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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Cassidy Hutchinson's Tell-All Book Reveals White House Bedlam; Hutchinson: Trump Is The Most Grave Threat To Our Democracy. Aired 4- 5p ET

Aired September 26, 2023 - 16:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: We've had the best time together dancing and doing the news as well.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: We actually did dance on television.

KEILAR: We did.

SCIUTTO: Remember that moment.

KEILAR: It was half decent.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Should we dance right now?

SCIUTTO: Next time.

SANCHEZ: We might get yelled at.

KEILAR: Let's not.

SANCHEZ: Thanks for being with us.

SCIUTTO: Thanks, guys.


Jim, come back any time.

SCIUTTO: I will.

KEILAR: Good luck, Jim.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

As the nation continues to head into an election, where Donald Trump as of now seems likely to be the next Republican presidential nominee, and according to polls has a decent shot of beating President Joe Biden in November, 2024, two pieces of news seem instructive.

Now one you may have missed from last Friday when Mr. Trump took to his social media platform and responded to a profile of outgoing chiefs of staff, General Mark Milley, in "The Atlantic" magazine called "The Patriot", describing the ways that Milley tried to guide the nation through the chaotic and dangerous period surrounding Trump's loss to Biden in November 2020. This included when learning that the Chinese military believed that Trump was going to order an attack against the Chinese, in a phone call authorized by the then- acting secretary of defense, General Milley sought to reassure the Chinese that no such attack was imminent.

Trump took to Truth Social Friday and called Milley's action an act so egregious that in times gone by the punishment would have been death, unquote.

Death. That's right. The former president of the United States who -- well, may be the next president of the United States suggesting in no uncertain terms that America's highest ranking military official, a veteran of multiple combat tours in Afghanistan, and in Iraq, deserves to be executed, a man whose followers have a troubling habit of flooding his perceived enemies with death threats. That happened.

The second piece of news comes from the former top aide to Mark Meadows, Trump's last White House chief of staff, Cassidy Hutchinson -- the star witness in last summer's January 6th Committee hearing. Her new book "Enough" published today.

In the book, Hutchinson paints a picture of the closing days of the Trump White House even more chaotic, even more lawless than described in her shocking testimony. For example, what was Mark Meadows burning in the White House office fireplace? What was her reply when Meadows asked her whether she would take a bullet for Donald Trump?

Hutchinson, as you might recall, was thrust into the national spotlight with her bombshell televised testimony before the January 6th Committee. But that moment, that moment, her testimony, that almost never happened. She had already spoken to the committee twice behind closed doors, ultimately, it was her third closed deposition when she chose to come forward and actually testify fully and honestly and openly about what she really saw and heard in the West Wing.


TAPPER (voice-over): Cassidy Hutchinson was a top aide to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, working a few steps away from the Oval Office, and watching as her boss' reel from the 2020 election loss and fought it with lies and wild schemes.

CASSIDY HUTCHINSON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE AIDE: I remember feeling scared and nervous for what could happen on January 6th.

TAPPER: At just 26 years old, Hutchinson found herself a study star witness in the January 6th special committee's hearings in June, 2022.

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): Ms. Hutchinson was in a position to know a great deal about the happenings in the Trump White House.

TAPPER: Her testimony was damning. President Trump had been raging for weeks after the election. HUTCHINSON: I first noticed there's ketchup dripping down the wall and

there's a shattered porcelain plate on the floor. The valet had articulated that the president was extremely angry and had thrown his lunch against the wall.

TAPPER: And then on January 6th, 2021, she says she heard firsthand as the president brushed off concerns of protestors arriving with weapons.


HUTCHINSON: I overheard the president say something to the effect of, you know, I don't f-ing care that they have weapons they're not here to hurt me.

TAPPER: President Trump returned to the White House after fiery remarks on the ellipse.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: We fight like hell. And if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore.

TAPPER: And so did several stunned Secret Service agents. She said Tony Ornato, then deputy White House chief of staff told her privately what happened in the presidential SUV.

