Did "surprise witness" Cassidy Hutchinson save America from Trump's comeback?

Hutchinson makes me more hopeful for America's future — and may have sent Trump scurrying into the shadows

By Brian Karem


Published June 30, 2022 9:00AM (EDT)

Donald Trump and Cassidy Hutchinson (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Cassidy Hutchinson (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Longtime White House correspondent Brian Karem writes a weekly column for Salon.

I must confess that I've written things in the last two days I never thought I'd write — at least not in a work of nonfiction.

For example: In my most feverish nightmares I never dreamed I'd have to tell people that a former adviser to the president, a decorated retired U.S. Army general with years of service to his country under his belt, would take the Fifth Amendment when asked by a Republican member of Congress, "Do you believe in a peaceful transfer of power?"

Mike Flynn did.

Sure, many people consider Flynn an idiot. I also never thought I'd hear a witness tell us that the president of the United States blurted out, "Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen."

A witness heard Donald Trump say that. Of course, many think Trump is an idiot as well.

And I certainly never thought I'd hear about a president becoming enraged over not being allowed to join an insurrection by armed assailants at the U.S. Capitol. Trump did that too. Not even the Secret Service disputes that fact. Whether or not Trump actually tried to wrestle the steering wheel from his driver as he lunged at him is the only fact in dispute — and guess what, if you know Trump that isn't much of a stretch either. But that's not the point. He wanted to go. Who in their worst alcohol-induced, Adderall-laced, psychotic-hallucinogenic rage would ever dream of having to report this? Not I, said the cat.

RELATED: What Cassidy Hutchinson told us — and why we should have known it already

If you don't realize it yet, the nation is at war with itself. Call it what you want, but if you don't recognize that simple fact, then you're doomed to go down without a fight. And that's fine with Donald Trump, Mike Flynn, Steve Bannon, Jeffrey Clark, John Eastman, Rudy Giuliani et al., who have fought hard for a Trump authoritarian regime and won't support a peaceful transfer of power. 

That's got our northern neighbor, Canada (remember Canada?), wondering whether they'll need to erect a border wall to keep out Americans fleeing our fascist state.

Make no mistake, what we face here is a potential tyranny of the minority. For those who seek to overturn our democratic ideals under the guise of freedom, while wrapping themselves in the flag, it is all about fear and trust. They want you to fear the wrath of their imaginary God and trust them — though they obviously trust no one else. Strong with them is the dark side.

Donald Trump partnered with the most atavistic of all humans to get elected. He played the useful fool for them as they fed him an agenda he couldn't have cared less about, since he only cared about power. And Trump's power was always in promoting his brand. In God we trust — all others pay cash. That's all the trust he understands.

But his minions, like Sen. Mitch McConnell from the Commonwealth of Kentucky, want you to trust in a God billions of people on the planet don't recognize and the "good old days," circa 1920, that never existed. It was a time filled with hate, prejudice and fear — themes the Republicans enjoy and promote — and have leveraged to set the Supreme Court back more than 50 years.

We are left with a country whose most hallowed ideals have been hollowed out, swallowed and regurgitated. We are struggling with the simple notion of being a nation of laws.  

We are left with a country whose most hallowed ideals have been hollowed out, swallowed and regurgitated as an empty mantra. It is apparent that we are struggling with the simple notion that we are a nation of laws. In one of the most valiant efforts of my lifetime, it is Republicans who are dominating the witness stand during the House Jan. 6 hearings, providing the most salient testimony against members of their own party who are guilty of so many crimes they make the mob flush with envy. This is all going on in congressional hearings run by Democrats who are eagerly assisting those Republicans in telling the truth. This is bipartisanship at its most enlightened — or at least as close as we can get to it in this reality. 

Those Republicans, like the Democrats guiding the hearings, should be lauded for their efforts. Every other Republican, especially those who sought pardons after the Insurrection — or in the case of Matt Gaetz, the feckless frat boy perpetually picked last for kickball, before the insurrection — should be prosecuted, removed from Congress and condemned to daily cleanup duty in cockroach-infested Mar-a-Lago for eternity.

Donald Trump told us, "I don't care if they have weapons, they aren't here to hurt me." 

That's another sentence I never thought I'd write. 

Trump's response to Tuesday's hearing was entirely typical. He said on his social media platform that he hardly knew who surprise witness Cassidy Hutchinson was (as if that had any bearing on her ability to witness his inappropriate actions) and that she was a "complete phony." Later that day he sent out several emails to his supporters asking for more donations and discounts on a variety of swag he keeps pushing.

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

Trump's retort is similar to when Rep. Paul Gosar literally shouted, "Liar, liar, pants on fire" at Michael Cohen, after Cohen's testimony before Congress in 2019. It is juvenile.

There is no way to dismiss the spoiled-child nature of Trump's senior staff and supporters. They are much like their boss — and Trump encourages that behavior. Though these are usually men anywhere from their mid 40s to their late 60s, they act less like adults and more like recalcitrant children who just wet their pants when their wet nurse isn't around to change their soiled undies.

Juxtapose that with Hutchinson. She is 25, younger than my youngest son, and she acted more like an adult than almost everyone else in Trump's administration, who by the way made a hell of a lot more money and lived in relative splendor, compared to a junior White House staffer. 

