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A Tale of Three January 6 Misdemeanors: Steve Bannon, Baked Alaska, and Hatchet Speed

After pundits have spent 18 months complaining (falsely) that DOJ was only pursuing misdemeanor cases against January 6 culprits, at least a dozen media outlets assigned reporters to cover the week-long misdemeanor contempt trial for Steve Bannon. The triumphal coverage of Bannon’s guilty verdict will, I fear, continue to misinform viewers about the impact of this guilty verdict.

Bannon’s was almost certainly not the most important development in a January 6 misdemeanor case last week.

That’s true, first of all, because Bannon won’t go to prison anytime soon. After Judge Carl Nichols excluded most defenses Bannon would pursue, Bannon’s attorneys spent their time laying a record on issues they’ll raise in an appeal. Some are frivolous — about the make-up of the committee, about whether Bennie Thompson signed Bannon’s subpoena, about Bannon’s last-minute stunt to pretend he was cooperating. But one of the grounds on which Bannon will appeal, on whether he could rely on his attorney’s advice in blowing off the subpoena, is one about which Nichols agrees with Bannon — indeed, Nichols stated that he agreed over and over, as Josh Gerstein laid out.

Perhaps the most central figure in Bannon’s conviction Friday and the key to his potential victory in any appeal is a long-dead Detroit mobster and bootlegger, Peter “Horseface” Licavoli.

Licavoli died almost four decades ago and spent time in federal prison on a colorful variety of charges, including tax evasion, bribery and trafficking in stolen art. However, it was his refusal to testify to Sen. Estes Kefauver’s 1951 hearings on organized crime that produced a legal precedent central to Bannon’s case.

A decade later, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a contempt-of-Congress conviction against Licavoli, ruling that he could not rely on his lawyer’s legal advice as a defense.

While the precedent was set 61 years ago, U.S. District Court Carl Nichols concluded it is still good law and, as a result, Bannon could not use the advice-of-counsel defense. The ruling also undercut Bannon’s ability to argue that executive privilege excused him from showing up in response to the subpoena.

However, Nichols said on several occasions before and during the trial that he thinks the Licavoli case may well be wrong under modern legal standards, but he was compelled to apply it anyway.

“I was bound by D.C. Circuit precedent that I’m not even sure is right,” the Trump-appointed judge said Thursday.

Now, Bannon’s lawyers will face the task of trying to get the decision overturned or deemed irrelevant, something that may require getting Bannon’s case in front of the full bench of the appeals court or even taking it to the Supreme Court.

In reality, Bannon’s attorney told him — BEWARE — that his failure to comply would get him referred for prosecution. Bannon was warned he’d go to jail for blowing off this subpoena.

But the facts of whether Bannon really relied on his attorney’s advice would not get adjudicated until after the DC Circuit — and after it, SCOTUS — have a chance to review the precedent. And since Nichols agrees with Bannon that the precedent stinks (and since Bannon is a white collar criminal), he’s virtually certain to let Bannon stay out of jail for his appeal.

So Bannon is probably not going to jail for at least a year. And the precedent of this conviction — showing that the legal system allows a well-lawyered defendant all sorts of ways to stall a misdemeanor sentence — is not one that’s likely to persuade the few remaining people whom it would cover, most notably Peter Navarro and Ginni Thomas, to plead out or cooperate (members of Congress defying subpoenas will have entirely different reasons to challenge one, and people like Tony Ornato have already cooperated, in limited form, with the January 6 Committee).

Meanwhile, there were two other misdemeanor cases of probable greater significance to holding the perpetrators of January 6 accountable.

The first is Friday’s guilty plea of Anthime “Baked Alaska” Gionet for the standard parading charge most other misdemeanants plead to.

Gionet won’t be going to jail anytime soon, either: his sentencing is set for January 12. Though, given Gionet’s difficulties of late staying out of legal trouble, it is noteworthy that his plea includes the standard condition that committing a crime while his sentencing is pending could void the entire plea.

As noted, Gionet’s plea is just the standard misdemeanor plea that hundreds of other January 6 rioters have already pled to. But both Gionet’s public claims that the government was threatening Gionet with an obstruction charge if he did not cooperate, and the discussion at his aborted plea hearing in May, make it clear that this was one of the misdemeanor pleas in which the government obtains limited cooperation on the front end, in Gionet’s case, probably in the form of sharing communications that would otherwise require decryption (Brandon Straka, whose sentencing memo included reference to a sealed cooperation description, is the most notable of these pleas, but Proud Boy Jeff Finley also seems to have gotten one; a continuation in Finley’s sentencing “to fully evaluate the nature and seriousness of the defendant’s misconduct” suggests he may not be as cooperative as the government expected). Gionet’s plea was originally offered in December with a deadline of January 7, 2022. It seems to have taken some months to fulfill the terms of the deal. Gionet got cute at his first change of plea hearing in May, and proclaimed his own innocence, which almost got him in a place where the government could use the information he proffered in his own felony charges. Publicly, then, Gionet’s plea only means we’re deprived of the amusement of watching him continue to fuck himself, as he did in May; but behind the scenes, DOJ seems to believe he helped the overall investigation, likely by providing evidence against other movement extremists who made the attack on the Capitol successful but who did not enter it.

