This is only 19 seconds, but it may be my favorite exchange in all movies. It's a famous clip, so I'm sure many, if not most people here have seen it. But it's so wonderful that sometimes you just want post brilliance for the pure joy of it. Such things make life seem better.
The movie in question is Dinner at Eight, made all the way back in 1933. But in the 89 years since, through all the following years, the exchange remains a gem.
It's not just great for it's famous payoff -- both the line and delivery -- but the pure physicality of Marie Dressler's double-take at the beginning, in response to nothing more than a simple comment, is in competition as the best-ever in movies and for my taste if the scene ended right there, after just four seconds, this still might be my favorite movie exchange. That it has a topper to even that great joke makes it legendary. And Jean Harlow's matter-of-fact performance allows the scene to transcend from just a dumb blonde joke.
And then, yes, there's that classic payoff punchline, set up with comic timing from Dressler that is a Master Class. All beautifully written with a screenplay by Frances Marion and Herman J. Mankiewicz, based on the play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber. Directed by George Cukor.
I know that one shouldn't overpraise things because it's hard to live up to. I'm okay with heavy praise for the scene. Indeed, it's how the movie ends. This is 19 seconds of filmmaking that shows the joy and majesty of simplicity and wit.
Bear with me offering a few paragraphs of background. It's important to help set up why I think what Cassidy Hutchinson testified to was at worst almost-entirely correct. And that if the two Secret Service agents involved testify under oath to correct the story, they can only confirm almost everything that she said.
Cassidy Hutchinson testified under oath before the Select Committee hearing for an hour-and-a-half on Tuesday. By all accounts, her appearance was impressive, detailed and credible. It encompassed damning evidence about many of those around Trump, an awareness that something major was planned for January 6, as well as what may have been crimes by Trump, including that he was demanding that armed members of the mob be allowed to bypass metal detectors.
And for all that, pretty much the only thing the far-right media and Trump enablers can talk about is one story that she said was told TO her about Trump confronting Secret Service agents in a car. Again, to be clear, she never said the story was true (nor that it wasn’t) – just that it was told TO her in front of one of the agents involved, who never contradicted the story at the time.
One would think that if you wanted to defend someone accused of demanding that security officials "take the f-ing mags away" to let an armed mob join him on an Insurrection march to the U.S. Capitol to overthrow the government, you would do all you could to dispute that assertion of a federal crime to undermine democracy, rather than only dispute a single, almost insignificant story about grabbing a steering wheel. But then, that's jut me. If they think getting one story wrong (and there’s no evidence that she did get it wrong, more on that in a moment) discounts all her testimony, they have a woefully poor idea of how testimony works. Further, if they think all her other testimony is untrue – or even any of it – you’d think that’s what they’d attack (most especially that part about, y'know, letting the "f-ing" armed Insurrection join him to overthrow the government), not a story about grabbing a steering wheel. But I guess a drowning man will grab at anything floating by, even a piece of seaweed.
Which brings us to the news that the two Secret Service agents she testified about – Tony Ornato and Bobby Engel – are prepared to testify to correct the record. Putting aside that both men are known to be huge, massive Trump supporters and likely don't want him painted in a bad light, it remains to be seen if they will testify. Ornato in particular has a terrible reputation for what's considered his willingness to lie. After all, Trump once said that he would testify in the past over some issue, and shockingly he never did. And Ginni Thomas said she looked forward to testifying – but shockingly now says she isn’t inclined to. So, maybe the two Secret Service agents will testify and maybe they want.
But let’s assume they do testify. And if they do, all they would possibly be able to contradict (the only thing) is not that Ms. Hutchinson was lying about Trump’s actions, since she wasn’t claiming to be present, but only that the story Ms. Hutchinson said was told TO her was not true.
Furthermore, if the agents testify, then since both were present when the story was told TO her (Ornato told it, in fact, and Engel listened) they will actually confirm that what she said under oath is 100% true – that that story was what, in fact, was told TO her, and that Engel did not contradict it at the time.
In other words, if she got the details of the confrontation in the car slightly wrong, then that’s only because the person telling it (Tony Ornato) told it slightly wrong.
Is it possible that Cassidy Hutchinson got the story completely wrong and that none of it was told to her by Ornato with Engel’s silent agreement? This is where I’d normally say, to be fair, sure it’s remotely possible. Except this time I can say – no, it is not even possible.
Because, you see, Bobby Engel has already testified to the Select Committee in private. And some details of his testimony were reported by Politico. Among them is that Engel testified, under oath, that Trump had insisted he wanted to go to the Capitol on January 6 but that Engel said he "took different views on the topic" and so they drove back to the White House.
Which is the foundation of exactly what Cassidy Hutchinson testified was told TO her.
