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The Morning Dispatch: Surprise Witness Blows January 6 Investigation Wide Open
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The Morning Dispatch: Surprise Witness Blows January 6 Investigation Wide Open

Ex-Trump aide gives an explosive behind the scenes look at the White House during the Capitol riot.

Happy Wednesday! You should see the TMD graveyard filled with all the stories we’ve had to scrap or delay in recent weeks due to more pressing news jumping the line. 

We promise we’ll dive into the details of the bipartisan gun violence bill, updated Omicron vaccines, the FDA’s Juul ban, Title IX changes, and monkeypox … eventually!

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Colorado, Illinois, New York, Oklahoma, Utah, Mississippi, and South Carolina conducted primary and runoff elections on Tuesday. Here are some of the highlights:

    • Moderate businessman Joe O’Dea will face off against Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet in November after defeating far-right state Rep. Ron Hanks in Colorado’s Republican U.S. Senate primary.

    • Trump-backed State Sen. Darren Bailey will challenge incumbent Gov. J.B. Pritzker this fall after beating Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin and venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan in Illinois’ Republican gubernatorial primary.

    • Trump-backed Rep. Mary Miller defeated Rep. Rodney Davis after redistricting forced the two incumbent Republicans to square off against each other in Illinois’ 15th congressional district.

    • Relative moderate Rep. Sean Casten defeated Rep. Marie Newman after redistricting forced the two incumbent Democrats to square off against each other in Illinois’ 6th congressional district. 

    • Rep. Lee Zeldin will face incumbent Gov. Kathy Hochul in November after trouncing Rudy Giuliani’s son Andrew, businessman Harry Wilson, and former Westchester County executive Rob Astorino in New York’s Republican gubernatorial primary.

    • Rep. Markwayne Mullin and former Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon will advance to a runoff in Oklahoma’s Republican U.S. Senate primary to replace the retiring Sen. Jim Inhofe. 

    • Rep. Steven Palazzo—a six-term incumbent facing an ethics investigation for allegedly misusing campaign funds—was defeated by Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell in the GOP runoff for Mississippi’s 4th congressional district.

  • Finland and Sweden’s NATO bids received a major boost on Tuesday, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan dropping his opposition to the Nordic countries’ accession into the bloc. Countries seeking to join NATO must receive unanimous approval from the alliance’s members, and Turkish leaders had single-handedly slowed the process over Sweden and Finland’s arms embargo on Turkey and their support for Kurdish militants.

  • The Food and Drug Administration’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee voted 19-2 on Tuesday to recommend the agency move ahead with authorizing updated COVID-19 boosters targeted specifically at the Omicron strain and its subvariants in advance of a likely winter surge. Both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech have presented promising data on their Omicron-specific vaccine candidates in recent days, but members of the FDA advisory committee expressed concern Tuesday the virus could mutate yet again in the coming months.

  • China’s National Health Commission issued updated COVID-19 guidelines on Tuesday that—due to the Omicron variant’s shorter incubation period—cut the length of mandatory quarantine for inbound travelers in half, to seven days in a quarantine facility and three days of monitoring for symptoms at home. The policy is still far stricter than most governments’ at this point in the pandemic, but represents a dramatic shift for Beijing. 

  • U.S. home prices were 20.4 percent higher in April 2022 than April 2021, according to the latest S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller National Home Price Index data released Tuesday. The measure represents a slight decrease from March’s record 20.6 percent year-over-year growth, but it operates on a two-month lag.

  • Harris County Judge Christine Weems issued a temporary restraining order on Tuesday blocking Texas officials from enforcing a 1925 law banning nearly all abortions in the state that Attorney General Ken Paxton said was back in effect after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. Abortion in the state is still limited to the first six weeks of gestation, and a separate, more restrictive “trigger law” is set to go into effect later this summer. 

  • The Treasury Department on Tuesday imposed new sanctions on 70 entities and 29 individuals central to the Russian defense, industrial, technology and manufacturing sectors. The United States will also ban the import of Russian gold, as will the United Kingdom, Japan, and Canada.

  • After being convicted last year on multiple sex trafficking charges, longtime Jeffrey Epstein accomplice Ghislaine Maxwell was sentenced on Tuesday to 20 years in prison. One of her lawyers said Maxwell plans to appeal.

  • Former GOP Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska was sentenced on Tuesday to two years of probation, a $25,000 fine, and 320 hours of community service after being convicted in March on charges of lying to the FBI about his knowledge of campaign donations made with funds from a foreign national.

He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong.”

(Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Ketchup dripping down a wall in the West Wing dining room. Debates over whether an irate Donald Trump lunged at the neck of a Secret Service agent. Potential evidence of witness intimidation. We don’t know exactly what we expected when the January 6 Committee announced it was holding a surprise hearing on Tuesday, but that certainly wasn’t it.

