Secret Service agents would take a bullet for the president. Would they also lie for him?
On Tuesday, Cassidy Hutchinson, the Jan. 6 committee’s star witness to date, testified that she was told about an altercation in then-President Trump’s SUV after the rally that preceded the violent insurrection at the Capitol.
By now you’re probably familiar with the details: According to Hutchinson’s testimony, Anthony Ornato, Trump’s deputy chief of staff and former lead of his Secret Service detail, told her that Trump tried to grab the steering wheel and then lunged for the neck of agent Bobby Engel, who was riding shotgun.
Trump denied it, and the Republican mud machine began to churn:
Hutchinson was a liar, she is Amber Heard 2.0. (They never miss a chance to go sexist.)
Everything she said was “hearsay” that would never be allowed in a court of law.
Hutchinson was so low-level she couldn’t possibly have heard and seen what she said she’d heard and seen.
The attack on agents couldn’t have happened because the president sits too far back in his long black limo.
All of it is laughable tripe from Republicans so ensorcelled by Trump that they remain willfully blind to his attempt to overturn the results of a free and fair election, first by procedural and legal means, and finally by violence.
Hutchinson has no reason to lie. Surely she knows what happens to people who cross the monomaniacal former president. She must be aware of the suffering inflicted on Georgia elections workers Shaye Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, after Trump slimed them with phony — and racist — accusations of fraud.
In any case, the Jan. 6 committee is not a court of law, so arguing about whether Hutchinson’s testimony is admissible in the legal sense is irrelevant.
The claim about her low status in the administration — promulgated by the vile Stephen Miller — is a red herring. As the top aide to Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, Hutchinson sat outside her boss’ office, steps from the Oval Office, in the beating heart of the White House. She was, say White House staffers, at virtually every meeting with her boss, taking notes. She was backstage at Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally, close enough to hear the president rant about the metal detectors that were keeping his armed supporters away.
As for Trump’s alleged physical attack on the agents who refused to take him to the Capitol to play Braveheart with the rioters, that’s just a juicy detail that has no bearing on the facts: No one, including Trump, has disputed that he wanted to storm the Capitol and was furious when he was thwarted. “Secret Service said I couldn’t go,” Trump told the Washington Post in April. “I would have gone there in a minute.”
Let’s remember, too, that Trump was riding in the back seat of a Suburban, not the presidential limousine called "the Beast," as the committee proved when it showed video of his departure from the Ellipse.
The facts, of course, did not stop a Trump sycophant like Stephen Bannon from chortling about Hutchinson’s story on his podcast. “I’ve ridden in the Beast,” said Bannon, mocking the idea that Trump was close enough to the front seat to have reached toward the steering wheel, or anyone’s neck.
“This wasn’t the Beast,” said Carol Leonnig, the Washington Post reporter who wrote “Zero Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Secret Service.” The president was riding in a Suburban SUV on Jan. 6, she told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. The same car "the president used for his joy ride around Walter Reed,” Leonnig noted, when he was seriously ill with COVID-19 in October 2020.
Unnamed sources have told reporters that Ornato and Engel are willing to testify under oath that Trump never tried to grab a steering wheel or a neck. If that’s the case, let them. And then we can decide who is more credible: A young woman with no ax to grind, or two Trump loyalists.
As Leonnig told Maddow after Hutchinson’s bombshell testimony last week, Ornato and Engel were “very, very close” to Trump. “Some people accused them of at times being enablers and yes men of the president, particularly Tony Ornato,” Leonnig said, adding that this frustrated other agents who were less focused on pleasing Trump and more focused on doing their jobs.
In any case, is it really that shocking that some Secret Service agents under Trump’s spell might lie to protect him?
“There was a very large contingent of Donald Trump’s detail who were personally cheering for Biden to fail,” said Leonnig, “and some of them even took to their personal media accounts to cheer on the insurrection.”
Trump lackeys can throw all the mud — or ketchup — they want at Hutchinson.
None of it is going to stick.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.