HUTCHINSON: The president said something to the effect of, I'm the f- ing president, take me up to the Capitol now. To which Bobby responded, sir, we have to go back to the West Wing. The president reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel, Mr. Trump then used his free hand to lunge towards Bobby Engel and when Mr. Ornato had recounted this story to me, he had motioned towards his clavicles.

TAPPER: In the hours to come, she says, Mark Meadows struggled to get through to Trump.

HUTCHINSON: I remember Pat saying something to the effect of Mark, we need to do something more neither literally calling for the vice president to be f-ing hung and Mark had responded something to the effect of, you heard him, Pat, he thinks Mike deserves it. He doesn't think they're doing anything wrong.

TAPPER: Hutchinson testified she was disgusted with what she saw that day.

HUTCHINSON: It was un-American. We were watching the Capitol building get defaced over a lie.

TAPPER: Cassidy Hutchinson stayed with President Trump until the end of his term. The former president said he personally turned down a request for her to go with his team to Florida. Committee transcripts later revealed the moral struggle she faced between speaking the truth to investigators and remaining loyal to Trump after changing her attorney, she told investigators that her previous Trump-funded lawyer wanted her to diminish her role in the White House and tell the committee she did not recall certain events. Hutchinson says with those lawyers, she, quote, felt like Trump was

looking over her shoulder. In the end, she chose to tell her story publicly and put what happened behind closed doors on record.


TAPPER: Former President Donald Trump is now vying for another term in the White House threatening to dismantle political norms, investigate his adversaries and seek retribution for perceived slights.

Cassidy Hutchinson today is warning we should believe him.

Here's part one of our interview.


TAPPER: Cassidy, thanks so much for joining us. Appreciate it.

HUTCHINSON: Thank you for having me, Jake.

TAPPER: So few years ago, Donald Trump, President Trump was a man you describe in your book as adoring, and now, you are doing this book tour in which you tell the story from childhood to your courageous testimony, and you are basically warning the world that he shouldn't be president ever again. A, that's quite a journey, and B, why shouldn't he be president ever again?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I would like to start by saying that I came forward to testify because one, that was what I was obligated to do. I swore an oath to protect and defend the United States, and that is what I was subpoenaed to do and I -- I was at points where I had not completely forthcoming with the committee charged with investigating the most grave attack on the United States in recent history.

So I came forward not with the goal or anything other than providing people with the truth. I've seen how people are evading the truth and how people are not holding themselves accountable. And it was my duty as an America, as it is every American's duty to hold themselves to the oath that they swear.

TAPPER: Yeah. Right now, the American people are going through another election, or about to. And we -- Donald Trump is leading in the polls when it comes to the Republican primaries. Even in some polls when it comes to head-to-head matchup with President Biden.

The other day, Trump suggested that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the outgoing chairman, General Mark Milley, committed treason. He suggested that capital punishment should be on the table or should be on the table.

When you see a message like that, how seriously do you take it? I mean, Milley has suggested to people, according to "The Atlantic" magazine, that he expects if Donald Trump is elected president again, that Donald Trump will try to go after him.

When you see that, do you think he means it, or do you think oh, that's just hot air?

HUTCHINSON: I do, Jake. I think that we have seen first hand --

TAPPER: Do you think I do, you think he means it?

HUTCHINSON: Yeah, I do believe that he means it.

Now, I -- what I would like to say to this is, I think for years, we have not held Donald Trump accountable to the things that he says and when he says those things and when he strikes -- when he strokes those vitriol comments to people who have had profound careers defending our democracy like General Milley, we need to take him seriously.


People have been holding him accountable for the past years, but obviously not accountable enough because we are in a position right now where it's looking more likely than not that he could be the Republican nominee, and he has also been indicted four times. To me, it's sad that we're in this place as a country, where we are looking at somebody who has executed these horrible assaults on our democracy and we are continuing to give this person a platform.

That's not what we should stand for as Americans. I think that Donald Trump is the most grave threat that we have -- will face to our democracy in our lifetime and potentially in American history.