These misdemeanor plea deals offer less public hint at what the government got in exchange (which may be one reason DOJ likes them). Gionet’s statement of offense focuses mostly on the abundant evidence to prove that he knew he shouldn’t be in the Capitol, as well as the evidence DOJ would have used to prove an obstruction charge against him (which they would now have sworn allocution to if Gionet tries to renege again).

Unsurprisingly for an asshole like Gionet, it is full of the kind of inflammatory rhetoric that has really offended Judge Emmet Sullivan, who is presiding over Gionet’s case, when sentencing other January 6 trespassers. Among other things, Gionet admitted to saying:

  • “Let’s go, 1776”
  • “We are the Kraken, unleash the Kraken … trust the fucking plan, let’s go.”
  • “This was a fraudulent election, we’re standing up for the truth, God’s truth.”
  • [Speaking through a broken window to other rioters] “Come in, let’s go, come on in, make yourselves at home.”
  • [Speaking into the phone in a Senator’s office] “We need to get our boy, Donald J. Trump, into office. … America First is inevitable, let’s go, fuck globalists, let’s go.”
  • [In another Senator’s office, probably Jeff Merkley’s] “Occupy the Capitol, let’s go, we ain’t leaving this bitch.”
  • [To the cops telling him to leave] “You’re a fucking oathbreaker, you piece of shit, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, you piece of shit, you broke your oath to the Constitution, fuck you.”

With both Gionet and Straka before him, DOJ seemed to have abundant evidence to prove an obstruction case, and the pundits complaining about the misdemeanor pleas might be better served asking whether DOJ is getting enough value from these misdemeanor pleas to justify not charging someone as toxic as Gionet with a felony.

I wrote more about the various ways DOJ is using misdemeanor pleas to advance the investigation here.

But we won’t be able to weigh that soon, if ever. For now, though, DOJ seems to believe they got enough cooperation from a key influencer to let him avoid a felony conviction (though I would be shocked if Sullivan let him avoid prison altogether).

The way DOJ has been using misdemeanor prosecutions to advance the overall investigation is important background to something that happened in the case of Hatchet Speed last week. Until his arrest, Speed was a Naval petty officer and cleared defense contractor for National Reconnaissance Office.

The investigative steps described in Speed’s arrest affidavit suggest that after FBI identified him via the Google GeoFence (he was usually masked when in the Capitol), they used an undercover FBI officer to meet with him, during which meetings he provided contradictory but damning explanations for his actions on January 6, including that he went to insurrection with some Proud Boys.

During this meeting, SPEED admitted that he entered the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, and that he “made it to the Rotunda down below.” SPEED told UCE-1 that going to the Capitol on January 6 “was always the plan.” He explained, “We would listen to Donald Trump then all of us would go to the Capitol. Now the reason we were going to the Capitol was to protest what was going on in the Capitol… what they were doing was counting the ballots.”

On March 22, 2022, SPEED met with UCE-1 again. During that meeting, SPEED provided further details about his activities at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. SPEED stated that he went to the Capitol on January 6 with friends who were members of the Proud Boys, with whom he keeps in contact. 1 SPEED blamed “Antifa” for breaking windows and entering off-limit areas of the Capitol, and he blamed the police for using tear gas in a manner to force the crowd into the off-limit areas.

SPEED also blamed Antifa for knocking down fencing around the Capitol. He described walking over fencing and worrying about tripping, but not knowing that he was trespassing at the time.

SPEED claimed that he and the others initially did not intend to enter the Capitol. He said that his plan was to be outside the Capitol and listen to speeches “for the 12 hours it would take to do the 2-hour rebuttal for each of the 6 contested states.” However, SPEED explained, “what the FBI did in advance is they arrested or threatened all the people they knew were going to be the speakers so that there would be no leadership. They wanted to make sure there was no one there…they wanted to maximize the possibility of violence.”