So, if Engel and Ornato do end up testifying under oath, they can’t see she made it all up and got it all wrong. They can only testify that the story was, indeed, told TO her, and that she got the foundation of the story right. Just perhaps, at worst, she remembered some of the details wrong. Or that Ornato himself didn’t tell the story accurately, perhaps to embellish it to make it sound better, more exciting. And that she was right about Engel not contradicting the story, but that was only because he didn’t want to embarrass his boss in front of others. At worst.
On the other hand, they could also rephrase the story now so that the basics of what Ms. Hutchinson said are completely true but just not as bad-sounding so that it doesn’t embarrass Trump. Like, “He was upset because he wanted to join the crowd, and I had a different view, so he leaned towards the front seat to make his case, at which point I blocked him for his protection, and our arms got crossed. Tony just told the story more dramatically.”
Though, since Cassidy Hutchinson testified under oath at risk of penalty of perjury that the more dramatic story is precisely what Ornato told TO her and that Engel didn’t contradict it at the time, and given that none of her actually-damning testimony about possible criminality of an armed Insurrection has been contradicted, it’s fair to assume that she got it spot-on right.
But yeah, let’s focus on the steering wheel. When that’s all you’ve got.
A few weeks back, I posted a medley of Jim Henson's favorite songs that the Muppets performed, a couple of which were songs based on poems by A.A. Milne put to music by Harold Fraser-Smith. And I followed that up here with the story of an album of those songs performed by Frank Luther.
One of the songs in the Muppet medley was "Halfway Down," a favorite of mine from the Frank Luther album -- but I couldn't find a video of it. What I did find, though, was a recording of the song sung by...Gene Kelly! It's seemingly from an album that Kelly made, though I can't swear to it. Someone put his recording to a montage of Kelly's movie clips.
Two things leaped out for me with Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony yesterday. First, for any Republicans trying to smear her, she worked for Steve Scalise, Mark Meadows and in the Trump administration. And second, what a remarkable 25-year old woman with poise, intelligence and courage, who exuded utter credibility.
Okay, a third thought also leaped out. What a shame that was all wasted on working for such far-right policy makers. But at least they had a smart, courageous and poised young woman to give them a sense of perspective.
For all her explosive testimony, what stuck out for me was almost the very first thing she discussed. That on January 5, she was walking with Rudy Giuliani who enthusiastically was telling her about what a great day it was going to be the next day. Now, there was only two event taking place the next day – certifying the electoral votes to make Joe Biden and a rally to complain about it. The first of those is no reason for anyone in the Trump administration to be giddy, and the second (saying how upset you are that you lost) isn’t either. The only thing that can make a Trump official excited about January 6 is if he was aware something big was planned to change things. Which means the Insurrection was not an angry gathering that got out of control, but planned by those at the top. (As a side note, what also stood out is that she kept referring to him as “Rudy,” so clearly she knew him well.)
And related to this is that the very next thing in her testimony is that when she told her boss Mark Meadows, chief of staff to Trump, about this odd conversation with “Rudy,” he didn’t even react. Which pretty much suggests he, too, knew this was planned. The fact that he intended to go to the rally "war room" at the Willard only supports that. And the fact that it took her, his 25-year-old aide with far more integrity and common sense, to make sure he didn’t go, speaks even louder to her clear-eyed testimony. And from all this, we can now understand her surprising revelation why Meadows asked Trump for a pardon.
The details that Cassidy Hutchinson just flowed throughout her long testimony – some substantive to the attempted coup, some meaningful as mosaic piece about the full picture of who Trump was.
When he tried to get the metal detectors taken away so that they could knowingly let those in with guns, because “they’re not here to hurt me,” may have been the most damning testimony about Trump’s part in the Insurrection. Again, it not only suggests that the attempted coup was planned, but planned as an armed Insurrection. After all, if he know who the mob wasn’t there to hurt, it suggests he had a good idea who it was there to hurt.
Then, there was the story of the out-of-control Trump, so angry at not being able to lead to mob to the Capitol that he grabbed the wheel of his presidential limo and grabbed the throat of the Secret Service agent in charge of his detail – a man whose job was to protect Trump’s life and even risk his own if necessary.
And that was only matched by the picture of Trump being so petulant about all this that he threw his food on the wall and pulled off the tablecloth. It made me think the Baby Trump balloon should maybe be taken out of mothballs.
(So, we have a new fun game – Which is a Worse Image? Attacking his Secret Service agent or throwing food. I was going to vote for food throwing because it’s SO infantile. But I can see a powerful person having a tantrum and knocking things off the table. But attacking your Secret Service agent? Hmmm, yeah, that might be the winner.)
The meticulous details of her entire testimony – keeping in mind that she testified in private previously for the Select Committee – only added gravitas to what she presented.