TAPPER: When he says things like he wants to use the Department of Justice to go after his enemies, when he says things like he did on Truth Social the other day that he wants to curtail freedom of the press for certain channels and that sort of thing, you take him literally? You think he actually means it and in a second term, he would do that?

HUTCHINSON: I think that Donald Trump in a second term does not have any -- would not have guardrails. I think we saw that at the end of the first term with how things played after he lost the election. He violated our Constitution in multiple ways.

It is -- it is completely fine to wage or to file lawsuits --


HUTCHINSON: -- in the country, or in the states.

But what is not okay is when you threaten and assault the Constitution and our institutions of government. I would not put it past Donald Trump, Jake, to put those institutions of government in a worse position than they were in during the first term.

TAPPER: So, as you noted, he's now facing 91 felony charges, and four different investigations. Four -- he's been indicted four times.

You've testified in front of the Georgia grand jury. You were interviewed by federal investigators, overseeing the January 6th investigation, an indictment into classified documents case, an indictment.

How do you feel about the charges he's facing? I mean, I know you're not a lawyer, but, I know that you also read these documents. When you look at the evidence and then when you hear his excuses or his defense, I mean, do you think he's guilty?

HUTCHINSON: I want to hold off on providing my personal opinions on that only because, you know, I -- and with the platform that I think we all should look towards and the platform at least that I am trying to adopt in this era of my life is -- you know, it is sometimes just as dangerous to speculate about what could be going on behind doors at the Justice Department. I am confident in our system of government and I think that you have to leave it to the investigators to be able to collect the facts, and that is why I came forward and testified truthfully to all the investigations.

I think that if he is convicted, then that is a conviction that we need to accept as Americans. We need to trust our institutions of government.

But I will say this, too, Jake, I think these are the people that were running our government at the end of the Trump administration.

TAPPER: Yeah, the most loyal -- the most loyal of loyal Trump.

HUTCHINSON: The most loyal of loyal Trump people and who have also been indicted. Some people -- some of these individuals have also been indicted.

We have to think, what would a second Trump term look like? Would these be the people that running are the government, people that are currently facing the indictments? Who would work for Donald Trump in a second term?

That's the question we need to be asking ourselves going into this election season.

TAPPER: Well, let's talk about Mark Meadows who was the White House chief of staff and you were basically the chief of staff to the chief of staff.

You write in your book that in one of the first conversations you had with Meadows in the White House, he said to you, Cass, if I can get through this job and manage to keep him out of jail, meaning Donald Trump, I'll have done a good job.

A, when he said that, did you -- did you think he meant that literally? And B, do you think that your testimony might actually result in Donald Trump going to jail?

HUTCHINSON: In that moment when Mark said that to me, it was more of a wake-up call and a moment where I sort of felt frightened -- frightened for the first time but also concerned about Mark. You know, when you're in this job, and I think people -- it's difficult to put this into words, especially if you don't have people who are willing to be forthcoming and honest about the positions that you occupy in government, but especially in Trump administration and in 2020, every day was a hair on fire day. We are swimming to stay afloat, but most of us were drowning.

So, when Mark said that that day, I was alarmed because it was one of those moments for me where I was thinking -- like, I thought that I had a grasp on what was going on and I realized I didn't. But I did take Mark seriously in that moment. In that moment for me and my service for Mark, I wanted to make sure that I did whatever I could to help Mark achieve his goal.

TAPPER: Keep Trump out of jail.

HUTCHINSON: Correct. But that's also thing that's -- I worked through a lot in the book was, it's not the staff's job to control a president who might end up in prison. I think that's one of the more unfortunate things that we have sort of gravitated -- gravitated to as a society where this is normal now.


It's not normal but it has been perceived as being normal now.

What was the other --

TAPPER: Well, the other question was, do you think that your testimony might ultimately result in Donald Trump going -- going to prison?