[snip]

SPEED further told UCE-1 that “there was this staircase leading up to the Senate side, where like we knew it was ‘off limits’ because that was, also the staircase was covered by the structure they’d set up the inauguration…and so, we were like we don’t need to go up there. We’re not here to go in the building. We’re just here to make a statement ‘we are here and we are paying attention’…but, the ANTIFA kept sending people up the staircase and trying to get people to come and we’re all like ‘no, we’re not going to follow you’…”

SPEED decided to go up the staircase because he was “tired of getting tear gassed.” Once up the staircase, SPEED claimed he intended to stay outside the Capitol Building at “this huge portico porch thing which can hold a couple thousand people.” However, SPEED said, he got tear gassed again. He also heard that Vice President Mike Pence had “validated” certain ballots they considered “invalid.”

SPEED described Pence’s act as a betrayal. SPEED stated that, at that point, he “was like, ‘I’m going in there. Like I have no respect for people in this building. They have no respect for me. I have no respect for them.’” SPEED stated, “[S]o we all went in and we took control. Like, when you have that many thousands of people, like there’s nothing the cops can do…it’s impressive.” [my emphasis]

The visual confirmation of Speed’s presence in the Capitol — from a moment when he let down the mask he had gotten on Amazon on December 3 — relies on video that Gionet took (though that’s fairly common).

This is the kind of guy — a cleared defense contractor who went to the insurrection with some Proud Boys “with whom he keeps in contact” — whose cooperation DOJ has used fruitfully in the past. He’s also the kind of guy who presents the ongoing urgent concern about our Deep State being riddled with militia sympathizers.

Perhaps because of the ambivalence of Speed’s comments to the undercover officer, though, he was charged just with trespassing. His case was assigned to Trevor McFadden, the Trump appointed judge who has long suggested, evidence to the contrary, that DOJ was treating January 6 rioters unfairly as compared to lefty protestors.

McFadden has long criticized DOJ’s continued charging of misdemeanor cases, partly because he thinks it treats January 6 trespassers unfairly, partly because it means he has to work hard. Presumably in response and possibly in an attempt to force DOJ to stop, McFadden issued a standing order for misdemeanor cases before him that requires — on threat of sanctions — an immediate plea offer and all defendant-specific discovery within a week of the initial status hearing.

The Government is required to provide all “defendant-specific” discovery information to the Defense by the Initial Status Conference or within one week of the Defense request for reciprocal discovery under Fed. R. Crim. P. 16(b)(1), whichever is later. Regardless of any Defense request, the deadline for disclosure of any information covered by LCrR 5.1 is the Initial Status Conference. 1 Failure to strictly follow these timelines may result in sanctions, including likely Dismissal for Failure to Prosecute. The Government is also expected to provide any plea offer that it intends to make no later than the Initial Status Conference.

This makes it impossible for DOJ to use misdemeanor charges as an investigative tool. And the deadlines McFadden imposes, plus his explicit statements making it clear he will let misdemeanants off easy, makes it virtually impossible to use misdemeanors to obtain cooperation, too.

In a hearing on Thursday, McFadden made it clear that he does intend to impose sanctions if DOJ fails to meet the discovery deadline, even in spite of two specific characteristics of this case: that it involves classified discovery (which is not surprising given that Hatchet had clearance) and that DOJ seized 22 devices when they arrested Hatchet, some of which are encrypted. To add to the near impossibility that DOJ can comply with McFadden’s orders, the AUSA in this case, Alexis Loeb (who is prosecuting a number of Proud Boy and Proud Boy adjacent cases) is in San Francisco, so it’s not like she can go sit in Quantico to speed up the exploitation of Hatchet’s devices.

There’s a bit of a loophole here, in that even the standard misdemeanor pleas require sharing ones devices with the FBI, so to take advantage of what would surely be a punishment free plea deal, Hatchet might be required to open his devices for the FBI.

McFadden has, in the past, rewarded a January 6 defendant for espousing civil war. Here, he seems set to ensure that a Naval petty officer with ties to the militia that led the attack on the Capitol likewise escapes accountability.

If that happens, it may lead DOJ to rethink its charging patterns accordingly.

Update: Corrected Speed’s rank.

Cassidy Hutchinson Is a Superb Witness — to Get Other Witnesses against Trump

According to a CNN report of Pat Cipollone’s testimony, the January 6 Committee did not ask him whether he told Cassidy Hutchinson that (as she testified), if “we” didn’t prevent Trump from going to the Capitol on January 6, “we” would get charged with every charge imaginable.

Two people familiar with former Trump White House counsel Pat Cipollone’s testimony Friday told CNN that the House select committee investigating January 6, 2021, did not ask him if he told then-White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson the day of the attack that they would “get charged with every crime imaginable” if they went to the US Capitol.

