Liz Cheney was nine years old when her father became Gerald Ford’s chief of staff. It’s little remembered now, but there were two assassination attempts on Ford in the autumn of 1975, both in California, one of the would-be killers being a Charles Manson disciple. I suspect the Vice Chair of the January 6 Committee remembers that era or recalls her father, the former Vice President, talking about it. She knows something about presidential security.
I thought of those assassination attempts when Cheney and the rest of us heard Cassidy Hutchinson’s stunning testimony about President Donald Trump ordering the Secret Service to stop weapons searches of supporters attending his January 6 rally. “They’re not here to hurt me,” Trump said, knowing who they would hurt. The Secret Service searched anyway.
If there’s a sicker moment in the last six years, I’m not sure what it is. The other things Hutchinson described—the president throwing his lunch plate at the wall, the commander-in-chief trying to wrest the limo wheel so he could go to the Capitol to cheer his mob—were each salacious on their own and profoundly depressing. Let it sink in: A leader summons a mob and tells his aides not to disarm them because they’ll only hurt others.
Senior White House staff knew about the weapons being brought into Washington in the days before January 6. Various law enforcement agencies had seen suspicious types with AR-15s on January 6. White House officials were told that Secret Service had removed bear spray, brass knuckles, and batons from those who went through magnetometers. So when the mob moved towards the Capitol, senior officials like White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows knew the crowd had weapons. He’d known for days the 6th could be violent. Meadows and others decided they were okay with it.
Hutchinson, who was Meadows’s right hand, is famous now and will be remembered in histories of this era. Her testimony was what we never got from Rose Mary Woods, Richard Nixon’s secretary who never talked but did erase 18 ½ crucial minutes of Oval Office recordings. Hutchinson’s office was just feet from the Oval Office, in a small recess of the Chief of Staff’s office. (When I was a White House correspondent, I’d visit that office.) Her calm delivery and the trust many people placed in her gave the 26-year-old extraordinary gravity. She’s describing a madhouse (with few exceptions) of older adults. Hutchinson walks outside with Rudy Giuliani late on the evening of January 3rd, after that crazy meeting with Trump’s bizarre legal team. He waxes enthusiastic about the 6th, sounding just as drunken and buffoonish as he did in Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest film, which captured a questionable hotel liaison of Giuliani’s on hidden camera.
The first in her family to go to college, Hutchinson had the kind of earnest believability of Alexander Butterfield, the Nixon aide who revealed the existence of a taping system in the Oval Office. She exuded authority amongst a sea of liars with her unflappability and command of detail. On January 6, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called her to find out why Trump had just told his rally on the Ellipse that he was heading to the Capitol when the White House had assured him that Trump would not show up that day. Patiently, she explains that she’ll “run the traps.” She calmly gets back to him amid the chaos. She calls “Rudy” by his first name. She’s not intimidated by her surroundings. Like a good costume drama, she has the confidence of the help. After Trump has flung a plate of food at the wall following Attorney General Barr’s AP interview saying there was no electoral steal, she helps the president’s valet wipe the ketchup off the fireplace. He’s in a mood, the valet says, echoing the kind of thing that’s said before the release of the Kraken.
Most pathetic is that Trump couldn’t end it after Pence certified the votes and the mob dispersed. Everyone is telling him to concede, but he’s wailing like Lear on the heath or a befuddled Larry David.
Imagine Al Gore calling the Justice Department to get them to work the Florida recount in 2000. Instead of conceding as he did in 1960 after suspect voting in Illinois and Texas, imagine Nixon using his post as Vice President not to read the electoral count. Trump’s pathology and thus his crimes are sui generis. Liz Cheney grew up in politics, but she, like the rest of us, couldn’t have been ready for this.