HUTCHINSON: I came forward to testify with the information that I knew and most of the information that I knew could be corroborated -- corroborated by other people. I hope that what I testified to would cause other people to come forward and testify truthfully.

TAPPER: So you and Meadows were close at one point, I know. And in the Georgia case, as you noted, kind of you alluded to, he's now facing criminal charges. He has pleaded not guilty.

Let's show the mug shot of Mark Meadows.

When you see that photo, and that's -- that's -- I mean, in some ways I'm sure for people who love Mark Meadows, or who loved him at one time, that's a tragic photo. For other people who don't like Mark Meadows, it's not I'm sure.

What goes through your mind when you look at that picture?

HUTCHINSON: I see someone that didn't have to be in this position. You know, I see the picture and I feel sorry for him in some ways because he had a lot of opportunities to do the right thing and to come forward. You know, he's a man that has a family.

That's also another unfortunate impact of all of this when Donald -- when you are in Donald Trump's circle and you have that loyalty to him, it impacts more -- your life in more ways than one can imagine. And, you know, I -- I hope that Mark's doing the right thing if he hasn't already been doing the right thing as what I define the right thing. TAPPER: You hope he's cooperating with investigators.

HUTCHINSON: I hope that he would -- I hope that he would cooperate and uphold the oath that he swore because he knows a lot more than I know about what happened during the November 2020 through January 2021 period.

TAPPER: Yeah. It doesn't seem like he's cooperating with the Georgia case. But it's this -- we don't know if he's cooperating with federal investigators. That seems to be this unanswered question.

Looking at the Republican Party going forward, and whether or not the Republican Party nominates Donald Trump, he's clearly far and ahead in the lead, in polls right now. But I want to play this moment from the first Republican primary debate.


BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS DEBATE MODERATOR: If former President Trump is convicted in a court of law, would you still support him as your party's choice? Please raise your hand if you would.



TAPPER: That's the first debate. The second one is tomorrow. And basically, the only candidates that said they would not support Donald Trump if he were a felon, a convicted felon, were Asa Hutchinson and Chris Christie. Asa Hutchinson did not make the debate stage for tomorrow night.

So Chris Christie will be the only Republican candidate on the debate stage tomorrow night who said he would not vote for Donald Trump if he were a convicted felon, and, he's also really the only one who's been outspoken in his criticism of Donald Trump when it comes to January 6th.

What does that say to you about Donald Trump's hold on the Republican Party?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I wanted to point out something that's really critical that you just said, Jake, that's if Donald Trump is tried and convicted, that wasn't asking if he -- Bret Baier did not ask if he is still going through the trial.

TAPPER: Right, indicted. Yeah.

HUTCHINSON: If he is convicted felon. The counts that Donald Trump is currently facing, he's facing counts of obstructing the Constitution. To me, that is disqualifying. Donald Trump should be disqualified for being the president of the United States. To me, that's not a question.

When I watch that -- and I watched that debate and I was hopeful about several of the candidates on that stage. I thought a lot of them had good forward thinking answers and I could -- at that -- in the beginning of the debate, I could, sort of, see a light at the end of tunnel with this.

TAPPER: Who besides your fellow New Jersey resident Chris Christie?

HUTCHINSON: I had a lot of hope with Nikki Haley.

TAPPER: Uh-huh.

HUTCHINSON: I thought that she had very intelligent and well-flushed out answers on things. Even Mike Pence -- I was really disappointed when I saw Mike Pence raise his hand.

And, you know, Jake, I think Donald Trump has such a grip on these people, and that sometimes I can't quite put my finger on why? Why is it so easy for these people to go along with this? Why is so people -- why is it so easy for these people to say that what he's doing is okay?

Because to me, in that moment, they're saying that -- they're conceding that they're okay with waging a war on our Constitution. That is not a Republican value. That is -- that is not an American value. Those are the types of candidates that we're looking at for 2024, though.

TAPPER: I want to ask about Kevin McCarthy. You at one point were very close to him. In the book, you call him Kevin.


