WASHINGTON, D.C. (WGHP) – Mark Meadows, the former member of Congress from North Carolina who rose to be the final chief of staff for President Donald Trump, asked the president for a pardon for the activities of Jan. 6.
That was just the concluding postscript to 2 hours of powerful, riveting testimony on Tuesday by Cassidy Hutchinson, a former chief assistant to Meadows, before the House Select Committee investigating the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2001, the day Congress convened to certify the Electoral College votes confirming Joe Biden had won the 2020 presidential election.
Hutchinson, a veteran of Republican staff work, testified that you can add Meadows and attorney Rudy Giuliani to the list of people – including several members of Congress – who asked the White House for unilateral pardons for their actions or inactions related to that day, when more than 100 were injured and seven ultimately lost their lives.
Meadows was described by Hutchinson as doing really nothing while rioters stormed the Capitol and in the days leading up to that date, when reports of threats of violence were delivered by the Secret Service and the National Security Adviser’s office.
But Hutchinson’s testimony was even more damning to Trump, describing how he wanted magnetometers to be removed so armed protestors could get into the TV frame at the rally on the ellipse, saying, “They aren’t here to hurt me.”
She told about Trump’s attempts to take the steering wheel of “The Beast” and drive himself to the Capitol when he was told by the Secret Service he couldn’t go there following his speech, of his assaulting the chief of his Secret Service detail when he told him to let go of the wheel.
“’I’m the f-ing president,’” she said witnesses told her Trump said. “’I’ll go where I want to.’”
She told of Trump, hearing chants from the rioters about hanging Vice-President Mike Pence, that “he deserves it.”
She described how Trump resisted requests to call off the demonstrations, how he changed the words his advisers wanted him to say, of how he wanted to pardon the rioters because they did nothing wrong.
She told of helping wipe ketchup off the wall of the White House dining room when Trump heard Attorney General Barr saying there was no voter fraud and throwing his lunch against the wall, of other instances of broken plates and destroyed table settings.
All of this after she said Meadows had done very little to persuade Trump to give up his futile and fabricated efforts to overturn an election he lost by millions of votes to Biden.
For North Carolinians this was Meadows’ moment on the witness stand. He has provided text messages and other documents to the committee but then cut off cooperation, citing president privilege, before publishing his own account of those events, some of which were refuted by Hutchinson’s direct testimony.
Hutchinson described a meeting on Jan. 2, 2021, among Giuliani, Meadows and others. She later walked with Giuliani to their vehicles. She said he asked, “Cass, are you excited about the 6th? It’s going to be a great day.”
“I said, ‘Rudy, what’s happening on the 6th?’”
“He said, ‘We’re going to the Capitol. It’s going to be great. The president will be there. He will be powerful.’”
She said she knew she had to ask Meadows about that. She often described feeling uneasy about what she was hearing. She said she found Meadows in his office, sitting on the couch and scrolling his phone. She said she told him she just had an “interesting conversation with Rudy” and recounted it.
“’There’s a lot going on, Cass,” she said Meadows responded. “’Things might get real, real bad on Jan. 6.’
“Before Jan. 2 I was apprehensive about the 6th. I had heard tentative plans for a rally and tentative plans to go to the Capitol.
“That evening was first moment I remember feeling scared and nervous about what could happen on Jan. 6.”
In her testimony in both three prior taped interviews and under direct questioning, primarily from Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming), one of two Republicans on the committee, she described a series of conversations before Jan. 6 that raised alarms about what could happen that day.
She described a conversation with John Ratcliffe, the former director of national intelligence, that occurred in December of 2020, when he said he was concerned about the White House’s efforts to push the false claims of election fraud.
“He was concerned it could spiral out of control and potentially be dangerous for our democracy or for the way things should be going for the 6th,” Hutchinson said. “He felt there could be dangerous repercussions. He was hoping we would concede.”
She recalled how Robert O’Brien, the former national security adviser to Trump, called and asked if he could speak with Meadows “about potential violence he was hearing going to happen on Jan. 6th.
She said Deputy White House Chief of Operations Tony Ornato, who had been and is again a Secret Service officer and then was in charge of all security at the White House, talked to Meadows about Jan. 6.
“Mr. Ornato had talked to him about intelligence reports … that there could potentially be violence on the 6th,” she said. “There were reports on Jan.5 and 6 about potential violence. There were police reports about weapons seized.”
She said on Jan. 5 that Trump instructed Meadows to contact two of his disgraced colleagues whom he had pardoned, Roger Stone and Michael Flynn, about what would happen on Jan. 6. She said she had heard that Giuliani, attorney John Eastman and others had set up a “war room” at the Willard Hotel.
She said Meadows intended to go there and had a conversation with the Secret Service about a travel plan “so he could work with Mr. Giuliani in the war room at Willard.
“I didn’t believe it was a smart idea. I was not sure of everything going on. I didn’t think this was something appropriate for the White House chief of staff to participate and being involved.
“A few more times he mentioned going up there and eventually dropped the idea and said he would dial in instead.”
On Jan. 6
There were people near the rally at the ellipse on Jan. 6 who had AR-15s and Glocks and bear spray and spears, Meadows was told. Some of them were in trees. They wouldn’t go through the magnetometers because they didn’t want their weapons seized, as is required by the Secret Service.
She described a meeting at about 10 a.m. on Jan. 6 with Meadows and Ornato. She said Meadows was sitting on his couch on the phone when they arrived.