The committee’s previous hearings have generally featured several witnesses and focused on unpacking a single aspect of the multi-pronged effort to overthrow the 2020 presidential election, but the sixth hearing hinged on the testimony of a single witness: Cassidy Hutchinson, former right-hand to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. In that job, the committee emphasized, the twenty-something worked a few moments’ walk down the hall from the Oval Office, represented her boss on Capitol Hill, and was privy to top-level meetings. 

“I can’t speak to how things worked at the White House, but when Meadows was on the Hill he always insisted that [Hutchinson] be in *every* meeting he had, no matter how small,” Brendan Buck—former counselor to Speaker Paul Ryan—said as her testimony was unfolding. “It was odd then, and doesn’t seem to be working out for him now.”

That’s an understatement. In her public testimony Tuesday—which came after hours of depositions with the committee behind closed doors—Hutchinson arguably dealt a more significant blow to Trump’s legal and political prospects than anyone in Washington. Answering nearly two hours of questions from lawmakers about her time in the White House, she described an administration well aware of the potential for violence on January 6, and a president both enraged and undeterred by setbacks in his efforts to undermine the election results. She also testified that Meadows and former Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani discussed plans for January 6 with her several days before the rally and riots and requested presidential pardons after the events of Jan. 6.

After several warnings of potential violence in the lead-up to Jan. 6, at 10 a.m. that morning White House aide Anthony Ornato briefed Meadows about the weapons supporters had brought to Trump’s rally on the National Mall—pistols, AR-15 rifles, bear spray, flagpoles with spears fixed to the end. Secret Service officers confiscated brass knuckles, knives, tasers, and gas masks. Per Hutchinson, Meadows did not look up from his phone during the briefing, but confirmed with Ornato that he’d told the president about the weapons.

At the Ellipse, Hutchinson said she overheard the president raging that much of the crowd had elected to stay outside the magnetometers Secret Service officers were using to screen for weapons, leaving the rally grounds partly empty. “I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons,” Trump allegedly said. “They’re not here to hurt me. Take the f-ing [magnetometers] away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here. Let the people in.” 

Once onstage, Trump gave a speech filled with the calls to action that White House counsel had urged him to avoid for fear of legal liability, Hutchinson testified, urging his followers to fight like hell because “you will never take back our country with weakness.” Hutchinson heard through Ornato and other security officers that protestors had begun overrunning the U.S. Capitol Police, and told Meadows.

Tuesday’s testimony also cleared up one of the many remaining questions about Trump’s actions that day: He promised supporters in his speech that he’d march down to the Capitol with them, but he never showed. 

Turns out, the administration had been divided for days on whether Trump should make the trip. On January 2, Giuliani told Hutchinson the president would “look powerful” when he went to the Capitol a few days later. When Hutchinson asked her boss about the plan, Meadows told her “things might get real, real bad on January 6th.” White House lawyer Pat Cipollone had warned “We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable” if Trump went to the Capitol during the vote certification, Hutchinson testified, and asked her to make sure it didn’t happen.

But Trump wanted to go anyway, Hutchinson said, claiming Ornato told her later that as the presidential vehicle pulled away from the Ellipse—and Trump learned he was going back to the White House instead of on to the Capitol—the president made a grab for the steering wheel. When security officer Robert Engel took Trump’s arm and urged him to stop, Hutchinson relayed from Ornato’s account, the president supposedly lunged for Engel’s neck. 

Sources close to the Secret Service told multiple news outlets on Tuesday that they do not dispute Hutchinson’s claim Trump was irate and demanding to be taken to the Capitol, but added that Engel is reportedly prepared to testify under oath that the president never physically attacked him. Both Engel and Ornato have reportedly spoken to the January 6 Committee behind closed doors, but none of that testimony was made public on Tuesday.

Regardless, the episode wouldn’t have been the first of Trump’s outbursts, Hutchinson testified. In December 2020—when then-Attorney General Bill Barr told the Associated Press that the Department of Justice had found no widespread election fraud—Trump allegedly reacted to the report by hurling his lunch across the West Wing dining room. She heard the noise and came in to find a shattered porcelain plate and ketchup dripping down the wall, and grabbed a towel to help the valet wipe it up.

Back at the White House after the Ellipse rally, Cipollone burst through Hutchinson’s office to tell Meadows that rioters had almost breached the Capitol and Trump needed to make a statement to stop them. “He doesn’t want to do anything,” Hutchinson recalled Meadows saying. 

“Mark, something needs to be done or people are going to die, and the blood’s going to be on your f-ing hands,” Cipollone replied, per Hutchinson.