If asked, he would not have confirmed that particular statement, the sources said.

A separate source familiar with the committee told CNN, “The select committee sought information about Cipollone’s views on Trump going to the Capitol on January 6,” implying that the committee’s questions were focused on Cipollone’s perspective as opposed to his take on other witness’ testimony.

[snip]

Cipollone told the committee on Friday that he wasn’t giving legal advice to staff regarding movements on January 6. This came up during his testimony as part of a question not relating to the specific anecdote from Hutchinson.

It doesn’t mean that he didn’t say such a thing. Indeed, other outlets have said that he didn’t contradict anything she said. It means that, thus far at least, one of the six to ten witnesses who would be important witnesses to charge Trump for crimes beyond the obstruction and conspiracy charges framework DOJ has been explicitly pursuing since August is thus far unwilling to recall some of the more damning details of Hutchinson’s testimony. He may have reason to avoid it! After all, the pardons he was a party to before the insurrection — most importantly of Mike Flynn and Roger Stone — may implicate him in the later events, no matter how hard he tried on January 6 to prevent more bloodshed.

That’s an important detail to keep in mind as you read this NYT story, which has led the usual suspects to claim that DOJ has done nothing to pursue a Trump investigation.

The electrifying public testimony delivered last month to the House Jan. 6 panel by Ms. Hutchinson, a former White House aide who was witness to many key moments, jolted top Justice Department officials into discussing the topic of Mr. Trump more directly, at times in the presence of Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco.

In conversations at the department the day after Ms. Hutchinson’s appearance, some of which included Ms. Monaco, officials talked about the pressure that the testimony created to scrutinize Mr. Trump’s potential criminal culpability and whether he intended to break the law.

Ms. Hutchinson’s disclosures seemed to have opened a path to broaching the most sensitive topic of all: Mr. Trump’s own actions ahead of the attack.

Department officials have said Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony did not alter their investigative strategy to methodically work their way from lower-level actors up to higher rungs of power. “The only pressure I feel, and the only pressure that our line prosecutors feel, is to do the right thing,” Mr. Garland said this spring.

But some of her explosive assertions — that Mr. Trump knew some of his supporters at a rally on Jan. 6, 2021, were armed, that he desperately wanted to join them as they marched to the Capitol and that the White House’s top lawyer feared Mr. Trump’s conduct could lead to criminal charges — were largely new to them and grabbed their attention.

Even while many took from this that DOJ is not investigating, the article — written by Katie Benner, probably the journalist with the best sources at the top of DOJ across administrations, and Glenn Thrush, whose background is as a political reporter and who exhibits little understanding of DOJ matters (but who is bylined on most of the stories about AUSA Thomas Windom) — also reported that Windom was asked to lead the fake electors investigation last fall, at least a month before Lisa Monaco confirmed it and possibly much earlier than that. It also describes that Merrick Garland was briefed on an “influencer” strand of the investigation in March 2021, which is consistent with when we know DOJ obtained Brandon Straka’s phone providing information on the Stop the Steal listserv, the VIP treatment, and possibly even events at the Willard.

Mr. Sherwin presented Mr. Garland with a strategy that included four teams of prosecutors, labeled A through D: “Team B,” already staffed by 15 lawyers, had begun looking into “public influencers and officials” linked to the attack, according to a copy of a memo shared with The New York Times.

There are strands of the investigation not mentioned in this — such as the Sidney Powell investigation, which started no later than September 2021, the way DOJ got a privilege review for Rudy Giuliani’s phones that would go through the insurrection, or the way Roger Stone has been a key focus of the Oath Keeper investigation since March 2021. And the piece doesn’t describe Monaco’s own public statement the day after Hutchinson’s testimony, which claimed, at least, that DOJ is “deep” into its January 6 probe.

All that said, I don’t doubt that Hutchinson did make DOJ consider previously unconsidered investigative next steps and I have even less doubt that former Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt, the lawyer who shepherded Hutchinson through her more expansive testimony to the Committee in late June, has been in touch with DOJ.

But back to the Cipollone point with which I started: As I noted in my review of Hutchinson’s testimony, she gave absolutely crucial firsthand testimony about Cipollone, Mark Meadows, and Tony Ornato, as well as damning comments about Rudy Giuliani and Scott Perry, but with a few exceptions, those men were and are still the ones who would have the firsthand testimony about what Trump said and did. I noted, too, that on the topic about which Hutchinson had the most important firsthand knowledge of Trump’s mindset — his demand that the Secret Service take down metal detectors so his armed supporters could enter the official venue for his speech — she acknowledged his motivation stemmed in significant part from his narcissism.

