June 30, 2022

Good morning. A quick note: There will be no Poynter Reporter on Friday or Monday as we celebrate the Fourth of July weekend. I’ll return next Tuesday. Be safe and enjoy the holiday. Now on to today’s newsletter.

Still plenty of leftover thoughts about and reactions to Tuesday’s Jan. 6 House select committee hearings. Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide of Donald Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, made several blockbuster claims in her testimony, most notably that the former president was aware the crowd that gathered in the nation’s capital that day was armed and could turn violent, but he wasn’t concerned because he knew he would not be harmed. He also wanted to go to the Capitol and became furious when the Secret Service would not take him there.

There was lots more, but those appeared to be the two highlights. The New York Times’ Carl Hulse had a solid roundup with “Six takeaways from Cassidy Hutchinson’s explosive testimony.”

The question now is: Where is all this leading?

Depending on which side of the political divide you sit, you may see these hearings as absolute proof that Trump incited a mob in an attempted coup or that these hearings are much ado about nothing — the latter is how the right is spinning it, anyway. (In fact, The Associated Press’ David Bauder writes, “During two daytime hearings last week, Fox averaged 727,000 viewers, the Nielsen company said. That compares to the 3.09 million who watched the hearings on MSNBC and the 2.21 million tuned in to CNN.”)

But the real question is what Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Justice Department think of what we’re seeing.

In other words, is Trump going to be charged at the end of all this?

The headline on Devlin Barrett’s piece for The Washington Post: “Hutchinson provided ‘nuggets’ for Justice’s criminal probe, experts say.” David Laufman, a former senior Justice Department lawyer, told Barrett that Hutchinson’s testimony “contained credible nuggets of information that would support” a prosecution of Trump. Laufman added, “This witness provided credible testimony under oath, attributing foreknowledge of the impending violence to the president. Whether at the end of the day the department can conclude it can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump joined a conspiracy remains to be seen, because there may well be an extraordinarily high bar for prosecutors and department leadership to satisfy that standard.”

There has been no shortage of opinions in the day since Hutchinson’s powerful testimony.

One of the aftershocks involves something that Hutchinson testified to — that on Jan. 6, Trump wanted to go to the Capitol and, when the Secret Service told him no, Trump tried to grab the wheel of the car and then lunged at a Secret Service agent. Within a few hours of that testimony, several news outlets reported that a “person familiar” with the events that day said there were some in the Secret Service who were willing to testify that those incidents did not happen.

A spokesperson for the Secret Service told Politico, “(W)e were not asked to reappear before the Committee in response to yesterday’s new information and we plan on formally responding on the record. We have and will continue to make any member of the Secret Service available.”

Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent wrote that Trump apologists are jumping on this. Sargent wrote, “They are claiming Hutchinson’s appearance was a flop, based on the fact that a single anecdote about Trump — one barely related to the central allegations against him — is now being questioned by a handful of bit players in this saga who aren’t even offering this pushback publicly, let alone under oath. In addition to providing an object lesson in how pro-Trump propaganda functions, this buffoonery reveals just how weak Trump’s defenses have become. The pushback is shriveling into meaningless trivialities even as the enormity of this scandal grows overwhelming.”

Aside from the truly dangerous attempts to fight the peaceful transfer of power and not recognize a fairly held election that is key to our democracy, there were notable images from Hutchinson’s testimony that highlighted Trump’s fly-off-the-handle anger, including throwing a plate against a wall.

In an analysis piece for The New York Times, Peter Baker wrote, “A president who liked to describe himself as a ‘very stable genius’ was anything but that as Ms. Hutchinson observed in those final, frenzied days of his time in office. Hers was not a description that surprised many of those who worked for Mr. Trump and had seen him up close in the preceding four years, or for that matter, many who had known him in the decades that preceded his life in politics. But hearing her recount it all under oath, on live television, brought home how much Mr. Trump and his White House spiraled in its perilous last chapter.”

Baker quoted former Trump White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham as saying, “His temper was scary. And swift. He’d snap and almost lose control.”

Do you have any ketchup?

Hutchinson testified about the time Trump threw a lunch plate and left a trail of ketchup running down the wall. This happened on Dec. 1, 2020, as, apparently, Trump was furious that then-Attorney General William Barr told The Associated Press that there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could change the outcome of the 2020 election.