But character is what counts, and Cassidy Hutchinson is far richer in that than Mike Pence, Pat Cipollone, Jim Jordan, John Eastman, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Flynn or any of the other freaks traveling in Dr. Trump's Wild West show. She was quiet and professional as she testified before Congress. She was the one thing Trump never has been — an adult. Her testimony is destined for the history books, and she is the greatest testament yet that it's time for the geriatric crowd to give up their hold on government in favor of younger, more vibrant yet even more grown-up voices. She's also a testament to good legal counsel — but that's another story.

The essence of Hutchinson's testimony boiled down to witnessing Trump, his chief of staff Mark Meadows and other senior officials trying to bring about a tyranny of the minority. Hutchinson said she came to her job at the White House bright-eyed and eager to cheer for Trump's policies. That was a naïve hope.

I spent four years covering that administration and I am unaware of any actual policy it pursued. Then and now, Trump's only goal is to increase his personal revenue and power at the expense of anyone and everyone else. Hutchinson came to the administration closer to the end of Trump's run than the beginning, and it didn't take her long to catch on. 

"I was really saddened as an American. I was disgusted. It was unpatriotic. It was un-American. We were watching the Capitol get defaced over a lie," she testified.

This has had a predictable effect on the QAnon crowd, not unlike smacking a hornet's nest with a baseball bat. It won't be long before Hutchinson is accused of drinking baby blood or being a lizard alien. But another former Trump chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, defended her. "I know her. I don't think she's lying," he said.  

Some have compared Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony to that of John Dean during Watergate. Dean himself says it was closer to the testimony of Alexander Butterfield, another "surprise witness."

Some called her appearance the "John Dean" moment in these hearings, referencing Richard Nixon's former White House counsel, who testified before the Watergate committee. But Dean says it more accurately resembled testimony by Alexander Butterfield, until that moment a relatively obscure deputy assistant. "In both cases they were surprise witnesses and had testimony that changed the direction of the hearings," Dean explained. Otherwise, he said, the two hearings have little in common.

"Watergate was so different and so mild. Nixon could at least experience shame," he said. After Watergate "I hoped we would not have another authoritarian president," Dean continued, "but the antiquated Electoral College, which is supposed to prevent these things from happening, gave us Donald Trump."

That would be the guy who shouted that he was "the fucking president" while urging the Secret Service to drive him to the Capitol.

With Donald Trump, it is always about him and it always has been. Hutchinson testified to witnessing the aftermath of a Trump tantrum that ended up with broken plates and ketchup on the wall. Michael Cohen spoke of numerous tantrums from a man "who never got into a fistfight his whole life," but used his temper to get his way — much like a toddler.

And there we are; a young woman, in her early 20s at the time, acting more responsible than the baby-boomer president she served. As a parent, I confess, I would be very proud of what she did.

The Jan. 6 committee hearings are the last chance we have of excising the primary infection that has spread to become a Donald Trump cancer. Should we fail, this country is headed down a very dark road, paved by the actions of a Supreme Court that has ignored well-established legal precedent in order to enact laws bound by religious beliefs and contrary to the will of the majority of Americans. The effect is to destroy the rule of law and place justice in the hands of those who oppose democracy.

Filtered through that light, Cassidy Hutchinson took on the whole authoritarian movement — not just Donald Trump — when she stepped up and testified this week.

How could a parent not be proud of that? Americans are a curious lot, I grant you. We are filled with foibles and fears, and at times the feckless fools seem to run amok. Then you see a young woman doing what we were all raised to do: Defend the rule of law. Testify honestly. Act rationally. Stand up. If that doesn't give you hope, brothers and sisters, then I don't know what will.

Now would be the time for another surprise witness: Pat Cipollone. (Well, OK: He was subpoenaed on Wednesday.) The former White House counsel is a fellow Kentucky-schooled, Roman Catholic brother. He has 10 children, a few of them approximately the same age as Hutchinson, including a daughter who once worked as a Fox News booker for Laura Ingraham. Maybe by following Hutchinson's example, Cipollone could offer an example for his own children regarding Christian integrity. "I think he's worried about losing Republican clients if he testifies," Dean explained. "They believe in retribution. He's worried about that when he should be worried about democracy."

Finally, I  once again find myself having to write sentences I never thought I'd write — until today:

On Tuesday, the House Committee hearings into the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection saw surprise testimony from former Mark Meadows aide Cassidy Hutchinson. She testified that  former President Donald Trump tried to commandeer a presidential SUV to join and lead a group of anti-democratic insurrectionists. Concurrent with her testimony and following it, Donald Trump sent emails to his supporters asking for donations while announcing an upcoming rally in Anchorage, Alaska.

It's a short flight from Anchorage to Russia. Is that where he's headed next?

He'd probably be thrilled if he were asked to go. He's still a sucker for any type of attention. 

Read more on Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony and the Jan. 6 committee:

By Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy. He has covered every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan, sued Donald Trump three times successfully to keep his press pass, spent time in jail to protect a confidential source, covered wars in the Middle East and is the author of seven books. His latest is "Free the Press."

MORE FROM Brian Karem

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Cassidy Hutchinson Commentary Donald Trump Elections Jan. 6 Committee Pat Cipollone Watergate