It came as no surprise in the slightest that Trump released a statement during Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony that (as his go-to response about most anyone who says something critical about him) in which he claimed that he hardly knew her. The thing is, regardless of whether Trump says he doesn't know Ms. Hutchinson well (and of course he does – she was the advisor to his chief-of-staff who worked down the short hallway every single day), it doesn't matter if he knows her. That’s because Mark Meadows (her boss) knows her. Rudy Giuliani knows her. Kevin McCarthy knows her. Jim Jordan knows her. Tony Ornato and Bobby Engel know her, the men both in charge of different areas of Trump’s Secret Service security detail. And she was in the room with Trump, often. Taking notes about everything -- because that was her job. So, if Trump doesn’t actually know her (and of course he does), he should have paid much better attention, and not let this little person who means nothing to him escape his attention.
How devastating was her overwhelmingly-credible testimony? The GOP House Judiciary put out a tweet in which the best they could do was say, in its entirety – “It’s literally all hearsay evidence. What a joke.”
Now, keep in mind, this is from the GOP House Judiciary, the party’s experts in the law – which explains a lot. For starters, if yesterday was a court trial, that would have been be a semi-interesting point. But only semi, since some hearsay evidence is allowed in court. As attorney Renato Mariottii replied to the GOP Judiciary tweet, "You might want to read Federal Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2). Her testimony regarding Trump’s statements would be admissible in a criminal case against Trump."
Furthermore, not everything she said, “literally," was even hearsay. But more to the point, unfortunately for the GOP House Judiciary Team, this was not a court trial, which they should know as GOP Judiciary members. And they also should have understood that, whether hearsay or direct evidence or a hearing or a trial…she was under oath at penalty of perjury about everything she “literally” said. And nothing in the GOP House Judiciary tweet said that a single word about what Cassidy Hutchinson testified was untrue.
It was also notable at the end of the day that co-chair Liz Cheney addressed the reality of pressure being put on many of the Republican witness we’ve heard, raising the specter of witness tampering, quoting a couple of them, and making clear that this is something that would be address. Basically this was what nautical experts call giving a warning shot across the bow. There might be quite a few Republicans on the Trump team who come to mind. Rudy Giuliani is one who comes to mind, given that we already know from previous testimony about some of his efforts.
And that one crime only touches the surface of the list of crimes that legal analysts on TV were presenting about what further exposure Trump now has.
The one thing to keep in mind is that everything that Cassidy Hutchinson testified to under oath was valid for the hearing, but not all wouldn’t be admissible in a court. Though some would. So, to the DOJ, yesterday’s hearing has to be seen as the starting point for getting the information they can use. Some or much of which, I suspect, they already have.
And in the end, one other bit of testimony stood out for me – and it wasn’t from Ms. Hutchinson. Rather, it was a video of retired Gen. Mike Flynn being questioned by Liz Cheney. And when asked if he thought the violence on January 6 was morally justified, he pled the Fifth Amendment. And when asked if he thought that the violence on January 6 was morally justified, he again pled the Fifth Amendment. But the one that most-caught my attention was when he was given a softball from Rep. Cheney. “Gen. Flynn,” she asked, “do you believe in the peaceful transfer of power in the United States of America?”
To which the retired general answered, “The Fifth.”
It is my hope that Mike Flynn is re-activated to service, court-martialed and then stripped in rank. That isn’t likely to happen, but it remains one of my hopes. And I don’t put it in the fantasy file.
And in the end, that one exchange may best describe what this hearing is all about. A retired general whose sworn oath and duty of his career was to defend the Constitution and country couldn’t answer “Do you believe in the peaceful transfer of power in the United States of America?” He believed that responding might incriminate himself.
That is the Trump administration and his enabling acolytes surrounding him – in office and in the public.
That’s today’s Republican Party.
There have been postings over on Twitter lately (well...actually, all the time...) by supporters of several particular candidates -- both Democrat and Republican -- that if their favorite candidate doesn't get the party's nomination, but instead their favorite candidate's top opponent does, then nominating this opponent will mark doom -- Doom, I say!!! -- for the party.
It's been my observation that the most dedicated advocates on the losing side of an election, any election, even a primary, regularly "warn" that the winner won't do nearly as well as the candidate they wanted. And often predict disaster. And y'know, sometimes they're right. And sometimes not.
(And when right, they loudly trumpet, "Told you so!!" And when wrong, they -- well, pretty much always are mute.)
The great Bob and Ray have a classic comedy sketch about this, the "Sore Loser." And today seemed a good day of politics to post it. It comes in the middle of a long sequence from their Broadway show, Bob and Ray: The Two and Only. I've tried to set this so that hopefully the video will open at the right spot, but I haven't always been successful at that. If not, the entire sequence is wonderful and worth listening to it all, but this particular sketch starts at the 4:12 mark.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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