The January 6 commission hearings and the TV mini-series: Narrative and Editing have a lot in common—even surprisingly revealing, as when the commission released an extra episode, featuring Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to Mark Meadows, the former White House chief. From the staff, at today’s notice.
One thing the listening sessions don’t have, however, are the episode titles. But if they did, it would be hard to resist calling this amazing part “the beast.”
As White House watchers know, “The Beast” is a nickname for the presidential vehicle. It also stirs up the chaos that Ms. Hutchinson described inside the car when the attack began. Recounting a story she said she was told by a member of President Donald J. Trump’s security detail, Ms. Hutchinson said Mr. Trump grabbed the steering wheel after being told he couldn’t join the mob in the Capitol and was shot in the throat. His Secret Service Agent. (Secret Service officials later denied that Mr. Trump assaulted an agent or called the wheel, but they did not deny that he wanted to go to the Capitol.)
One afternoon, the investigation took place like the Watergate hearings as I got punched in book room 24.
The session began with internal tension. Just keeping it was a risk. By announcing it vaguely with almost no prior details, such as the sudden drop in Netflix, the commission opened itself up to criticism if the hearing was not delivered.
you did not. In her astonishing two-hour testimonial, Ms. Hutchinson was poised and measured at just 26 years old, describing January 6 and the days before that at the White House, in a series of scenes and quotes so vivid that they could be copied almost directly into the HBO docudrama.
There was Trump’s attorney and attorney Rudolph Giuliani, days before the Capitol attack, asking, “Aren’t you excited about the Sixth?” There was an angry Mr. Trump throwing the plates of the White House, leaving Mrs. Hutchinson to wipe the ketchup off the wall.
More importantly, there was Mr. Trump calling for the magnetic detectors to be removed to allow armed supporters to gather on January 6 (“they’re not here to hurt me”). And there was a chilling exchange as Mr. Meadows — who was repeatedly described as staring at his phone non-negatively — replied to attorney Pat Cipollone, who insisted that Mr. Trump defend the Capitol: “He doesn’t want to do anything, Pat.”
Mrs. Hutchinson’s name wasn’t quite as big as Washington’s daring name as some advance guesswork had anticipated. (Mike Pence? Jenny Thomas?) She didn’t have the professional standing of former guests like former Judge J. Michael Luttig. Her testimony had no affection for Wandrea Moss, the Georgia election worker who recounted racial harassment and abuse for doing her job. (Only at the end Ms. Hutchinson described her feelings about Mr. Trump’s behavior on January 6: “As an American, I felt disgusted.”)
But she was a familiar character from plot stories: the simpletons, who underestimated them, who watched and heard some things, and kept notes from the sidelines. (Mr. Trump, in response to his online outlet, the Truth Social, complained that “I hardly know who this person is, Cassidy Hutchinson,”).
Her testimony was the equivalent of hearing an episode out of the bottle—the episode deep into the series that breaks the paradigm to focus on a single character or incident. Indeed, at the start of the hearing, the commission’s vice chair, Liz Cheney, of the Republic of Wyoming, noted that where previous hearings have focused on various aspects of efforts to annul the 2020 election, this hearing will bring many of those threads together. .
This kind of narrative clarity is one of the reasons the listening sessions for this well-executed television set. Another is their interest in substance and style, the combination of their case and their awareness of what piques the curiosity of viewers and gets them to speak next. (The commission offered “before” summaries and missed upcoming attractions, such as the partial disclosure of politicians who sought a presidential pardon.)
The main revelations from the January 6 sessions
Tuesday’s testimony was a triumph of style and substance in microcosm. It was full of water-cooler bait, like the pictures of the 45th President of the United States flipping a tablecloth for the White House like an angry housewife and going to lay the beast in his limousine.
He was also visually conscious of a congressional hearing, from the White House floor plan that showed how close Ms. Hutchinson was to executive action, to the title card “One Minute 36 Seconds Later” a parody after Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser was asked if the Jan. 6 violence was justified. (take the fifth).
But all this was in the service of a larger and very dangerous overarching line: the argument that the January 6 attack, far from being a spontaneous outburst of rage, was a bloody culmination of an attempt to shake off a democratic election, which could have succeeded (and could be repeated more successfully in the future).
The part of Mrs. Hutchinson’s story was, on the one hand, an amazing behind-the-scenes story that tells it all. On the other hand, it was a stand-alone one-episode novel about Mr. Trump, desperate to stay in power, essentially trying to lead a private armed militia into Congress.
Barring more surprises, the commission is now taking a mid-season hiatus even after the July 4th holiday. She left her viewers with a good story to chew on during the break. The price of success, of course, raises the bar, and it remains to be seen whether the final round of hearings can bear fruit, or whether it can spur actual political or legal action.
But this premium? It was a beast.