Hutchinson’s testimony on a really critical point includes some ambiguity. In conversations at the White House and then later at the rally, Trump saw the crowd on January 6 and was furious more of his supporters weren’t inside the arena. He was aware many supporters were staying outside the arena because they didn’t want to go through the magnetometers because they had weapons. He asked to ditch the magnetometers because “they weren’t there to hurt him.” This detail is most important because it reflect[s] knowledge on Trump’s part they were armed, before he riled them up and sent them to the Capitol. But in a trial, he would excuse letting them into the rally itself by pointing to his long-standing crowd narcissism, exhibited most famously at his inauguration.

Read that post! It holds up! Including my point that her testimony will be most valuable for getting the testimony of others like Cipollone and Ornato, and it’ll make whatever charges DOJ uses to coerce Meadows’ cooperation more onerous and therefore more likely to be effective.

I also noted that Hutchinson’s testimony would not have been available in its current form without the process she has been through since February, which has since been laid out in detail in this piece. That process not only involved replacing the lawyer Trump provided her with, Stefan Passantino, with Hunt, but also depended on growing trust with Liz Cheney.

Now unemployed and sequestered with family and a security detail, Ms. Hutchinson, 26, has developed an unlikely bond with Ms. Cheney, a Wyoming Republican and onetime aide to former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell during the George W. Bush administration — a crisis environment of another era when she learned to work among competing male egos. More recently, as someone ostracized by her party and stripped of her leadership post for her denunciations of Mr. Trump, Ms. Cheney admires the younger woman’s willingness to risk her alliances and professional standing by recounting what she saw in the final days of the Trump White House, friends say.

[snip]

Over the next months, Ms. Hutchinson warmed to the idea of helping the committee’s investigation, according to a friend, but she did not detect the same willingness in Mr. Passantino.

“She realized she couldn’t call her attorney to say, ‘Hey, I’ve got more information,’” said the friend, who requested anonymity. “He was there to insulate the big guy.”

Mr. Passantino declined to comment.

At that point Ms. Hutchinson got in touch with Ms. Griffin, who had been cooperating with the committee herself. Ms. Griffin passed on Ms. Hutchinson’s concerns to Barbara Comstock, a former Republican congresswoman and outspoken critic of Mr. Trump. In an interview, Ms. Comstock said that she could have predicted Ms. Hutchinson’s predicament, recalling how she had once talked a young man out of joining the Trump administration. “I said, ‘You’re going to end up paying legal bills,’” Ms. Comstock recalled.

Ms. Comstock offered to start a legal-defense fund so that Ms. Hutchinson would not have to rely on a lawyer paid for by Trump affiliates. But this proved unnecessary. Jody Hunt, the former head of the Justice Department’s civil division under Jeff Sessions — Mr. Trump’s former attorney general and another pariah in Mr. Trump’s world — offered to represent her pro bono. Mr. Hunt accompanied Ms. Hutchinson to her fourth deposition in late June, when she felt more comfortable talking about Mr. Trump’s actions on Jan. 6. Everyone agreed it was time to speed up her public testimony.

Two realities have now taken hold for Ms. Hutchinson. One is that she will continue to offer information to the Jan. 6 committee, with Mr. Hunt as her counsel and Ms. Cheney as the committee’s designated interlocutor to her.

For better and worse, we’re all better off that Hunt will be sitting in on her DOJ interviews than Passantino, but we might not have gotten to this place without the involvement of Liz Cheney and other people, like Barbara Comstock, with whom this site has a very long contentious relationship.

So Hutchinson represents real progress — which is what the NYT story says! But the NYT story also makes clear that DOJ will continue to investigate known crimes, not people.

Days after Hutchinson’s testimony, I started but never finished a post attempting to revisit this framework for how DOJ seems to be approaching the investigation, included below in italicized type. They key point is that for each “nice to have” there’s the cooperation — coerced or voluntary — of a key witness who worked directly with Trump. Cassidy Hutchinson is not that witness. But she offers a way to get to those witnesses with a greater likelihood of success.

The other day, I noted that, while Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony was courageous and powerful, many of the details she provided would need additional corroboration (from people like Pat Cipollone, who has since been subpoenaed) before being used to prosecute Donald Trump. Nevertheless, her testimony has led people who haven’t followed the investigation to again engage in speculation that Merrick Garland is sitting in an office somewhere pondering whether to push the “indict Trump” button or not. That misunderstands how such a decision would work.

