was. The committee showed a schematic of the West Wing, where Hutchinson’s office was right outside Meadows’ office, and between Meadows and the Oval Office. Along the corridor were the offices of Jared Kushner, Hope Hicks, and deputy chief of staff Tony Ornato. The primer on West Wing geography served a narrative purpose, as most of Hutchinson’s testimony described various people running into each other’s offices and shouting.

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So often, reporting on the Trump White House or testimony from principals involved will settle for vague language about how Trump “reacted angrily,” was “irate,” or was “furious” about news developments in a way that left the subjects of those beratings “shaken.” What was refreshing—is that the right word?—about Hutchinson’s testimony was that she went beyond the euphemisms and provided imagery for what a Trump temper tantrum really looks like.

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As she explained, Trump desperately wanted to join protesters at the Capitol on Jan. 6, and staff ultimately had to defy presidential orders to prevent this from happening. (As Hutchinson said Cipollone had told her, “we’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable” if that visit were to take place.)

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When Trump got into his car following the Ellipse speech on Jan. 6—the same speech where Trump, according to Hutchinson, didn’t mind attendees bringing weapons since “they’re not there to hurt me”—he thought they were going to the Capitol. His security detail told him they were going back to the West Wing.

“I’m the fucking president, take me up to the Capitol now!” he said to his lead security detail, Bobby Engel. When Engel refused, Trump “reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel,” in Hutchinson’s words, “then used his free hand to lunge toward Bobby Engel.” Ornato told her this just after the incident, with Engel in the room, Hutchinson testified. (On late Tuesday, several outlets reported that the driver and agent involved are prepared to testify that Trump did not in fact try to grab the wheel or attack his bodyguard.)

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And if you wrote a short story that observed how “there was ketchup dripping down the wall” following a Trump rage episode, you’d be panned for overdoing it. And yet that’s the scene Hutchinson described seeing in the White House dining room in December 2020 after then–Attorney General Bill Barr had said that there was no widespread fraud in the election.

Among the subtler striking images she portrayed repeatedly was that of her boss, Mark Meadows, as a disengaged nincompoop. With plots of violence or historical skullduggery swirling around him, she repeatedly described Meadows as sitting on his couch, scrolling through his phone, needing to be told—or screamed at—several times to get his attention. Meadows has always viewed himself—though rarely been viewed by others—as an operator of rare talent, capable of juggling dozens of balls and playing all sides to his benefit. The Meadows Hutchinson described was a defeated man coming to terms with his defeat, haplessness, and substantial legal danger.

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“You heard him, Pat,” Hutchinson recalled Meadows saying to Cipollone following an unsuccessful intervention with the president on Jan. 6 to talk down the rioters who were chanting for Vice President Mike Pence to be hanged. “He thinks Mike deserves it. He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong.”

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Meadows did, at least, have enough of a mind to request a pardon for himself in the days after Jan. 6, Hutchinson said.

Put into assembly, Hutchinson portrayed a president who knew he was addressing an armed crowd, hoped to join the armed crowd at the terminus of its march to the Capitol, lashed out at those who refused to drive him there, and took hours to be convinced that he should put out a statement telling the people who wanted to kill the vice president to stop. It took a credible threat of his removal from office via the 25th Amendment to prompt him to give calming remarks the next day, she said.

Yeah, that’s worth a last-minute hearing.

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