(CNN)A quintet of courageous American women are defending American democracy in its darkest hour, and effectively delivering a warning about the rage and tyranny that may await if Donald Trump gets back into the White House after 2024.
A young ex-West Wing aide, a Capitol Hill police officer, two former Georgia election workers and a Republican scion who chose truth over her party are writing their names in history as they star in the House select committee’s probe into the January 6 insurrection and lay bare the ex-President’s thuggery.In the latest show of bravery that has emerged as a rare bright light in a 2020 election tale of violence, lies and deception, Cassidy Hutchinson, a 26-year-old former aide to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, on Tuesday delivered some of the most disturbing testimony yet about Trump’s unhinged behavior 17 months ago.She said she had been told that the ex-President had lunged for his top Secret Service agent when the agent refused to have Trump driven to the Capitol riot scene, thought then-Vice President Mike Pence deserved to be hanged, said he knew his insurrectionists were armed but wanted them to march on Congress anyway and, in a separate incident in December 2020, left a White House wall dripping in ketchup after furiously flinging his lunch plate. (After the testimony, a Secret Service official familiar with the matter told CNN that Tony Ornato, then-White House deputy chief of staff, denies telling Hutchinson that the former President had grabbed the wheel or an agent on his detail.)From left to right, Cassidy Hutchinson, Rep. Liz Cheney, Ruby Freeman, Wandrea “Shaye” Moss and Caroline Edwards.Braving reprisals from Trump world — amid new allegations that the ex-President’s acolytes have intimidated witnesses — Hutchinson’s appearance contrasted with cronies who closed ranks to protect their old boss or Republicans who privately disdain him but stay quiet to save their political skins.Read MoreAnd her willingness to go before millions of worldwide viewers to tell the truth contrasted with Trump’s cowardice in failing to admit that he lost a fair election.Compelling testimony Hutchinson joined a group of female witnesses who have delivered the bulk of the most compelling testimony in the committee’s televised hearings, often at risk to their own safety and hopes of returning to normal life or careers. They have debunked propaganda that January 6, 2021, was just a tourist day out, peeled the curtain back on Trump’s conspiracy to steal the election, described the price of his victimization of those who stood in his way, and detailed the ravings of a President who lost his grip on reality on one of America’s most painful days.7 takeaways from Tuesday's shocking January 6 hearingCapitol Hill Police Officer Caroline Edwards, who was knocked unconscious by Trump’s rioters on January 6, described chilling scenes of hand-to-hand combat with Trump’s gang and how she had slipped on the blood flowing underfoot.JUST WATCHED’This turned my life upside down’: Former election worker testified in Jan 6 hearingReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH
‘This turned my life upside down’: Former election worker testified in Jan 6 hearing 03:00In one of the most poignant moments of the hearings so far, mother-and-daughter election workers Ruby Freeman and Wandrea “Shaye” Moss told how Trump’s searing personal attacks and false claims that they were fixing vote counts in Georgia had ruined their lives and left them scared of going out. Moss said she had left her job as an election worker and most of the people she had worked with had done likewise. Committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney, who had already sacrificed her fast climb to the top Republican leadership ranks in the House to expose Trump’s lies and assault on American democracy, is expertly delivering a patriotic service that far outweighs any personal ambitions.A number of men have also made powerful statements during the hearings — including Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, a Republican who told of how he had chosen his oath to the Constitution over his preference that Trump win the election in rebuffing the ex-President’s pressure to fix the vote. And Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and top Georgia election official Gabriel Sterling reprised their already well-known and vital roles in stopping Trump’s attempt to steal victory in the Peach State. January 6 committee rebukes the election lies some GOP candidates continue to run onBut many other witnesses, including members of Trump’s legal and campaign teams and his family, long kept quiet about his assault on American democracy and unburdened themselves only under oath. Others, including Meadows and ex-White House counsel Pat Cipollone — who, according to Hutchinson on Tuesday, had warned that staff could be charged with “every crime imaginable” if they let Trump go to Capitol Hill on January 6 — are refusing to testify.And at one head-spinning moment of Tuesday’s hearing, one of Trump’s most zealous supporters, his fired first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was seen in taped testimony invoking his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination when asked if he backed peaceful transfers of power.If there was one moment that exemplifies the poisoned political priorities of those around Trump, it was Flynn’s reply — forensically extracted by Cheney — which followed a lengthy off-camera consultation with his attorney. Democracy needs brave defenders If American democracy is to survive one of its most serious challenges, it needs brave defenders. And again and again the hearings are revealing profiles in courage that contrast with the craven behavior of those who still appease and boost Trump.Tuesday’s hearing, for instance, featured a January 6 television interview with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy in which he condemned the riots. But only a few weeks later, the California Republican flew down to Trump’s winter palace at Mar-a-Lago to rehabilitate his relationship with the former President and anchor the 2022 GOP election strategy to Trump’s alternative reality of election fraud lies and revenge fantasies. McCarthy has since led the House Republican Conference’s attempt to whitewash conduct by Trump, which is looking ever more seditious as he seeks the ex-President’s blessing for his ambitions of becoming speaker.McCarthy is far from the only Republican who finds it easier, or more politically profitable, to appease extremism than to confront it. His GOP House orbit is packed with members like Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Conference Chair Elise Stefanik of New York, who have misrepresented and slandered the work of the committee in an apparent quest to ride Trump’s popularity with grassroots conservatives to power.Unlike Hutchinson, they are not willing to taste Trump’s wrath. The ex-President was quick to lambast the former White House aide, denying her claims and blasting her on his Truth Social platform as a phony and a leaker.But Hutchinson had testified Tuesday that she faithfully worked to highlight what she saw as Trump’s achievements in office but could finally take no more when he and Meadows were prepared to let democracy burn down around them.She confessed that after watching the insurrection unfold from inside the West Wing, she had viewed Trump’s attacks on Pence, who was presiding over the certification of President Joe Biden’s election win, as “unpatriotic” and “un-American.””We were watching the Capitol building get defaced over a lie,” she said.Cheney hailed Hutchinson.”Our nation is preserved by those who abide by their oaths to our Constitution. Our nation is preserved by those who know the fundamental difference between right and wrong,” the Wyoming Republican said. “I want all Americans to know that what Miss Hutchinson has done today is not easy. The easy course is to hide from the spotlight, to refuse to come forward, to attempt to downplay or deny what happened.”Several of Hutchinson’s former colleagues who have previously broken with Trump world told CNN they were concerned for her safety as Trump and his gang slime her.”Her life will be forever changed,” Olivia Troye, a former homeland security adviser to Pence, told CNN’s Jake Tapper.Alyssa Farah Griffin, a former White House communications director for Trump who resigned in December 2020 as the then-President’s plans to thwart the transition of power were gathering pace, contrasted Hutchinson’s courage with the malfeasance of the pro-Trump Republicans.”To the members of Congress who are afraid of the reelection, well, this woman is out there speaking at threat to her life. They should listen to that,” said Farah Griffin, who’s now a CNN political commentator.Yet with Trump apparently pressing forward with his plans for a potential 2024 presidential campaign — and with the incentive structure still in place for GOP candidates who want his blessing — it is unlikely that Hutchinson’s courage or that of her fellow witnesses will be the last stands required in the defense of US democracy.