That’s true, first of all, because it would not be Garland’s button to push. It would be a team of AUSAs working for DC US Attorney Matthew Graves, who would first get Graves’, then Lisa Monaco’s, and only then Garland’s approval. If and when Trump is charged, DOJ will be able to point to some career AUSAs (including Thomas Windom, whom NYT described the other day as someone who clerked for a conservative judge) who made the initial prosecutorial decision.

At this point, too, I think the question is not whether Garland (or, rather, the AUSAs) are sure they can convict Trump et al.

Every single thing in the public record shows they’re still taking steps to pursue that investigation, in part by seizing more records and in part by obtaining the witness testimony they would need. A prosecution becomes far easier if Pat Cipollone cooperates, not least because — Hutchinson’s testimony revealed — he warned ahead of time that Trump was exposed with the very same crimes that DOJ has been pursuing against everyone since last summer. Cipollone could be compelled by DOJ to testify, but there’s no sign yet that he has been. I presume Cassidy Hutchinson’s lawyer, Jody Hunt (who was Assistant Attorney General under Trump and who saw how badly Trump treated his boss, Jeff Sessions) is already in discussions about arranging her cooperation with DOJ, and the kind of detail she provided about what Cipollone will get DOJ a step closer to where they would be ready to get Cipollone’s testimony.

Everything that’s public (and I’m sure there’s a lot that’s not) suggests DOJ is working towards five kinds of conduct that Trump would exposed on: 1) coordination — through Stone and, Tuesday’s testimony confirms something I’ve been virtually the only one reporting since early 2021, Rudy — with the militias 2) plans with Stop the Steal that significantly involve Alex Jones’ role in bringing bodies that the militias used to occupy the Capitol 3) the fake electors plot, which is the illegal manifestation of the larger Big Lie 4) pressure on Mike Pence, which includes both an illegal order and real threats of violence 5) the separate illegal request of Brad Raffensperger (which could be charged in GA as early as this week [note: This did not happen, and/but also she appears to have expanded her scope significantly]).

DOJ is making visible signs of progress with many of these prongs, but some of those visible signs suggest any charging decision would be six months away at least. The reason Garland has not pushed a button marked “indict” yet, or why AUSAs haven’t presented a package for approval up a bureaucratic chain of command, is because before DOJ indicts they need to have both the comms in hand, as well as the cooperating direct witnesses to Trump’s actions and intent.

The Men Disputing Cassidy Hutchinson’s Retelling of Trump’s SUV Lunge Got Warnings about Plans to Flood the Capitol

Since Cassidy Hutchinson’s startling testimony on Tuesday, credulous journalists have reported anonymous sources pushing back against one of her most dramatic stories: that when told he was not going to the Capitol on January 6, Donald Trump lunged towards the steering wheel of the SUV taking him back to the White House and then went after the clavicle of the head of his detail, Bobby Engel.

On top of being anonymous, the pushback never disputed Hutchinson’s claim: that she was told this story by Tony Ornato, the Secret Service Officer that Trump elevated into an important political position at the White House, Deputy Chief of Staff, in front of Engel, who did not dispute the story. Plus, Alyssa Farrah has described that Ornato, in the past, has disputed things she said under oath (about Trump’s stunt in Lafayette Square), without himself going under oath.

Nevertheless, that anonymous pushback has distracted from a far more alarming detail in Tuesday’s testimony that Ornato and Engel have not disputed, neither on or off the record: that they got warnings about plans to occupy buildings in DC and, implicitly, warnings about Proud Boy involvement.

That revelation came just before Hutchinson affirmed a detail I’ve been almost alone in reporting for over a year: Not just Roger Stone, but also Rudy Giuliani, had links to the Proud Boys.

Cheney: US Secret Service was looking at similar information and watching the planned demonstrations. In fact, their Intelligence Division sent several emails to White House personnel, like Deputy Chief of Staff Tony Ornato and the head of the President’s protective detail Robert Engel, including certain materials listing events like those on the screen.

Cheney: The White House continued to receive updates about planned demonstrations, including information regarding the Proud Boys organizing and planning to attend events on January 6. Although Ms. Hutchinson has no detailed knowledge of any planning involving the Proud Boys for January 6, she did note this:

{video}

Hutchinson: I recall hearing the word[s], “Oath Keeper,” hearing the word[s], “Proud Boys,” closer to the planning of the January 6 rally when Mr. Giuliani would be around.

The reference to Ornato and Engel is among the first in Tuesday’s hearing: while Cheney had previewed Hutchinson’s interactions with Ornato and the Secret Service in her introduction, this reference was the first substantive description of Ornato’s activities. That description, as well as Hutchinson’s explanation of how she told Trump’s National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien that Ornato had had a conversation with Mark Meadows about the warnings of violence, came even before Cheney cued Hutchinson to explain what an important role the Deputy Chief of Staff played.