TAPPER: I mean, you were in the first name basis with him. He wasn't the speaker at the time but he was the House majority leader --



TAPPER: I'm sorry, minority leader for the Republicans.

But near the end of the book, you write about being disillusioned with McCarthy. You say, I started to sense a significant shift in Kevin.

What's the shift? What happened to McCarthy in your view?

HUTCHINSON: I think that Kevin had an opportunity after January 6th, as did Mitch McConnell, as did all the elected officials in Congress that are Republicans to denounce what happened on January 6th and work against Trump still having a stronghold on the Republican Party. Kevin was fairly outspoken in the days after January 6th about how it was wrong.

But then after we -- the former president left office, McCarthy went down to Mar-a-Lago and see that was sort of the beginning of that transformation where we kind of were able to observe that nothing is going to change. You know, I -- I still have a lot of respect for Kevin. I hope for best for him as the speaker, especially as we see the chaos

that's happening on Capitol Hill right now. But I -- I'm not confident that he's a good leader for the Republican Party because he is a talking head for Donald Trump. Kevin hasn't taken a strong stand against him and I'm confident that Kevin knows all this is wrong.

TAPPER: You know, a few days after the election, McCarthy -- and, look, you were in the White House, and I'm sure you didn't see everything, but just a few days after the election --

HUTCHINSON: Thankfully.

TAPPER: -- he went on -- Kevin McCarthy went on Fox and said Donald Trump won in a landslide. I mean --

HUTCHINSON: But the day of the -- the day of January 6th, he also --


TAPPER: He voted, yeah, to disenfranchise Pennsylvania and Arizona.

I mean, he was part of the big lie along with everybody else.

HUTCHINSON: No, you're not wrong on that, Jake. But I think even if we look at the Senate, with Senator McConnell, they brought an impeachment trial against the former president. If Senator McConnell had wanted to get to 10 votes, we would not be facing this issue right now. He could have likely whipped 10 votes in the Senate to make sure that Donald Trump could never be president again.

And this is just the plague that has unfortunately infiltrated throughout the entire Republican Party, and I'm not confident that the Republican Party is going to continue to exist -- at least the Republican Party that I have known and the Republican Party that I originally came to be apart of.

TAPPER: So let's talk about January 6th, because one of the things you really brought to everyone's attention in your testimony was how much Donald Trump wanted to go to the Capitol on January 6th -- demanded to go to the Capitol on January 6th and I think one of the big questions that I have is why? What did he want to do at the Capitol?

HUTCHINSON: You know, I can't speculate. I heard several things --


TAPPER: You can speculate. You have -- you have more information.

HUTCHINSON: I could but that wouldn't be responsible because I -- definitively, I don't know what he wanted to do that day.

TAPPER: But what like -- what are some ideas?

HUTCHINSON: What I -- what I would know is he -- there's a reason he wanted to go to the Capitol. There's a reason he wanted to be with his supporters. And Donald Trump also knows the impact that his words have and he

knows the impact that his presence has on his supporters. He knows that he himself riles people up. He knew that the crowd was armed that day. He knew that there were people angry about this.

So I -- knowing Donald Trump, knowing what I knew inside the White House, that was not a mistake. He did not want to just go to the Capitol to go there and make a little speech then go back to the White House.

There was a reason he wanted to go there and again, I would like to restate that Donald Trump knows the impact of his words. When he -- on January 6th, when he wanted to go to the Capitol, everything -- that was intentional.

The Mark Milley tweet that you earlier mentioned from this past weekend, he knows the impact those words will have. He knows that people will come out and be violent against these people, and that's what he wants.

TAPPER: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, there will be if there are not already death threats against Milley.

HUTCHINSON: Oh, absolutely.

TAPPER: Yeah. During the Capitol attack, you heard Meadows say that then-President Trump didn't want to do anything to stop it. We heard the chants "hang Mike Pence, hang Mike Pence". And what did Meadows say about "hang Mike Pence", what did you overhear?

