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.
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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