The Associated Press’ David Bauder has a good recap of that Dec. 2020 AP scoop and the fallout over it. Bauder writes, “The story had been written by AP Justice Department reporter Michael Balsamo, who had been told a day earlier that Barr wanted him to come in for lunch. In videotaped testimony to the committee, Barr said that he ‘felt it was time to say something’ about the voter fraud claims. Recognizing the importance of the statement when Barr said the department had uncovered no evidence of voter fraud, Balsamo asked him to repeat it, and he did. He quickly filed his story from an office in the Justice Department when lunch was over.”

Hmm, wonder if Trump waited until his lunch was over before he threw his plate against the wall?

A timeline

This exhibit from video released by the House Select Committee shows a photo of former President Donald Trump talking to his chief of staff Mark Meadows before Trump spoke at the rally on the Ellipse on Jan 6. (House Select Committee via AP)

For a really good timeline — what we know and what we don’t know — about Trump on Jan. 6, check out Amber Phillips’ story for The Washington Post.

About the limo incident

Much is being made about Hutchinson’s testimony about what happened in the president’s limousine on Jan. 6, particularly the part about Trump grabbing the steering wheel and lunging at a Secret Service agent. It should be noted that Hutchinson didn’t actually witness what she testified to and never claimed to witness it. She testified that is what she was told by Anthony Ornato, the president’s deputy chief of staff and a former Secret Service agent. And she also testified that Robert Engel, the head of Trump’s protective detail, was in the room and did not dispute Ornato’s account.

Hutchinson’s counsel Judy Hunt and William Jordan said in a statement to CNN on Wednesday, “Ms. Hutchinson stands by all of the testimony she provided yesterday, under oath, to the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol.”

Surprising editorial

In an opinion that might be surprising to some, the editorial board of the right-leaning Washington Examiner wrote that “Trump is unfit to be anywhere near power ever again.”

The Examiner’s editorial board wrote that Hutchinson’s resume established her credibility. They added that her testimony was “disturbing” and “believable.”

“Trump is a disgrace,” the editorial board wrote. “Republicans have far better options to lead the party in 2024. No one should think otherwise, much less support him, ever again.”

Speaking of which …

New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, who has established herself as one of the more authoritative journalists when it comes to anything Trump, co-wrote a story with Michael C. Bender with this headline: “Trump Aides Watch Testimony and Brace for Damage.”

The Times reporters wrote that stories of Trump being “unhinged” and having a wicked temper are nothing new at this point. “Still,” Haberman and Bender wrote, “some present and former associates of Mr. Trump expressed concern that the totality of Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony would do serious damage to him politically as he considers a third presidential campaign.”

Asking for help

Ever since the horrific mass school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, last month, there have been numerous stories about local authorities and others making it difficult for the media to do its job. And as we learn more about some of the failures of the emergency response that day, it’s important that the media be allowed to get answers that the community and — especially — loved ones of the victims deserve.

But, obstacles have been thrown in the media’s way — from no comments to threats of arrests and intimidation.

So this week, a media coalition made up of more than 50 national and local media outlets sent a letter to Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin.

The letter said, in part, “We share your commitment to ensuring that all the facts about this incident come to light. We also share the concerns you recently expressed regarding the limited information that has emerged so far, and your desire to present the public with a more comprehensive portrait of the events on that day. In many ways, this is entirely within the City’s control.”

The letter then reminds the mayor of the laws, and its many provisions, regarding public records. The letter was signed by dozens of local TV, radio and newspapers in Texas, as well as national outlets such as The New York Times, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press, and the three major television networks.

The letter concludes with, “We join you in calling for a full accounting of the tragic events at Robb Elementary. The victims and their families deserve an accurate and complete picture about what occurred that day. We hope that this letter assists you in evaluating the needs of your community during this difficult time and prompts immediate disclosure of information requested and needed for a community to heal.”

Posting a new column

(Courtesy: The Washington Post)

The Washington Post has introduced a new weekly column called “The Department of Data.” The Post said it’s a part of its “significant investment” in data journalism. The column will be written by business columnist Andrew Van Dam and, the Post said, “will explore overlooked and underappreciated data sets to unearth fresh insights that will surprise and delight readers — and maybe even challenge some long-held misconceptions.”

In a statement, Post business editor Lori Montgomery said, “Andrew has distinguished himself as a brilliant analyst of data and has long helped set the agenda for our economics coverage. With this column, he’s going to spend more time on his passion for addressing quirkier questions. The column will give Andrew the freedom to rummage around in a much broader range of topics, and to spend more time engaging with ideas that excite and intrigue our readers.”

Sounds interesting.

The first column is about Prince George’s County in Maryland, a D.C. suburb that has been identified as the richest majority-Black county in America.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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