Cassidy Hutchinson’s Testimony Highlights Legal Risks for Trump
It was one of the most dramatic moments in a presentation filled with them: just before President Donald J. Trump took the stage near the White House last year and urged his supporters to “fight like hell” and to the Capitol. march, an aide testified on Tuesday, he was told some of them were armed.
It was also a potentially key moment for any Mr Trump prosecution, legal experts said. Knowing that his mob of supporters had the means to be violent when he urged them to march to the Capitol — declaring that he wanted to join them — could move Mr Trump closer to criminal charges, legal experts said.
“This has really moved the ball considerably, even though there’s still a long way to go,” said Renato Mariotti, a legal analyst and former Illinois federal prosecutor.
The extent to which the Justice Department’s growing criminal investigation is targeting Mr Trump remains unclear. But the revelations in the testimony before the House Select Committee by Cassidy Hutchinson, a former White House aide, both provided new evidence about Mr. Trump’s activities before the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol and faltered. any possible defenses he voiced are merely well-founded views on electoral fraud.
“There is still a lot of uncertainty about the issue of criminal intent when it comes to a president, but what just happened changed my bottom line,” said Alan Rozenshtein, a former Justice Department official who teaches at the University of Minnesota Law School. “I’ve moved away from Trump is less than likely indicted. He will more than likely be indicted.”
A spokesman for Attorney General Merrick B. Garland declined to comment on Ms. Hutchinson, although one of Mr Garland’s predecessors did.
“The department is clearly investigating this, and this hearing has certainly given investigators a lot of food to chew on,” said William P. Barr, who resigned as attorney general under Mr. Trump after publicly stating weeks after Election Day that there were no evidence of fraud was widespread enough to have changed the outcome of the race.
During her testimony before the panel, Ms. Hutchinson recounted a conversation she had on Jan. 3, 2021 with Pat Cipollone, the top attorney at the White House. Ms. Hutchinson described how Mr. Cipollone brushed her aside with concern that day after learning that Mr. Trump was considering marching his supporters to the Capitol after his White House address on Jan. 6 — a decision, he suggested, that could have been done. its major consequences.
“We’ll be charged with every crime imaginable,” Mr. Cipollone said, according to Mrs. Hutchinson’s account.
One of the crimes Mr. Cipollone was concerned about, Ms. Hutchinson told me, was the same one the commission had accused Mr. Trump of committing this spring in a lawsuit: the obstruction of congressional proceedings — namely, the certification of the Election College vote in the Capitol on January 6.
A federal judge in a civil suit related to the work of the House committee also concluded this year that Mr. Trump and one of his legal advisers, John Eastman, had most likely committed crimes, including obstructing the work of Congress and conspiracy to defraud the United States. , through their efforts to block the certification of electoral college results.
According to Ms. Hutchinson, another possible crime of concern to Mr. Cipollone was inciting riots. That crime, while simpler than obstruction in theory, requires prosecutors to reach a high threshold of evidence and prove that a defendant’s words posed an imminent threat of lawlessness or danger.
Some lawyers said that the testimony of Mrs. Hutchinson has thus far been the best evidence that Mr Trump had in fact incited the crowd.
“Until now, we had seen no evidence that he was aware of the violence,” said Daniel Goldman, a former federal prosecutor who served as lead counsel during Trump’s first impeachment. “The testimony made it very clear that not only was he fully aware of the threat, but he wanted armed people to march toward the Capitol. He was even willing to lead them.”
This winter, a federal judge in Washington ruled that a group of civil lawsuits alleging Mr. Trump was liable for the January 6 violence could face trial, also suggesting the former president had incited the crowd hearing his speech.
In his ruling, Judge Amit P. Mehta found that after months of creating an “air of mistrust and anger” by relentlessly claiming the election had been stolen, Mr Trump should have known that his supporters would not have used his speech as words alone. but as ‘a call to action’.
Judge Mehta also ruled that Mr Trump could reasonably be held responsible for aiding and assisting those who assaulted police officers during the attack on the Capitol.
After 18 months, the Justice Department’s investigation into the Capitol bombing has resulted in more than 840 criminal cases against rioters on charges of trespass to inflammatory conspiracy.
In recent days, the investigation has accelerated with a flurry of search warrants and subpoenas going out, involving some of Trump’s key allies in key swing states and at least two attorneys, Jeffrey Clark and Mr. Eastman, serving on separate charges. but kin plans to avert his defeat in the 2020 election.
Still, it remains unknown whether prosecutors are looking directly at Mr Trump’s own involvement in undermining the election or inspiring the mob that wreaked havoc at the Capitol.
While the House committee has always reserved the right to recommend that Mr. Trump be charged, it was revealed this month that the panel and the Justice Department disagreed over the transcripts of interviews with witnesses such as Ms. Hutchinson, with The department’s top officials complained that by withholding as many as 1,000 transcripts, the commission was hindering the work of making criminal cases.
Key Revelations from the January 6 Hearings
Another issue that remains unknown is whether Ms. Hutchinson spoke to federal prosecutors about what she saw and heard at the White House on Jan. 6 and the days before.
The Justice Department has already indicted more than 220 rioters for the number of obstructions, requiring evidence that one defendant knowingly and corruptly interfered with the work of Congress.
Some legal scholars have suggested that Mr. Trump could defend himself against the charges by stating that he had no intention of disrupting the work of Congress through any of his plans, but that he acted in good faith to address what he sincerely believed was fraud in the election.
But even the pundits who once gave credence to this defense felt that the new accounts revealed Tuesday eliminated the possibility that Mr. Trump could claim willful blindness.
Throughout the month, the House committee laid out a detailed argument as to why Mr. Trump should be charged with crimes during a series of public hearings. The presentations have portrayed Mr Trump as personally involved in multiple attempts to trick strong-armed lawmakers, Justice Department officials and even Mike Pence, his own vice president, into machinations that would have kept him in the White House.
Those machinations included a plot to create fake voter rolls declaring that Mr. Trump had won the election in states actually won by Joseph R. Biden Jr., and a subsequent attempt to coax Mr. Pence onto the false slates. to use Jan 6 to undermine the normal functioning of the Electoral College and single-handedly declare Mr Trump the victor.
Adding to Tuesday’s hearing was a cinematic account of Mr Trump’s connection to the Capitol violence.
“This is a dramatic final piece that enriches the story,” said Daniel C. Richman, a law professor at Columbia University. “But it’s not clear that it changes the fundamental issue of criminal liability.”