Just a few days ago here I remarked that every day now we wake up to days unlike we’ve known before. I said that during a week in which, at one extreme, the Supreme Court turned the American future upside down, At the other, the House Select Committee on January 6 was continuing to build high the gallows for Donald Trump.
Then, this last Tuesday it all conflated—the gallows, the madness that those gallows are witness to, and the maligning of women for daring to speak truth, not heeding the intimidation of an old order that just isn’t ready to expire. Then, this last Tuesday gave us an instance of perfection that nothing can undo.
It came in that moment in Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony when she shared a story related to her by then-deputy White House chief of staff Tony Ornato, a story that Trump was “irate” when Robert Engel, the special agent in charge for Secret Service on January 6, 2021, told the president that the president could not proceed to the Capitol building, where the president wanted to march into the House chamber with an armed assembly.
“The president had a very strong, a very angry response to that,” Hutchinson said. “Tony described him as being irate. The president said something to the effect of, ‘I’m the fucking president, take me up to the Capitol now.’”
Engel said, “Sir we have to go back to the West Wing.”
Hutchinson went on: “The president reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel. Mr. Engel grabbed his arm, said, ‘Sir you need to take your hand off the steering wheel, we’re going back to the West Wing, we’re not going to the Capitol.'”
Trump then used his free hand to lunge at Bobby Engel, according to Ornato, Hutchinson testified. Hutchinson told the committee neither Engel nor Ornato disputed the description of what had happened.
A few hours later, however, the story was disputed. Both Engel and Ornato, who is presently Assistant Director, Office of Training United States Secret Service, said the incident never happened. Their refutation was called “pushback.”
What’s interesting is that the pushback hasn’t really undone the account. What’s interesting is that even the pushback has received pushback. It is highly unlikely, commentators have noted, that Hutchinson made this account up out of thin air. What’s interesting, the commentators note, is that the aide at the heart of the story, Tony Ornato, is now at the Secret Service. What’s interesting is that this isn’t to say that Ornato is lying when he refutes it, or that he was lying when he shared the incident with Hutchinson in the first place, if he indeed shared it. At the same time, sources—some from within the Secret Service—are saying they heard the same, or a similar, story about Trump’s behavior in the car. Reporters have also noted that Ornato has been said to have a history of saying things that he later denies having said.
Which is to say, what’s interesting is that the pushback hasn’t much mattered. The moment this story was related, it was in the public air, spreading rapidly. Elaine was driving us when we heard Hutchinson relate this on CNN radio, and we both just looked at each other, eyes wide, mouths open. What’s interesting is that while Hutchinson related much worse information—namely, that Trump was fine with the presence of highly deadly weapons being brandished among those marching in Trump World that day since he wasn’t the object of their rage—the steering wheel and clavicle story defined the day, defined the Trump presidency.
What’s interesting is that whether or not this happened, it doesn’t matter. Trump likes perfect calls, even if they were fictional. Well, this was the perfect story, even if it is fictional. What’s interesting is that someday, when The Staircase-style dramatic series is made about the events during and surrounding that day, there will be a moment portrayed in which President Trump lunges for a steering wheel and then tries to throttle the man who stops his lunge for the wheel. It good-as-happened.
The anecdote rings of a bigger truth. It was the perfect summary of this horribly intended and reckless man and a presidency that he had already throttled and that he wanted to keep a death grip on. Trump doesn’t own the story; the story owns Trump. It’s there. It’s permanent. Even if it didn’t happen—and I’m not at all convinced it didn’t—it as good-as-happened.
Plus, there’s this: Since the first night of these public hearings I’ve found it manifest that the events would prove the sinking of Donald Trump. People still ascribe—understandably, out of worry, but wrongly—that he is made out of Teflon and that nothing will stick to him, because few solid substances will adhere permanently to Teflon. But look closely: He is not made of Teflon. Rather, he is made of hubris and hatred and braggadocio and fear, and those are attracting agents. Those agents have aged in such a way that now everything adheres to him and radiates outward, spinning and sticking to those in his orbit who can no longer safely detach themselves from him.
Each hearing has raised the gallows higher while digging the pit of his future deeper and deeper, and truth is, these hearings have not yet met their gravest depths.
It is fitting that the witnesses who have so far damaged Trump the most, those witnesses who have revealed him for the thug and tyrant that he is, have been women.
The way he’s talked about any woman who thinks differently, who has ideals, who defies him, the way he’s voiced his contempt for their dreams and their intelligence, he created this kismet for himself.
Cassidy Hutchinson embraces Liz Cheney
Mikal Gilmore is the author of four books, including the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning memoir Shot in the Heart, and the 1960s cultural history Stories Done. He is a longtime writer for Rolling Stone.
Brian's Stole My Check Playlist
Lying ::: Black Merda
Mr. Big Thief ::: Seun Kuti & The Egypt 80
R.L. Burnside ::: Stole My Check
Day of Judgement ::: Hugh Mundell
Little Criminals ::: Randy Newman
Judgement Train ::: Rustin Man
The Hustle ::: Van McCoy
Lock Him Up ::: Nevermind Nessie
None Shall Escape The Judgement ::: Johnny Clarke