Meadows and Cipollone walked down the hall to see Trump in the West Wing dining room, and when Hutchinson went to tell Meadows he’d received a phone call from Rep. Jim Jordan, she overheard them discussing rioters’ calls for Vice President Mike Pence to be hanged. When Meadows and Cipollone returned, Hutchinson recalls Cipollone saying they needed to do something more about the calls for Pence’s death. “He thinks [Pence] deserves it,” Meadows replied, according to Hutchinson. “He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong.”

Rather than defending Pence, Trump tweeted the vice president didn’t have enough courage. “As an American, I was disgusted [after reading the tweet],” Hutchinson said Tuesday. “It was unpatriotic. It was un-American. We were watching the Capitol building get defaced over a lie.”

After Hutchinson’s testimony concluded, Rep. Liz Cheney shared anonymous quotes suggesting Trump’s allies may have been intimidating people called to testify before the committee over the past several months. “They have reminded me a couple of times that Trump does read transcripts and just to keep that in mind as I proceeded through my depositions and interviews with the committee,” one witness reportedly said. 

“[A person] let me know you have your deposition tomorrow,” another reported being told. “He knows you’re loyal, and you’re going to do the right thing when you go in for your deposition.”

If Hutchinson received any such messages, they didn’t prevent her from testifying—and opening herself up to heightened scrutiny and a world of unpleasantness. Responding to (and denying) her claims in real time, Trump blasted out 14 “Truths” on his Twitter-like alternative social media platform as the hearing wore on, labeling Hutchinson a “phony,” a “whacko,” a “third-rate social climber,” and “bad news.”

“I hardly know who this person, Cassidy Hutchinson, is, other than I heard very negative things about her (a total phony and ‘leaker’),” Trump posted, claiming he never said Pence deserved to be hung, never grabbed the limousine steering wheel, and never threw his food at the wall. “Her body language is that of a total bull…. artist. Fantasy Land!”

It wasn’t just Trump—or the Secret Service—pushing back against Hutchinson’s recollections. A spokesman for former White House attorney Eric Herschmann told ABC News last night that a handwritten note Hutchinson claimed to have written on January 6 was actually penned by Herschmann. And Mark Meadows’ lawyer, George Terwilliger, said yesterday he believes Tuesday’s testimony wouldn’t “withstand five minutes of even basic cross-examination of where the knowledge comes from, precisely who said what to whom, and whether or not it’s firsthand knowledge.” Asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper yesterday whether the committee had corroborating evidence to support Hutchinson’s claims about Trump’s confrontation with a Secret Service agent—which she heard from someone else—Rep. Jamie Raskin seemed to suggest they did not, only that they haven’t seen anything to contradict it.

But in a statement issued last night on the Herschmann dispute, a spokesman for the committee argued that focusing on minor discrepancies is to miss the forest for the trees. “The committee has done its diligence on this and found Ms. Hutchinson’s account of this matter credible,” they said. “While we understand that she and Mr. Herschmann may have differing recollections of who wrote the note, what’s ultimately important is that both White House officials believed that the President should have immediately instructed his supporters to leave the Capitol building.”

There’s also a key difference between Hutchinson’s claims and the pushback she’s facing. “Ms. Hutchinson testified, under oath, and recounted what she was told,” Jody Hunt—onetime chief of staff to former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Hutchinson’s new lawyer as of earlier this month—pointed out. “Those with knowledge of the episode also should testify under oath.”

Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s chief of staff prior to Meadows, thinks that’s increasingly likely. “My guess is that before this is over, we will be hearing testimony from Ornato, Engle, and Meadows,” he said yesterday. “This is explosive stuff. If Cassidy is making this up, they will need to say that. If she isn’t, they will have to corroborate. I know her. I don’t think she is lying.”

And Mulvaney was far from the only Trump White House alum to have Hutchinson’s back on Tuesday. “Anyone downplaying Cassidy Hutchinson’s role or her access in the West Wing either doesn’t understand how the Trump WH worked or is attempting to discredit her because they’re scared of how damning this testimony is,” Sarah Matthews—former deputy press secretary and Trump 2020 spokeswoman—tweeted.

As David noted in yesterday’s French Press, Trump’s allies have good reason to be scared. “After Cassidy Hutchinson’s courageous testimony, the case for prosecuting Trump is stronger than it’s ever been before,” he concluded, citing potential incitement charges and the allegations of witness tampering. Cheney—vice chair of the committee that will be tasked with deciding whether to make criminal referrals to the Justice Department—shared the article on Twitter.

Back in 2018, Hutchinson—then a senior at Christopher Newport University—spoke to her college newspaper about her experience interning at the White House the previous summer, and how it shaped her outlook on life. “I have set a personal goal to pursue a path of civic significance,” she said. “I am confident I will be an effective leader in the fight to secure the American dream for future generations, so they too will have the bountiful opportunities and freedoms that make the United States great.”

