'Things could get very dark for the former president,' writes ex-Trump aide Mick Mulvaney

I resigned from the Trump administration on Jan. 6, 2021. I did so because I thought President Donald Trump failed to be the leader the nation needed at one of its most critical moments. But I have defended him ever since against claims that he did anything illegal or criminal.

To the allegations that he incited the riots at the U.S. Capitol, I pointed out that he had given similar speeches in the past (and was often accused of fomenting violence) and that the results were generally peaceful. I have also pointed out that the right-wing extremists who seemed most centrally involved in the attack were already at the Capitol before the president gave his speech.

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I was not alone in defending the president against such claims: Bill Barr, the two-time U.S. attorney general, and now no fan of Trump, said he didn’t believe the president’s actions that day rose to the level of a crime.

I don’t know whether Barr is having a harder time maintaining that stance after Tuesday’s hearing of the Jan. 6 committee. But I certainly am. Because after some of the bombshells that got dropped in that hearing, my guess is that things could get very dark for the former president.

Slew of headline-worthy allegations

The press is most likely to focus on the most sensational allegations: that Trump knew some of the protesters had guns and he still encouraged them to go to the Capitol; that he physically assaulted a member of his security team when the agent refused to drive Trump to the Capitol; that there might be a direct line from the extremists to the White House, via Roger Stone, Michael Flynn and Mark Meadows; and that several of Trump's advisers, including Meadows, his chief of staff, requested pardons related to their role in the events of that Jan. 6.

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And all of those things are noteworthy. Some of the allegations – encouraging the protests despite the knowledge of the guns, and the assault on the federal agent – may constitute crimes. The alleged link to the extremist groups would put the White House perilously close to people who have already been charged with seditious conspiracy. And the simple fact that those around you apparently were worried that they had committed crimes is, while certainly not determinative, not the best optic.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney in 2018.
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney in 2018.

But all of those allegations turn on the credibility of the star witness of the "surprise" hearing: Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to Mark Meadows and a special assistant to the president. It was her testimony that brought all of these new revelations to light, and it was her testimony on which much of the attention has turned.

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After Hutchinson's testimony, Trump put out a statement suggesting she was a disgruntled employee who asked for and was denied a position in the post-White House Trump team. If that is true, it could certainly raise issues as to her credibility. And it will be interesting to see whether Meadows or others come forward to rebut her allegations. (As an aside: Hutchinson briefly worked for me in the White House. I do not claim to know her well, but I found her testimony eminently credible.)

The postscript that caught my eye

But there is one other revelation from the hearing that does not turn on the credibility of the witness. It is the one that jumped out at me. And it is the one that should most worry the former president.

Those are the few slides that committee Vice Chair Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., displayed at the end of the hearing. While details about them are still unknown, we were told they were statements from other witnesses about communications they received before testifying.

Cassidy Hutchinson, aide to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, is sworn in before testifying before the House Jan. 6 committee on June 28, 2022.
Cassidy Hutchinson, aide to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, is sworn in before testifying before the House Jan. 6 committee on June 28, 2022.

One slide read, "What they said to me is, as long as I continue to be a team player, they know that I'm on the team, I'm doing the right thing, I'm protecting who I need to protect ... I'll continue to stay in good graces in Trump World. And they have reminded me a couple of times that Trump does read transcripts and just to keep that in mind as I proceeded through my depositions and interviews with the committee."

The implication was crystal clear: The Jan. 6 committee members believe they have evidence that people within the Trump operation attempted to intimidate witnesses. And that, any way you slice it, is obstruction of justice.

It may be that Trump committed crimes on Jan. 6, 2021. It may be that he did not. My guess is that we might never know for sure – the congressional hearing is by no means a criminal court, after all – and for many people how they feel about his actions will continue to depend in large part on how they voted.

But it also may be that none of that will matter. Even if Donald Trump were as innocent as the virgin snow that Jan. 6, even if he didn't know about the guns, or didn’t assault his agent, or had absolutely no clue what the Proud Boys were up to, if he obstructed justice related to the Jan. 6 hearings, then he could well become just the next politician to learn the hard lesson that it usually isn't the crime. It's the cover-up.

Mick Mulvaney served as White House acting chief of staff from December 2018 until March 2020, when President Donald Trump named him special envoy to Northern Ireland and installed Mark Meadows as chief of staff. Mulvaney served previously as acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, director of the Office of Management and Budget and as a Republican in the House of Representatives. He is now a co-chair for Actum LLC

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cassidy Hutchinson cast real doubt on Trump's innocence: Mick Mulvaney