Some time later, the hearing revealed texts between Hutchinson and Ornato reflecting the latter’s awareness that Trump’s supporters were trying to avoid the metal detectors.

Importantly, Cheney mentioned something about this text exchange that doesn’t appear in the texts shown on the screen: a discussion between the two of them — Hutchinson and Ornato — about an “OTR,” an “off the record” movement to get Trump to the Capitol. The Committee appears to be withholding precisely what those texts say — involving Trump personally, and so colorably covered under Executive Privilege.

That may not be the only thing the Committee withheld from its presentation: note in my transcription above that Cheney doesn’t say Ornato and Engel received the warnings that were flashed on the screen. She says they received, “certain materials listing events like those on the screen.” [my emphasis] Particularly given the reports that the Committee met in a secure facility in advance of this hearing, that phrasing could allow for other records, records too sensitive to show publicly, tying the Proud Boys to plans to occupy buildings on January 6.

The story of Trump lunging in the SUV is a distraction, and Ornato, a loyal Trumpster, is likely using his pushback to distract from far more damning details of Hutchinson’s testimony:

  • Both Engel and Ornato had warnings of plans to occupy buildings
  • Hutchinson linked Rudy Giuliani in advance of the attack to both militias that attacked the Capitol
  • Ornato discussed these warnings in advance with Mark Meadows, who pushed Hutchinson away twice during the early moments of the attack
  • In spite of foreknowledge of a plan to occupy buildings and the involvement of militias, Ornato nevertheless continued to plan to take Trump to the Capitol

Secret Service loyalists, for all their anonymous pushback, are denying none of these far more damning details, details that put them — and Meadows and Trump — in far more complicit position with respect to the attack.

Cassidy Hutchinson Proves that Trump Knew the Mob He Sicced on Mike Pence Was Armed

Cassidy Hutchinson just gave absolutely historic testimony implicating Donald Trump, Mark Meadows, and other in January 6. (My live tweet is here.) The woman is incredibly poised and courageous. Her testimony might help to turn the tide against Trumpism in this country.

But her testimony is not enough, yet, to charge Trump in January 6.

Without taking anything away from her dramatic testimony, I’d like to boil down what she said that will be useful in holding Trump accountable.

She only recently committed to delivering this testimony

The Committee announced Hutchinson’s testimony just yesterday, less than 24-hours before her testimony, in spite of the fact that she had already sat for three interviews with the committee, as well as a fourth quite recently. The decision to testify was so recent that members of the Committee had to fly back from their recess to attend.

A key reason she was willing to testify more forthrightly, it seems clear, is she recently (earlier this month) replaced her lawyer from a Trump loyalist to Jody Hunt. Hunt, once Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Chief of Staff, is still a conservative Republican, but he has spent years holding up principle against Trump.

Particularly given his ties to the department, it’s likely that Hunt will happily guide Hutchinson to share this testimony with DOJ.

For those asking why DOJ didn’t have this testimony earlier, the answer is simple: It has taken a process for Hutchinson to get here.

She is a firsthand witness to important details

A number of things Hutchinson said are damning direct evidence against Trump or others. But it’s important to break that down, because while all of it would be admissible in a conspiracy, not all of it would be admissible against Trump.

