WASHINGTON (CN) — Before he got on a stage in front supporters at the Ellipse on Jan. 6 to insist against all available evidence that Democrats had robbed him of a second term, President Donald Trump knew the day could turn violent.
The House Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol summoned former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson to testify Tuesday about a few of the warnings given to the outgoing commander in chief. As the dust from Hutchinson's explosive testimony settles, legal experts say it represents the strongest evidence yet of Trump's culpability in last year's deadly attack.
Hutchinson served at the time as top aide to Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, a role that positioned her to speak daily with a wide range of officials in the Trump White House as well as members of Congress.
"Before yesterday, I think Trump had some deniability. He could have said, ‘Well, I just thought it was a protest that got out of control.’ We now know that that just isn’t the case. He knew about it. He knew people were armed. He wanted to remove metal detectors and wanted armed people in this crowd and wanted them to go to the Capitol," Brendan Beery, a constitutional law professor at Western Michigan University’s Thomas M. Cooley Law School, said in an interview.
As Hutchinson recalled in her testimony to lawmakers, Trump ushered his supporters into the seat of the American government despite knowing that they were armed because he was miffed that attendance at his rally was not at capacity.
There were security devices called magnetometers in place at Trump's rally to keep weapons out, and Trump was unconcerned that people were trying to get through these checkpoints with guns, bear spray, knives and brass knuckles.
“I don’t effing care that they have weapons. They are not here to hurt me. Take the effing mags away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here," Trump said, according to Hutchinson. He then proceeded to give a speech claiming the election was stolen and urging his supporters, some of whom he knew were armed, to "fight like hell," or risk losing their country.
While it is ultimately up to the Department of Justice, not the Jan. 6 committee, to make decisions about criminal charges, legal experts say Tuesday's testimony ramps up the possibility that a former president could face criminal prosecution for the first time in history.
One potential charge that Trump could face is conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding by attempting to prevent the certification of the Electoral College votes. Another is conspiracy to defraud the United States by disseminating election lies he knew were false.
Several experts said Hutchinson's testimony could strengthen the case for Trump facing other charges of inciting a riot or seditious conspiracy.
Shanlon Wu, a legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, said Hutchinson's testimony gave greater credence to a potential seditious conspiracy case against Trump.
Seditious conspiracy requires proof that two or more people conspired to use force to “prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States."
"He's saying, 'These are my people, they're not going to hurt me,' and he wants to literally lead them to the Capitol. That is a very critical piece in terms of looking at whether he was intending a violent overthrow, that's the piece that's been missing," Wu said in an interview.
Hutchinson testified to the committee that former White House counsel Pat Cipillone was concerned prior to Jan. 6 about potential criminal charges, including incitement of an insurrection, if Trump followed through on his plan to lead rallygoers on a march to the Capitol while Congress certified the results of the 2020 election.