Worth Your Time

  • In National Review, Mark Rodgers and Kiki Bradley outline what they’re calling a “Marshall Plan” for the pro-life cause. “Over the years, we have written on federal policies that we consider ‘pro-life’ that support pregnant women, not just policies that restrict abortion. This line of thinking is no longer a luxury of thought for pro-lifers like us,” they write. From outlawing workplace discrimination against pregnant women, to allowing undocumented pregnant women to access healthcare services without fear of deportation, to supporting federal programs like WIC and Sen. Mitt Romney’s revised child tax credit, Rodgers and Bradley put forth ten concrete proposals they believe will help foster a culture of life. “Are we ready for what we wished for? From our experience, through a network of faith-based organizations and crisis-pregnancy centers, the pro-life community has always been supportive of women who find themselves in an unwanted pregnancy. But now is the time to increase our commitment and, through public resources, help carry the load that we are asking many women to bear.”

  • In the wake of recent Supreme Court decisions, there have predictably been calls from students to have Justice Clarence Thomas removed from his role at George Washington University Law School, where he teaches constitutional law. Not gonna happen. “Because we steadfastly support the robust exchange of ideas and deliberation, and because debate is an essential part of our university’s academic and educational mission to train future leaders who are prepared to address the world’s most urgent problems, the university will neither terminate Justice Thomas’ employment nor cancel his class in response to his legal opinions,” administrators wrote in an email to the GWU community. “Justice Thomas’ views do not represent the views of either the George Washington University or its Law School. Additionally, like all faculty members at our university, Justice Thomas has academic freedom and freedom of expression and inquiry. … Just as we affirm our commitment to academic freedom, we affirm the right of all members of our community to voice their opinions and contribute to the critical discussions that are foundational to our academic mission.”

  • For Axios, Jonathan Swan details Donald Trump and Mike Pence’s strikingly different reactions to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. “On Friday, as soon as the Supreme Court announced its decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Pence’s team was ready to be first out of the gate with an instant reaction. His organization instantly released a video celebrating the decision and Pence’s role in making it happen. The video recalled Pence’s history fighting against abortion, long before he became vice president. Nowhere in the video is Trump mentioned by name,” Swan writes. “Trump’s initial response was strikingly different. Usually eager to claim credit for himself, he told Fox News that ‘God made the decision,’ when he was asked whether he felt he played a role in the reversal of Roe v. Wade after having appointed three conservative justices to the Supreme Court. In the Fox News interview, Trump said the ruling ‘will work out for everybody.’ … These statements mask Trump’s private doubts about the political implications of the ruling, according to sources with direct knowledge of the former president’s private comments. Soon after Politico published its explosive leak last month of the Supreme Court’s draft decision to overturn Roe, Trump told confidants the decision could be bad for Republicans in an election year.”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Also Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • In Tuesday’s Uphill, Haley dives into possible congressional responses to the fall of Roe, from implementing federal abortion restrictions or protections to passing pro-family policy like Sen. Mitt Romney’s Family Security Act.

  • This week’s Sweep (🔒) focuses on the politics of the Dobbs decision. “I haven’t seen the data to convince me that abortion will affect the midterm election either way,” Sarah writes. “The fundraising bump for Democrats would be meaningful only if they weren’t going to raise sufficient money otherwise.” Plus: Inflation, how partisanship skews poll results, Republican gains with Latino voters, and Rep. Michael Guest’s GOP primary in Mississippi.

  • The case for prosecuting Donald Trump got a lot stronger on Tuesday, David argues in yesterday’s French Press. “For law enforcement to indict a former president (and perhaps the frontrunner for the 2024 GOP nomination) would set a grave and potentially dangerous precedent,” he writes. “But there is another precedent that is perhaps more grave and more dangerous—deciding that presidents are held to lower standards of criminal behavior than virtually any other American citizen.”

  • On last night’s Dispatch Live, Sarah, Steve, Jonah, and David provided their reactions to Cassidy Hutchinson’s explosive January 6 testimony and discussed the fallout of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. Dispatch members who missed the conversation or want to listen again can access a video or audio recording by clicking here.

  • On the site today, Foundation for Defense of Democracy fellow James Brooke and adviser Ivana Stradner have an analysis on how NATO can help the Baltics in light of Russian aggression, Jonah explores how conservatism may splinter absent the glue of opposition to Roe, Charlotte covers extremist violence against Christians in Nigeria, and Price recounts Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony. 

Let Us Know

Do you think Trump’s actions are finally going to catch up with him this time, legally and/or politically? Or will Hutchinson’s testimony prove to be the latest example of this phenomenon:

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.