  • In a conversation on January 2, Giuliani told Hutchinson Trump was going to go to the Capitol; when she asked Meadows about this, he said “things might get real bad on the Sixth.” This implicates both Rudy and Meadows in foreknowledge, though not Trump directly.
  • Hutchinson provided evidence that there was intelligence warning of violence (and that John Ratcliffe knew about it); she did not say — though it’s likely — that Meadows and Trump had the same awareness.
  • Hutchinson described that there were mentions of militia in advance in discussions implicating Rudy in advance of the insurrection. These would need to be more specific to be worthwhile evidence, but she may be able to point DOJ to where to get more specifics.
  • Hutchinson described advance knowledge of Trump supporters bringing weapons both in advance of January 6 and that day. Hutchinson specifically said that Meadows did not act on these warnings. She also made it clear that Deputy Chief of Staff Tony Ornato had spoken to the President about the weapons, but she did not say she knew what happened in that conversation.
  • Hutchinson’s testimony on a really critical point includes some ambiguity. In conversations at the White House and then later at the rally, Trump saw the crowd on January 6 and was furious more of his supporters weren’t inside the arena. He was aware many supporters were staying outside the arena because they didn’t want to go through the magnetometers because they had weapons. He asked to ditch the magnetometers because “they weren’t there to hurt him.” This detail is most important because it reflect knowledge on Trump’s part they were armed, before he riled them up and sent them to the Capitol. But in a trial, he would excuse letting them into the rally itself by pointing to his long-standing crowd narcissism, exhibited most famously at his inauguration.
  • Some of Hutchinson’s most damning testimony involved his insistence on going to the Capitol. Some of this — the most damning, her description of how he lunged at his Secret Service detail when he refused to take Trump to the Capitol — was second-hand. It would require Ornato or Trump Secret Service Agent in Charge Bobby Engel to present that in a trial. Plus, Trump would offer less incriminating explanations for why he wanted to go to the Capitol. Hutchinson mentioned he wanted to enter the chamber, though, which should be developed more (because he would require an invitation). The Secret Service is now pushing back on this.
  • During the rally at the Ellipse, Mark Meadows twice pushed Hutchinson away when she was trying to warn him of violence at the Capitol. This squandered 20-25 minutes in which he might have responded to the initial violence, but since he did nothing for hours anyway, it made little difference. It does, however, reflect Meadows’ own disinterest in protecting the country.
  • Hutchinson’s description of efforts to keep belligerent language out of Trump’s speech reflects on Pat Cipollone’s foreknowledge of Trump’s criminal exposure, but probably would require Cipollone’s testimony to be admissible against Trump. Hutchinson described Cipollone’s legal concerns about going to the Capitol, as well, but not necessarily that he explained that to Trump.
  • Hutchinson alluded to discussions involving Mark Meadows, Rudy, and Scott Perry about what they would have done if Trump had made it to the Capitol, but she explicitly said she wasn’t sure which of those plans were shared with Trump.
  • At Trump’s request, Mark Meadows remained in the loop with Mike Flynn and Roger Stone on January 5 which may help implicate Meadows in the militia planning; Hutchinson discouraged Meadows from attending the War Room at the Willard in person, but he did call in.
  • After the attack started Hutchinson described, Meadows telling Cipollone that “he doesn’t want to do anything,” suggesting the President didn’t want to respond at all to the Capitol attack. But that would require testimony from one or both of them to clarify the meaning.
  • Perhaps the most damning part of her testimony described that Meadows and Cipollone were in the Oval with Trump discussing the hang Mike Pence chants just before Trump put up the 2:24 tweet claiming Pence hadn’t shown courage. It’s in that conversation where Trump said, “Mike deserves it.” This goes a long way to proving the deliberate effort by Trump to put Pence at more risk. But DOJ would need another witness and/or some corroboration for the timeline to place the “Mike deserves it” comment to just before Trump sent the tweet.
  • The Committee presented some of the calls from others, including Ivanka, for Trump to call off the rioters; Hutchinson’s testimony will be one part of the evidence that Trump did nothing during the attack (though Meadows’ comment that “Trump didn’t want to do anything” may be more important to show affirmative refusal, but DOJ would need to get Meadows’ testimony on that point).
  • Hutchinson also testified that both Rudy and Meadows wanted a pardon after January 6, which implicates them, but not Trump.

Hutchinson may lead to or force the testimony of others

Whether it happens with the January 6 Committee or DOJ, Hutchinson’s is the kind of testimony that might identify witnesses who would cooperate with DOJ or against whom Hutchinson’s testimony could be used to coerce cooperation.

For example, there’s a greater (Cipollone) or lesser (Kevin McCarthy) that her testimony will embarrass or otherwise convince other witnesses to cooperate with the Committee.

Her testimony identified other White House staffers who were also witnesses to Trump’s demands that the Secret Service ditch the magnetometers or that he go to the Capitol, who would make key witnesses for DOJ.

If Ornato and Trump’s Secret Service detail have been unwilling to testify, this may make it easier to obtain their testimony.

Hutchinson’s testimony tied Rudy to the militias in advance. She also established Rudy’s foreknowledge of a plan to go to the Capitol. These might be really important details implicating Rudy (plus she was witness to some of his earlier efforts to sow the Big Lie.

Her testimony tied Meadows into the plotting at the Willard (on Trump’s orders). And she otherwise depicted Meadows as taking no action because Trump didn’t want to. The case against Meadows would/will need to be far more robust, but having testified against him publicly, she’s likely to be able to offer DOJ far more.

Liz Cheney raised witness tampering in this hearing, without naming names. It’s quite possible Hutchinson has firsthand knowledge of that.

Trump sicced a mob he knew to be armed on his Vice President

To sum up, the most important pieces of testimony show that Trump knew well a significant number of the people at his rally were armed. And after siccing them on his Vice President (and trying to join them), instead of calling them off, he instead further incited violence against Pence, claiming at the moment he did so that they were right to attack Pence.