Tuesday’s hearing of Cassidy Hutchinson by the U.S. House Investigative Committee into the Capitol assault has produced evidence for the first time that could prove Donald Trump’s criminal guilt. One element in particular of the testimony of this young Republican is at the center of the debates: what happened in the presidential car on January 6, 2021?
A steering wheel and a turning point in the investigation. An incident in the presidential car, recounted Tuesday, June 28 by Cassidy Hutchinson, a new star witness for the US Parliamentary Committee in charge of the investigation into the assault on the Capitol, which is becoming the key moment of this hearing at the multiple explosive revelations for the pro-Trump camp.
It is a story that can both have serious political and legal consequences for Donald Trump and that the allies of the former American president are also brandishing to question the credibility of Cassidy Hutchinson.
A president “like enraged”
This fateful January 6, 2021, Donald Trump got into the presidential car after giving his now famous speech in which he encouraged his troops to challenge by all means the result of the presidential election, lost two months earlier. Donald Trump then thought of going to the Capitol where the crowd was supposed to gather.
When he learns that the Secret Service agent who was driving is actually taking him back to the White House, the outgoing president is said to have “become enraged and shouted that he was the ‘whore’ [sic] of president and that it was necessary to bring him to the Capitol”, said Cassidy Hutchinson. Faced with the refusal of the agent to comply with his demands, Donald Trump would then have tried to take control of the steering wheel by force, even threatening to seize the driver by the throat to achieve his ends, specifies this young woman who was the assistant of Mark Meadows, the chief of staff of Donald Trump.
This anecdote proves that the former president “wanted to be physically with the demonstrators who were preparing to invade the Capitol”, estimates Jean-Éric Branaa, lecturer at the University Panthéon-Assas and specialist in politics and American society. A desire to guide his troops far from being trivial on the legal level. “This can be used to prove in criminal proceedings that there was a desire on the part of the ex-president to incite violence”, underlines the Vox site which questioned several American lawyers on the consequences for Donald Trump of these serial revelations.
It’s a story all the stronger because “the way Cassidy Hutchinson talks about it suggests that this incident demonstrates that even for a pro-Trump like her, the president has gone too far,” says Jean-Éric Branaa.
The Achilles heel of Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony
But paradoxically, this battle for the steering wheel of the presidential vehicle is also the Achilles heel of Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony. “The problem is that she did not attend this scene and is content to repeat what another person – present in the car – told her. Donald Trump’s allies take the opportunity to accuse him of not doing than repeating rumours”, summarizes Jean-Éric Branaa.
The former president himself used this story as a pretext to qualify Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony as “false”, “fraudulent” and from a “sick” mind. Several conservative media have assured that the Secret Service agent at the wheel “was ready to testify that the story is false”, notes the British Daily Mail.
On Fox News, the ultra-conservative channel of the Murdoch empire, the star columnists – Laura Ingraham, Jesse Waters or even Sean Hannity – have been following one another for two days to ensure that this young woman is ready to do anything to have her moment of glory. …including lying about what happened on January 6th. “If they manage to cast doubt on the version of the facts put forward by Cassidy Hutchinson on this point, it is a big step forward to question his general credibility as a witness”, assures Jean-Éric Branaa.
“The pro-Trump camp has decided to pull out the heavy artillery to denigrate her because her testimony marks a turning point in the course of the parliamentary committee hearings,” he adds.
Towards criminal proceedings against Donald Trump?
Mark Meadows’ ex-assistant is the first to provide evidence that can be used “to directly incriminate Donald Trump in the context of possible criminal proceedings”, adds this expert. So far, the commission has essentially tried to demonstrate that there was indeed a plot to foment a coup to keep Donald Trump in power.
The parliamentarians only accused two lawyers of the ex-president – Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman – of having hatched plans to have the results of the election annulled. They appear as the main scapegoats who would be “criminally prosecuted for sedition and incitement to violence”, recalls the New York Times. Thanks to Cassidy Hutchinson, commission members and critics of the former president can expect much more.
She also witnessed discussions involving Donald Trump which “prove that he knew that demonstrators were carrying weapons, that he knowingly asked that the metal detectors be deactivated to let them attend his meeting and that he did not did nothing when these armed demonstrators forced the entrance to the Capitol”, enumerates Jean-Éric Branaa. The testimony, more disputed because it is second-hand, of the car incident suggests that Donald Trump was even ready to lead the motorcade.
These new elements could in any case convince the Attorney General of the United States (the equivalent of the Minister of Justice) to open criminal proceedings for incitement to violence against the ex-president, assures Renato Mariotti , a former federal prosecutor interviewed by the Washington Post.
“I wouldn’t like to be in the shoes of Merrick Garland [le procureur général des États-Unis, NDLR] right now,” says Jean-Éric Branaa. It’s up to him to decide whether the elements put forward before the commission are sufficient evidence to launch a procedure that will push Donald Trump to his last entrenchments.
Trump’s political end in sight?
“He is not going to sit idly by if he is officially indicted. He will surely try to mobilize his electoral base, which can lead to riots and violence in a country as divided as the United States” , warns Jean-Éric Branaa. This is why he thinks that there are probably debates in very high places in Washington to assess whether it is better not “not to prosecute the former American president in the name of the higher interest of the State “, notes this expert.
Anyway, these hearings mark the beginning of Donald Trump’s political end, he wants to believe. “Republicans urgently need to find a new leader, because there is a feeling of fed up with Donald Trump which is taking hold,” he said.
A poll, released Wednesday, June 29, shows that there are now 32% of conservative voters who think that Donald Trump should be prosecuted. Even if that means that a large majority of Republicans are still hostile to the work of this commission. “It’s a figure that remains enormous given the popularity that the ex-president had within his party”, notes Jean-Éric Branaa.
In Colorado, the right-wing primaries to nominate candidates for the midterm elections in November 2022 also had results contrary to the interests of Donald Trump, Tuesday, June 29. Two of his favorites – who openly claim that Joe Biden is not a legitimate president – have failed in the face of Republicans who have criticized the allegations of electoral fraud dear to Donald Trump. Proof that support for the outgoing president and his conspiracy theories is no longer the magic ingredient that has made the electoral fortune of more than one Republican candidate in the past.
And that’s just the beginning. Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony prompted the Parliamentary Commission to summon new witnesses… starting with the girl’s former boss: Mark Meadows. “The hearing of this character very close to Donald Trump hierarchically will be a great show that will set audience records”, assures Jean-Éric Branaa. It’s a safe bet that for once the ex-president would prefer a television show around him to flop.