December 22, 2022
Already there are revelations from the documents being released this week.
Among the transcripts released by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S Capitol is one from Cassidy Hutchinson, the former top aide to Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows. In it, Hutchinson tells the interviewers that what she calls “Trump world” set her up with her first attorney, Stefan Passantino. He refused to tell her who was paying the bills—it was Trump’s political action committee—and she worried that “they will ruin my life… if I do anything that they don’t want me to do.”
Emphasizing repeated references to “loyalty,” and “Trump world,” Hutchinson told the committee that Passantino urged her not to tell what she knew, prodding her to say she didn’t recall events she clearly did. “If you don’t 100 percent recall something, even if you don’t recall a date or somebody who may or may not have been in the room, that’s an entirely fine answer, and we want you to use that response as much as you deem necessary.” “Look,” he told her, “the goal with you is to get you in and out. Keep your answers short, sweet, and simple, seven words or less. The less the committee thinks you know, the better, the quicker it’s going to go. It’s going to be painless. And then you’re going to be taken care of.”
“We just want to focus on protecting the President,” Passantino said. “We’re gonna get you a really good job in Trump world. You don’t need to apply to other places. We’re gonna get you taken care of. We want to keep you in the family.” Hutchinson told of being scared of what they could do to her. “I’d seen how vicious they can be. And part of that’s politics, but…I think some of it is unique to Trump world, the level they’ll go to to tear somebody else down. And I was scared of that.”
Mark Meadows, too, sent Hutchinson a message through a mutual friend saying “he knows you’re loyal and he knows…you’re going to protect him and the boss. You know, he knows that we’re all on the same team and we’re a family.” She also received notice that Trump was aware of her testimony.
After two interviews with the committee, Hutchinson reached out to a former White House colleague, Alyssa Farah, to become a back channel to the January 6 committee to clear her conscience of testimony she felt was not fully truthful. In a third interview, committee members asked questions that clearly shocked Passantino, who kept asking how they knew what to ask. When, afterward, he insisted on talking both to New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman and his Trump world law partners against Hutchinson’s wishes, she realized that he was working for Trump, not her. When he suggested she should risk a charge of contempt of Congress, along with jail time, she cut ties with him and began working with new lawyers.
In her newer, clean testimony to the committee, Hutchinson recounted a number of conversations in which it was clear Trump knew he had lost the election, as well as some conversations that suggested the planning for January 6 was well underway weeks ahead of time. On December 12, for example, when Trump tried to cancel a trip to the Army-Navy game, Meadows told Hutchinson, “He can’t do that. He’s gonna tick off the military, and then he’s gonna be ticked off at me in a few weeks when the military’s ticked off at him….” Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) asked Hutchinson what she thought that exchange meant, and she answered: “Looking back now, I can speculate.”
The transcript is not just a damning portrait of the Trump loyalists, it is a window into the struggles of a clearly very bright young woman who was under enormous financial and emotional pressure to please her former boss and yet could not accept the erasure of her moral values. After two sessions with the committee in which she felt she had not been forthcoming, she realized she had to “pass the mirror test.”
She told the committee: “[Y]ou know, I did feel like it was my obligation and my duty to share [what she knew], because I think that if you’re given a position of public power, it’s also your job, your civic responsibility, to allow the people to make decisions for themselves. And if no one’s going to do that, like, somebody has to do it.”
There will no doubt be more information from the January 6 committee documents forthcoming. (The committee released its 845-page report a little before 10:00 Eastern time, but I will not have time to read it before posting this letter tonight.)
Hutchinson’s moral reckoning stands in stark contrast to a court filing yesterday that revealed Fox News Channel personality Sean Hannity pushed the idea on air that Trump had won the 2020 election even though, as he said under oath, “I did not believe it for one second.” Dominion Voting Systems has filed a $1.6 billion lawsuit against the Fox News Channel and its parent company, Fox Corporation, for defamation after its frequent declarations that voting systems rigged the election. Testimony like Hannity’s makes a strong case that the outlet knew it was lying when it pushed the story that Trump had won the election.
Other documents, released from the House Committee on Ways and Means concerning Trump’s taxes, suggest corruption was widespread under Trump. By law, the Internal Revenue Service must audit a president’s tax returns. It audited President Barack Obama’s taxes while he was in office and has audited President Joe Biden’s taxes as well during his term. But it did not audit former president Trump’s taxes for the first two years he was in office and finally began an audit on the same day the chair of the Ways and Means Committee, Representative Richard E. Neal (D-MA), asked for information about the returns.
Charlie Savage and Alan Rappeport of the New York Times reported that the IRS began to audit the tax returns Trump filed during his presidency only after he had already left office, and then assigned only one person to the job. But, Michael Schmidt of the New York Times reported earlier this year, Trump repeatedly talked about using the IRS to investigate his enemies, and the bureau did, in fact, launch invasive audits on former FBI director James B. Comey and his deputy, Andrew G. McCabe, both of whom Trump believed to be his enemies.
The numbers released show that Trump declared he lost money in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2020, so that he paid no income tax, and that he paid a total of $1500 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017.
Senate Finance Committee chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) said there is “no justification for the failure to conduct the required presidential audits until a congressional inquiry was made.” He called for additional funding for the IRS, noting: “These are issues much bigger than Donald Trump. Trump’s returns likely look similar to those of many other wealthy tax cheats—hundreds of partnership interests, highly-questionable deductions, and debts that can be shifted around to wipe out tax liabilities.” He also said: “I have additional questions about the extent to which resource issues or fear of political retaliation from the White House contributed to lapses here.”
This afternoon the House passed a bill requiring the IRS to conduct annual audits of the president’s tax returns. Five Republicans joined the Democrats to vote in favor of the measure, but 201 Republicans voted against it.
For its part, the Senate this afternoon passed the $1.7 trillion omnibus bill to fund the government through next September 30. Among other measures in the bill, the Senate included a reform of the Electoral Count Act to make impossible another attempt to overturn a presidential election the way Trump tried. The bill clarifies that the vice president’s role in counting electoral votes is purely ceremonial, makes it clear that there is only one slate of electors per state, and increases the number of congress members required to launch an objection to a state’s electoral slate.
Today, the Democrats elected Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD) as the top Democratic member (the top member of the party out of power is called the “ranking member”) of the House Oversight Committee. This is an enormously significant election because the Republicans have already announced they plan to use their majority to investigate a wish list of targets, and many of those investigations will likely come from the Oversight committee.
Because Republican minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has decided not to put together committees until after the election for speaker takes place on January 3, it is not clear what Republicans will be on that committee, but Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) currently sits on it, and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) has said she expects a seat on it. Jordan’s role for the Republicans in Congress is to shout and hector witnesses to establish a narrative (he is famously ineffective at passing legislation), while Greene’s role is to parrot right-wing conspiracies. Clearly, the Republicans plan to use the Oversight Committee largely for propaganda before the 2024 election.
This makes Raskin’s new position key: Raskin is a brilliant constitutional law professor who is cowed not even a little bit by the likes of Jordan and Greene. He tweeted: “I was recruited to [the Oversight Committee] by Representative Elijah Cummings on my first day in Congress & it is overwhelming to think I will now become one of his successors. I thank my Caucus colleagues for entrusting me with the awesome responsibility of being Oversight Ranking Member.”