“When Tony and I went in to talk to Mark … Tony got right into it … told him about weapons … brief but concise but fairly thorough explanation,” she said.
“I remember Mark not looking up from his phone. I remember Tony finishing his explanation.
“I said, ‘Mark did you hear him?’
“He said, ‘Anything else?’ And kept looking at his phone. Looked up and said, ‘Have you talked to the president?’
“He [Ornato] said yes. He [Meadows] said, ‘Good.’”
She said Trump was furious about the weapons and the screening because he wanted the arena on the Ellipse to be maxed out of attendees. He was angry about extra space and wanted more people to come in.
‘Every crime imaginable’
Hutchinson talked about conversations with White House Counsel Pat Cipollone about the possibility that Trump would go to the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“Mark had raised going to Capitol on Jan. 6,” he said. “Cipollone had a brief conversation and said we have to stop this from happening. … There are extreme legal issues. Mr. Cipollone thought Mr. Meadows was pushing this along with the president.
“’Please make sure we don’t go up to the Capitol, Cassidy,” she quoted him saying. “’We are going to be charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen.’
“He talked about obstructing justice or obstructing the electoral count.”
The speech on the Ellipse
Hutchinson said she was backstage with other officials during Trump’s speech at the Ellipse that morning, when he urged protestors to march to the Capitol and promised that he would march there with them.
But it was during that time that there were phone conversations with Ornato about the need to notify Meadows about the crowd marching toward the Capitol and growing outside.
“Make sure the chief [Meadows] knows they were getting out of control, that we are having trouble stacking bodies [security personnel],” she said.
“It was becoming clear to us and the Secret Service that they were being overrun at Capitol,” she said.
Did she tell Meadows about the situation? Cheney asked her.
“Mr. Meadows was in a secure vehicle. I went to open the door to let him know. He immediately shut it. I don’t know who he was speaking with. He wouldn’t do this. I was taken aback.
“About 20 to 25 minutes … there was another period when he shut the door again. … By then there was a backlog of information he should have been aware of.”
What was Meadows’ reaction?
“He almost had a lack of reaction,” she said. “I remember him saying, ‘All right. … How much time does the president have left in his speech?’”
Meadows had written in his book that Trump’s plan to go to the Capitol was meant metaphorically. Hutchinson’s descriptions about what happened when Trump was told he couldn’t go to the Capitol clearly showed that it was Meadows who was talking metaphorically. Trump intended to go, hated no for an answer and, she said, blamed Meadows when he couldn’t go.
‘A bad car accident’
On Jan. 6, she said, “Mark was alone in his office for quite some time. … I remember he was alone for most of the afternoon.
“Around 2 o’clock to 2:05 … watching TV … I could see rioters were getting closer and closer to the Capitol.
“I went into his office. He was sitting on the couch. On his cell phone … scrolling, typing. I said, ‘Are you watching TV, chief?’
“He said, ‘Yeah.’
“The rioters are close. Have you talked to the president?
“’No, he wants to be alone right now.’
“I was getting frustrated. I felt like I was watching a bad car accident about to happen. You can’t stop it, but you want to do something.
“I said, ‘Mark, he needs to step out of this. … He needs to care. Do you know where [Rep.] Jim [Jordan] is at right now? He said ‘no.’ I point at the TV … rioters are getting close.
“He said, ‘All right, I’ll give him a call.’”
Shortly after that – a couple of minutes – she said she saw Cipollone, that he was shaking his head and opened Meadows’ door.
“He stood there with the door propped open. Mark is still sitting on his couch on his phone,” she said. “I could hear him saying that rioters have gotten to the Capitol. ‘We need to go down and see the president now.’
She said Meadows replied that “’He doesn’t want to do anything.’
“’Something needs to be done,’” she said Cipollone said. “People are going to die. It’s going to be on your f-ing hands.’”
She said Meadows stood up and walked down to the dining room, that he told her to let him know if Jordan called.
Jordan did call around 2:15 or so, she said, and she went looking for Meadows and found him in the dining room.
“In the background I heard conversations in the dining room talking about ‘Hang Mike Pence’ chants,” she said. “Counsel and the president were discussing it.”
She said after the call, a few minutes later, that Cipollone, Meadows and Eric Herschmann, another lawyer in the counsel’s office, returned.
“I remember Pat saying, ‘Mark, we need to do something more. They are literally calling for Pence to be hung.’”
She said Meadows responded: “’You heard him. … He thinks Mike deserves it. … He doesn’t think they were doing anything wrong.’”
The final statement
Hutchinson said that after Trump’s message went out about Pence, that he didn’t have the courage to do what was right, she realized how wrong everything weas.
“As a staffer that works always to represent the administration to best of my ability, to showcase good things he had done for the country … I was feeling frustrated and disappointed.
“As an American I was disgusted. It was unpatriotic. It was unAmerican. We were watching the Capitol building to be defaced over a lie.”
She described in detail the discussions and reviews of Trump’s messages to rioters that day and following the next morning. There was language stricken that Trump didn’t want to say. There was discussion of the 25th Amendment.
But she also described one thing that was clear. He wanted to pardon all those rioters, feeling that “only Mike Pence did anything wrong.”
Giuliani was interested in a pardon that day, she said.
Did Mark Meadows seek a pardon? Cheney asked her.
“Yes, he did.”