What a clusterfark, and what an avoidable clusterfark. The House Select Committee on January 6 had a good eyewitness in Cassidy Hutchinson, and had they stuck with what Hutchinson had personally witnessed, yesterday would have been their biggest step forward.
Instead, they decided to have her roam into the realm of hearsay, and it’s going to blow up in their faces. Allahpundit noted yesterday that sources were reporting that Donald Trump’s Secret Service detail was prepared to take the unprecedented step of publicly testifying about Trump’s actions while under their care. This morning, the Secret Service made it official — they want to be heard:
A source close to the Secret Service says both men dispute Trump grabbed the steering wheel or assaulted an agent. They do not deny that Trump was irate and demanded they drive to the Capitol. (2/2)
— Peter Alexander (@PeterAlexander) June 29, 2022
Bear in mind that the “grabbing the steering wheel” and “assaulting an agent” was not the most substantive part of Hutchinson’s testimony. In fact, it was more like a color commentary on Trump, and entirely unnecessary when the play-by-play was compelling enough. Hutchinson had testified that she personally heard Trump demanding that the magnetometers be taken down outside his rally as he didn’t object to armed people in the crowd that he would shortly send down to the Capitol. She also testified that both Mark Meadows and Rudy Giuliani began asking for pardons in the wake of January 6, which at least shows some cognizance of risk for criminal prosecution over what happened.
If those aren’t quite smoking guns or the equivalent of the Nixon tapes in this scandal, they’re still pretty close. Politically speaking, they’re devastating — if Hutchinson remains credible. All of these are single-person eyewitness reports, not backed (as of yet) by documentary evidence or corroborating testimony. A seasoned prosecutor would have remained disciplined in ensuring Hutchinson didn’t risk her credibility as a witness by indulging in speculation or passing along gossip within her testimony.
Instead, the committee had Hutchinson testify to what Tony Ornato told her about Trump, the steering wheel, and an assault rather than have Ornato testify to that directly. It looks like that part of Hutchinson’s testimony was false, which means that the rest of her testimony will be viewed as suspect, and the fault is the committee’s rather than the witness’. Why not call Ornato for that purpose? Better yet, why not ask the driver and the other Secret Service agent to check that story first before making your star witness look like a gossipy fool on the national stage?
Not for nothing, but this is also a great example of why hearsay is mainly excluded from criminal trials as well. It’s unreliable and it’s prejudicial.
This is also why committee investigations work best when both parties have full representation on the panels. A better-constituted panel might have pulled back and questioned the strategy; the presence of at least a couple of adversarial members would have at least given the committee leaders some pause about using Hutchinson in this manner.
Instead, they will almost certainly now need to call the Secret Service agents to undermine their star witness’ most explosive testimony. The Secret Service’s statement this morning is all but a demand to set the record straight, and the committee can’t afford to be seen as obstructing that process. They will have to sit there and watch the agents dismantle Hutchinson’s hearsay without any way to stop it.
It’s an entirely avoidable clusterfark, and one that has its roots in the very start of the select committee process when Nancy Pelosi opted for a partisan tilt and balked at the normal appointment process. It’s not necessarily fatal to the committee’s work, but it’s going to take a big bite out of their own credibility in the end.
Update: That may not be the only challenge to Hutchinson’s credibility. And this one goes to Hutchinson’s direct testimony, not hearsay:
Former Trump White House lawyer Eric Herschmann is claiming that a handwritten note regarding a potential statement for then-President Donald Trump to release during the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was written by him during a meeting at the White House that afternoon, and not by White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, sources familiar with the matter tell ABC News.
At Tuesday’s Jan. 6 committee hearing, Rep. Liz Cheney displayed a handwritten note which Hutchinson testified she wrote after Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows handed her a note card and pen to take his dictation.
Sources familiar with the matter said that Herschmann had previously told the committee that he had penned the note.
“The handwritten note that Cassidy Hutchinson testified was written by her was in fact written by Eric Herschmann on January 6, 2021,” a spokesperson for Herschmann told ABC News Tuesday evening.
Hoo boy. If that’s the case, then the committee is sloppier than previously imagined.