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Trump’s Flailing, Angry Desperation on Jan. 6th

Four standout moments from Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony.
June 30, 2022
(Photos: GettyImages)

The January 6th hearings have pursued several questions: What crimes were committed in the plot to overturn the 2020 election? Could Donald Trump be prosecuted? What laws should be changed to prevent a recurrence? But the hearings have also illuminated the former president’s sheer moral pathology. We knew he was a narcissist. But with each revelation, we’re learning the depth of his indifference to others.

Consider four moments from Jan. 6th, outlined in Tuesday’s testimony from former Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson.

1. “They’re not here to hurt me.”

Hutchinson recalled a conversation she had heard in the VIP tent at Trump’s Jan. 6th rally on the Ellipse. Trump had just been told that many people at the rally site were choosing not to go through the event’s metal detectors—and therefore wouldn’t be visible in pictures or video of the crowd—because they had weapons, which the detectors would catch.

They have weapons that they don’t want confiscated by the Secret Service,” Trump’s deputy chief of staff for operations, Tony Ornato, had explained to Trump, according to Hutchinson’s testimony. “And they want to march straight to the Capitol from the Mall.”

Trump “was angry at that, that we weren’t letting people through the mags [magnetometers] with weapons,” Hutchinson told the committee. “I overheard the president say something to the effect of, ‘I don’t effing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the effing mags away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here. Let the people in. Take the effing mags away.”

Minutes after that conversation in the tent, Trump went onstage and spoke to the crowd, telling them, “We’re going to walk down to the Capitol.”

Trump expressed no concern that the weapons might be used against Congress. In fact, he wanted his followers to proceed to the Capitol without having to be disarmed. All he cared about was that the weapons wouldn’t be used against him.

2. “I’m the effing president.”

Hutchinson described an incident that was relayed to her by Ornato in the presence of Bobby Engel, the head of Trump’s Secret Service detail. Hutchinson said she was told that Trump wanted to go to the Capitol after the rally. But when he got into a presidential vehicle to leave the rally, Engel told him that the driver was taking him back to the White House instead. “We don’t have the assets” to go to the Capitol, Engel explained to Trump. “We’re going back to the West Wing.”

The hearing didn’t clarify what Engel meant by not enough “assets.” But the Secret Service isn’t just responsible for protecting the president. It’s also responsible for the safety of the vice president, the vice president-elect, and certain other public officials. So in addition to guarding Trump, agents had to consider the risks to Mike Pence and Kamala Harris, who were in the Capitol and were targets of the crowd’s wrath.

Trump didn’t seem to care about any of that. He thought the agents should do whatever he wanted. According to Hutchinson’s account, he flew into a rage and “said something to the effect of, ‘I’m the effing president. Take me up to the Capitol now.’”

Since the hearing, there have been reports that Engel and Ornato dispute the extent of Trump’s physical rage in the car. But there’s no dispute about what Trump said. According to the New York Times, Secret Service officials say that Engel, Ornato, and the driver “are prepared to confirm . . . that Mr. Trump demanded his agents bring him to the Capitol so he could join his supporters, even after they emphasized the dangerous scene playing out there.”

Trump simply couldn’t comprehend that he was part of a country and that the agents served that country. He thought the job of the Secret Service was to serve his whims.

3. “Mike deserves it.”

As violence was underway at the Capitol, Hutchinson witnessed a conversation at the White House between Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone. The two men had just been talking with Trump. According to Hutchinson, Cipollone told Meadows “something to the effect of, ‘Mark, we need to do something more. They’re literally calling for the vice president to be effing hung.’” And Meadows replied with “something to the effect of, ‘You heard him, Pat. He thinks Mike deserves it. He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong.’”

Trump couldn’t accept that Pence’s oath was to the Constitution. He thought the vice president, like the Secret Service, existed only to serve Trump.

4. “This is bigger than you.”

During Hutchinson’s testimony, the committee played a video message from Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher. The video, created and tweeted by Gallagher during the attack, begged Trump to call off the mob. “Mr. President, you have got to stop this,” Gallagher pleaded. “The election is over. Call it off. This is bigger than you. . . . It is about the United States of America, which is more important than any politician. Call it off. It’s over.”

But Trump didn’t call off the mob. It took him more than an hour to ask his followers to go home, and when he did, he praised them and repeated that the election had been stolen—the very lie that had inspired their violence. He didn’t understand that anything could be bigger than him.

The committee might not persuade any of Trump’s supporters that he committed crimes related to Jan. 6th. And the Justice Department’s investigation of the plot might not end with Trump being indicted or convicted. But the hearings have made it abundantly clear that he’s morally incapable of serving in any job that requires concerns for others. Nothing matters to this man but himself.

William Saletan

William Saletan is a writer at The Bulwark.