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What the former White House aide's testimony could mean for the Jan. 6 investigation

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Today's surprise hearing of the January 6 committee came with some explosive testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson. She was a top aide to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. She vividly described President Trump's efforts to join rioters at the Capitol, even lunging at the driver of his limousine. She testified that Trump knew the mob was armed but said they weren't there to attack him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CASSIDY HUTCHINSON: I remember feeling scared and nervous for what could happen on January 6. And I had a deeper concern for what was happening with the planning aspects of it.

SHAPIRO: Let's discuss what these revelations could mean for the broader investigation with Neal Katyal. He's a Georgetown law professor who held senior roles in the Obama Justice Department. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

NEAL KATYAL: Thank you, Ari. Good to be here.

SHAPIRO: Big picture - do you think today's testimony changed the overall course of this investigation?

KATYAL: I think it did. I had my doubts, but this was really worthy of a surprise hearing. You know, Ari, I've heard hundreds of witnesses in my time. I've never heard a witness like Cassidy Hutchinson. She was not just credible and balanced, but she's also a Trump person. I mean, she's a Trump loyalist and before that worked for Representative Steve Scalise, you know. And so to hear her say what you just mentioned a moment ago, that Trump knew these people had guns - he said, don't worry, take the metal detectors away; those people aren't here to hurt me - and all the other stuff she detailed today, it's incredibly damning. It makes the federal case not just against Donald Trump but Mark Meadows and others very, very strong.

SHAPIRO: Let's talk more about that federal case because I spoke yesterday with former acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue, who testified at last Thursday's hearing, and I asked him if the Justice Department should be pursuing a criminal case against Trump. Here's what he told me.

RICHARD DONOGHUE: You would need a very, very solid case before proceeding. I think criminal intent is required. And it's a difficult thing in normal circumstances. It would be a particularly difficult thing with this personality, this president and these circumstances.

SHAPIRO: That was before today's testimony. Neal Katyal, do you think what we heard today provides evidence of criminal intent?

KATYAL: Oh, absolutely. I mean, this wasn't just willful blindness, which is what the last hearings have been about, which is enough, of course, to satisfy the criminal intent standard that Donald Trump intentionally looked to the other way or believed kind of cockamamie things and didn't talk to, you know, experts and things like that. Today, he - you know, the evidence showed he was warned about the violence. His own White House counsel said, don't go to the Capitol. You'll be charged with multiple crimes. He also said that Trump said, quote, "Pence deserves it" when Trump was asked about these hang Mike Pence moves being done at the Capitol by the insurrectionists. And we also learned, you know, other things today, like, you know, that there was potential witness tampering.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. On the witness tampering, Liz Cheney, the vice chair of the committee, Republican of Wyoming, quoted one message to a witness that said, he - Trump - he wants me to let you know he's thinking about you. He knows you're loyal. Do you think there will be consequences for that sort of thing?

KATYAL: A hundred percent - I mean, you know, witness tampering is one of the most serious allegations because our system depends on truthful testimony in, you know, courts and in Congress and the like. And if Trump is actually behind some sort of witness tampering in any way, shape or form, that's an easy conspiracy. And so when you asked Mr. Donoghue, you weren't talking about other things. There's just new revelations today, Ari, that make the case against Trump even stronger than he thought it was. And, you know, I wrote a piece in The New York Times last week which outlined two different crimes - both conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of an official proceeding - both of which a federal judge has already said that it's more likely than not that Trump committed those federal felonies. Now there's new stuff.

SHAPIRO: One more big revelation at the end of this hearing is that Hutchinson said both her former boss, then chief of staff Mark Meadows, and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, both sought pardons the day after the attack on the Capitol. Just in our last 30 seconds or so, what could that testimony portend for some of the president's - former president's closest allies?

KATYAL: It's very dangerous. It looks like not just Donald Trump knew what was going on, but Mark Meadows knew, too. And that's what we in the law call a seditious conspiracy. And so that's the legal significance. And the kind of moral significance - compare what Meadows did, Ari, to what Donoghue, the person you were just asking about, and the other Trump DOJ officials testified they did last week. They, you know, threatened to resign. They organized an opposition and the like. What did Mark Meadows do? Nothing. In fact, he told Trump, let's go to the Capitol, after Trump gave a speech on January 6.

SHAPIRO: Georgetown University law professor Neal Katyal, thank you for speaking with us.

KATYAL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.
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