Did any of what Hutchinson said create a case for criminal wrong-doing against Trump?
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
To talk about the ramifications of Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony, we are joined now by Elie Honig. He is a former New Jersey and federal prosecutor. Thanks so much for being with us, Elie.
ELIE HONIG: So glad to be with you, Rachel. Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: Yeah, happy to have you here. Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony stands out in part because of her proximity to power, right? She was in the room with the president and his inner circle at these key moments on January 6 and in the days leading up to it. What does it change?
HONIG: Well, to me, Rachel, looking back at the last several years, of all the people who've testified publicly about Donald Trump - from Michael Cohen to the Ukraine impeachment witnesses, on to the witnesses who've testified earlier in these hearings - I think that Cassidy Hutchinson made the single biggest impact. Like you said, first of all, she had access. She was in the room. She had direct observations of Donald Trump. Second of all, she came across to me, using my former prosecutor lens, as very credible. Her testimony was believable. She was careful. She's corroborated. She's backed up by other evidence. And she has nothing to gain by doing this. If anything, I think she showed a lot of courage and exposed herself to all sorts of potential blowback by coming forward. And I thought it was especially devastating for those reasons.
MARTIN: Although, of course, there are questions about why it took her so long, right? And President Trump himself has suggested that she didn't exactly cut ties with him after January 6, 2020. Other outlets, we should note, are reporting that former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Tony Ornato denies telling Hutchinson this anecdote that she had recounted about the alleged attack on Secret Service agents by Trump. I mean, does any of this chip away at her credibility?
HONIG: Well, I think it does. And I think it's useful to keep in mind this is not a criminal trial. This is not a prosecution. And if it were, you would see cross-examination of these witnesses. You would see an opportunity for the accused to put on witnesses, like Tony Ornato. This is what we call a credibility contest. And people would have to decide who they believe. I think it's really important to note that another White House staffer, Alyssa Farah, who's a colleague of mine at CNN, has said publicly that she testified to the committee about something that Tony Ornato said to her that was damning to the president. And Ornato, she says, falsely denied that as well. So if I have to decide between Cassidy Hutchinson and Alyssa Farah, given what I've seen, and Tony Ornato, I'm coming out on Hutchinson and Farah's side. But that's the kind of decision that a judge or a jury would make if this was a trial setting.
MARTIN: So a lot of people are seizing on the president's remarks, as - according to Hutchinson, that all the magnetometers be taken away, that his supporters, who he knew were armed, should be able to pass freely to the U.S. Capitol and that even when he was made aware of the rioters chanting hang Mike Pence, he did nothing. In your opinion, does any of that establish a clear case for criminal wrongdoing against the former president?
HONIG: To me, the testimony about let's take the mags down is the most important piece of testimony yesterday and, I think, put on top of all the other evidence we've seen, does make a prosecutable case against Donald Trump. Now, the considerations to think about, the political and practical ramifications of this. But yesterday, Cassidy Hutchinson gave us the clearest link between Donald Trump himself and the use of force, the violence that happened on the Capitol. Her testimony established that when Donald Trump gave that speech that we've all seen so many times on the rally - we're going to go down to the Capitol. You have to show strength. We're going to fight, fight like hell.
He knew, right before he took that stage, that that crowd was armed. He knew they were headed to the Capitol. And he was so confident that they were not going to do anything to him, they were there for him, that he was willing to risk his own security by telling people that he wanted those mags taken down. So to me, that could lend itself to a conspiracy charge, to an obstruction charge, even to a seditious conspiracy charge, which requires a showing that force was part of the plan.
MARTIN: At the end of the hearing, Liz Cheney brought up the issue of witness intimidation. And she read these excerpts of messages that some witnesses had received. Let's listen to this tape.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
LIZ CHENEY: What they said to me is as long as I continue to be a team player, they know I'm on the right team, you know? I'll continue to stay in good graces in Trump world. Here's another sample. A person let me know you have your deposition tomorrow. He wants me to let you know he's thinking about you. He knows you're loyal and you're going to do the right thing.
MARTIN: How do you take those? Are those messages enough to bring charges of witness intimidation?
HONIG: Well, it's become fashionable to say that those sound like something a mob boss would say. As somebody who used to prosecute actual mob bosses in New York City, I can say that's largely true. What's also really reminiscent of the mob here is that it's not the boss. It's not Donald Trump making those statements. It's coming - those statements are coming through intermediaries. Smart bosses know to have others do their dirty work for them. If it can be proven - whoever said those statements to Cassidy Hutchinson - that is textbook witness tampering. That is textbook obstruction of justice. And, you know, there was questions about, why are we having this hearing on this emergency surprise basis? I think that's the answer right there. I think the committee understood that a single...
HONIG: ...Well-placed word or paragraph to Cassidy Hutchinson could have derailed this whole thing. They wanted to get her in while they could.
MARTIN: Elie Honig, former New Jersey and federal prosecutor. Thank you.
HONIG: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.