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Paige Masten is an opinion writer and member of the Charlotte Observer editorial board.
In the end, the person who told us, under oath, what the president was doing as a violent mob descended on the U.S. Capitol wasn’t Mark Meadows or anyone else in Donald Trump’s inner circle.
It was a 25-year-old woman who had far less authority than any of them.
Cassidy Hutchinson, principal aide to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, was the key witness in the Jan. 6 committee’s surprise hearing last Tuesday, delivering harrowing testimony that recounted how the president and his closest advisers knew Jan. 6 could lead to violence but did nothing to stop it.
She remembered feeling scared, frustrated, disgusted, disappointed. She compared it to “a bad car accident that was about to happen, where you can’t stop it but you want to be able to do something.”
But, despite the weight of her testimony, Cassidy Hutchinson wasn’t a hero. She was just doing her job.
Displays of true public service can easily be confused for heroism these days. People in positions of political power doing the job they swore to do — support and defend the Constitution — feels rare. It requires far more courage than it should.
People who likely know even more than Hutchinson does have chosen to eschew their public obligations, using their power and their stature to shield themselves from accountability. They’ve chosen silence, the easier choice, and put their own interests above all else.
Meadows, Hutchinson’s former boss, has thus far defied the committee’s subpoenas, an obstruction for which Congress voted to hold in him in contempt last year. Tuesday’s hearing also showed video of Michael Flynn, retired military general and former U.S. national security adviser, refusing to even answer whether he thought the violence on Jan. 6 was justified, or if he believed in the peaceful transfer of power. He chose to plead the fifth instead.
And because of their betrayal, a young woman was the one who had to do the heavy lifting. They let her bear the risks alone.
Tuesday was not the first time we heard from Hutchinson, but it was the first time she provided live testimony for a televised hearing. Media reports say that the reason the last-minute hearing came together so quietly and so quickly was due to concerns about Hutchinson’s physical safety. As a result of her public testimony, Hutchinson has reportedly obtained security.
Because we already know that in Trump world, if you do the right thing, people will try to ruin your life. A number of state and local officials have testified at previous hearings that their unwillingness to cooperate with Trump’s plan to hijack a legitimate election led to harassment and threats against them and their families. Two Georgia election workers were driven into hiding after Rudy Giuliani lied that they rigged the election against Trump.
At the end of Tuesday’s hearing, the committee raised concerns about possible witness tampering. Many witnesses deposed by the committee have received intimidating, Mafia-like messages from Trump allies suggesting that it would be in their best interest to remain loyal to the former president.
Faced with the reality of her devastating testimony, Trump and his supporters have already begun to attack Hutchinson’s credibility, with Trump claiming he hardly knows who she is “other than I heard very negative things about her” and labeling her “a Total Phony!!!” and a “third rate social climber.” On Twitter, right-wingers denounced her as “Amber Heard 2.0.”
At just 25, Cassidy Hutchinson isn’t much older than I am. And she didn’t have to testify. Like plenty of Republicans before her, she could have taken the fifth, ignored the subpoenas altogether or simply repeated “I don’t recall.” She could have chosen to protect the president — and maybe even herself — instead of her country.
Hutchinson isn’t faultless. She still liked Trump enough to work for him. But by doing her job, she at least proved she has something that the cowardly men around her do not: integrity, and a respect for the institutions that they tried to destroy.