Let’s not forget everyone testifying at the Jan. 6 hearings still sucks

The Jan. 6 committee has become a whitewashing bonanza for “good Republicans” to launder their bad politics.

Cassidy Hutchinson testifying at the January 6 hearing in a white blazer and straight hair
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc./Getty Images
Originally Published: 

By the time former White House official Cassidy Hutchinson, a top aide to Donald Trump’s final chief of staff Mark Meadows, took the witness stand Tuesday to testify before the Jan. 6 committee, her appearance had already been breathlessly hyped as a potential bombshell moment in the ongoing investigation of the former president’s attempted coup. And by the time she’d finished telling the committee what she’d seen and heard (and heard other people say they’d seen), the immediate reactions to Hutchinson’s testimony seemed broadly to agree that her appearance had delivered as promised. Here, at last, was a Trump insider willing to spill The Goods™ — from salacious allegations of seditious temper tantrums to firsthand accounts of how complacent Trump’s innermost ring of advisers was in his attempts to subvert his electoral loss.

To the extent that anything from these Jan. 6 hearings could succeed in breaking through the partisan spin and understandable inclination to simply move on from the events of that day, Hutchinson’s appearance seems to have accomplished just that — if only briefly, before the politicking and ad hominem attacks resumed with a vengeance. Still, no matter how potentially seismic her testimony may have been, her appearance and the laudations it garnered have also exposed one of the more insidious effects of the committee’s work: whitewashing the reputations of conservatives who have spent their political careers outside of this one specific instance making millions of people’s lives demonstratively worse.

Before she was being lauded as a “courageous” “hero” to be emulated, Hutchinson, for example, interned for both Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise — two of the most shamelessly destructive conservatives in office today. She chose to work for the Trump administration in 2018, after the former president praised the marching Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia; after he sanctioned an immigration policy that ripped migrant children from their parents; after he lamented the “shithole countries” of Haiti, El Salvador, and several African nations. To the extent that her testimony was a net positive for the nebulous concept of “American democracy,” it came at the expense of a career spent working for people who seemed happy to punish any number of already marginalized communities simply for existing.

So too with former Trump adviser and White House attorney Eric Herschmann, whose blunt, occasionally vulgar assessment of the behind-the-scenes effort to overturn the 2020 election earned him similar (and weird) plaudits. This is, keep in mind, the same prosecutor-turned-corporate attorney who defended the former president during his first impeachment trial before joining White House officially in 2020, where he allegedly helped leak emails purported to be from Hunter Biden’s stolen laptop. Like Hutchinson, we can see Herschmann’s résumé of ghoulish conservative bonafides being laundered in real time by observers who are more than willing to let his few hours of testimony outweigh years of dirty trickster antics in service of the ultra-right wing MAGA enterprise.

Even Republican committee members Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger — arch-conservatives in their own right — are reaping the rewards for this single instance of televised sobriety, nevermind their lifetimes spent advancing policies that actively harm huge swaths of the population. Same with former Vice President Mike Pence — Mike Pence! — who can now sit back and relax as major newspapers laud him for being a “stand up guy” all because he reluctantly followed the law.

This isn’t to say that the actions of Cheney, Hutchinson, and the like in this specific instance aren’t significant and worthwhile. Of course they are. But those who conflate their behavior as it pertains to the Jan. 6 committee with their respective careers spent working to accomplish the same goals as Trump himself are only serving to help make those very policies more palatable. Placing Hutchinson and Herschmann and Cheney on an uncritical pedestal of virtue just serves to dilute how destructive their overall influence has been in service of some ill-defined application of “heroics.”

What these people have to say is important. What they’ve done over the past few weeks of hearings is important too. But to truly appreciate how we got to this place, we need to be honest about who these people were — and by all indications still are — to begin with.