The June 28th testimony of Ms. Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, before the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol (the “Committee”), stands for itself. Anyone who hasn’t either seen or heard about it, and the manner in which it implicates former President Donald Trump and Mr. Meadows in a coup to overthrow the United States government, has been living in a cave deep underground. She made an excellent witness. As I watched it, the same thought occurred to me as has been noted by various commentators: it was, along with former White House Counsel John Dean’s testimony during the Watergate hearings, arguably the most compelling testimony ever rendered before Congress. Perhaps the most dramatic if not the most significant part of the testimony was Ms. Hutchinson’s account of a White House aide, Tony Ornato, describing to her, in the presence of the head of Mr. Trump’s Secret Service detail, Bobby Engel, how Mr. Engel had told Mr. Ornato that after Mr. Engel informed the former president following his speech at the Ellipse that the Secret Service was not taking him to the Capitol, Mr. Trump lunged for the wheel of his Presidential limousine in a rage and then struck at Mr. Engel when Mr. Engel attempted to restrain him.
And yet: I am troubled by the report that Mr. Engel and the (as yet unidentified) member of the Secret Service agent driving the limousine are willing to testify that the events in the limousine did not occur.
Although I spent very little time in the courtroom in my career, it is among the most basic premises of trial work that when you are confronted with very damaging testimony, if you can discredit any part of the testimony, it casts doubt upon the witness’ entire account.
It is a lawyer’s point to note that it is not inconsistent for Ms. Hutchinson to have testified truthfully about what Mr. Ornato told her in Mr. Engel’s presence while at the same time, the incident in the limousine did not in fact occur. Even so, such a fine distinction will be lost in the controversy that will arise if Mr. Engel or the limousine driver testifies before the Committee (and at this point, the Committee will have no choice but to let these gentlemen testify live on television if the report regarding their prospective denials is accurate) that Mr. Trump neither reached for the wheel nor accosted Mr. Engel. Mr. Trump’s defenders will use any such testimony by Mr. Engel and/or the limousine driver to discredit Ms. Hutchinson’s entire account.
The Committee has been so thorough and its presentations have been so compelling that it is frankly hard for me to believe that the Committee – which didn’t need the portion of Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony regarding the limousine incident to establish the most incriminating evidence against Mr. Trump and Mr. Meadows it has yet presented – would include it without corroboration of the incident by Mr. Engel or the limousine driver, or, at the very least, corroboration from Mr. Ornato or Mr. Engel of the exchange Mr. Hutchinson testified to.
I guess we’ll see.