HUTCHINSON: This is when the former courthouse counsel came into our office and Pat had said that -- Pat Cipollone -- Pat had said that they needed to go down to the Oval dining room where the president was, the rioters had gotten into the Capitol.

And Mark had relayed it to Pat Cipollone something to the affect of, you heard him, Pat, he doesn't -- he doesn't want to -- he doesn't want to do anything.

TAPPER: He doesn't want to do anything.

HUTCHINSON: He doesn't want to do anything.


TAPPER: Despite what Cassidy Hutchinson witnessed on January 6th, she continued to show up to work the very next day.

Our conversation will pick up there right after this quick break.



TAPPER: And we're back with our politics lead. Cassidy Hutchinson today, just minutes ago, telling me why she found it so difficult to break away from Trump world and what she feared would happen if she had not.


TAPPER: So on the morning of January 7th, you still went to work.


TAPPER: And this -- this is one of the things that I think -- that some of your critics on the left, who were, you know, never Trumpers who are Republicans, say, like, you know, you see your friend, Alyssa Griffin.


TAPPER: Alyssa Farah Griffin go on TV, she's denouncing January 6th. Sarah Matthews, Stephanie Grisham, Secretary DeVos, Secretary Chao, others resigned that day. Senator Mnuchin, you write in your book, was considering invoking the 25th Amendment. You continued to work there.

Tell me why you went back? Because, obviously, you feel very passionately about this and you've been very brave in your testimony. But you still on January 7th went back to work.

HUTCHINSON: Oh, I did. And, you know, I -- I wish he a glossy and short cookie cutter answer for you, Jake, but, you know, it's something that I still struggle with to this day. But I will say, I would like to also reference what Alyssa did on that day, Alyssa Farah Griffin. I remember sitting in the office and I was very outspoken on January 6th and every day after that I strongly disagreed with what had happened.

TAPPER: Right, internally, yes.

HUTCHINSON: Correct, correct, internally.

But when I saw Alyssa on TV that day, it was this moment for me write sort of felt that split because on one hand, I was very upset with her. You know, she was one of my closest friends.


And I was upset with her for a variety of reasons but the one that I think is the most potent for this conversation is I felt that she -- what she did that day was disloyal.

TAPPER: Right.

HUTCHINSON: In saying that now, with the hindsight and the experience that I've had sounds ludicrous.

TAPPER: Well, but it's an honest answer. I appreciated that.

HUTCHINSON: But it is. But I -- and I think that's the important part of this transformation period for me because on the other hand when I saw her there, there was a little bit of envy. You know, I was proud of her for doing what she felt that she had to be doing and for using her voice.

And I give Alyssa a lot of credit. You know, I -- I eventually came to her side and she was the one that welcomes me. She was the first person that welcomes me and helps me get to this point.

But I say all this, Jake, because I -- I did struggle with what I should do. I had committed to moving to Florida with the former president and, again, it's that push-pull inside of me where on one hand, I felt that January 6th happened because we, the staff, didn't do enough to stop it. That we, the staff, should have not let people around him that would have stroked this desire for him to overturn the election on January 6th.

TAPPER: You say in the book, that you felt complicit.

HUTCHINSON: Right, correct. Yes. But then there's the other side of me where I -- I was afraid to look disloyal. I was afraid to split from the world because once you're in that environment and have the access and have the insight and knowledge that you do, you sort of feel like there's a target on your back.

So, I did not move to Florida with him but I stayed on payroll with him for several months after the end of the administration, and I still have that -- the moral dilemma inside of me through that -- through that whole period.

TAPPER: It's the push-pull of one pull is doing the right thing.


TAPPER: And then, the other pull is loyalty and fear.


TAPPER: Is that right?

HUTCHINSON: That's fairly accurate.

I also would like to say though, you know, I -- before I was subpoenaed by the January 6th Committee, I did work slowly to start to separate. I wanted to start a new chapter in my career because I disagreed with not only what happened on January 6th but I saw the trajectory of Republican politics, and I didn't want to be a direct part of that for the most part.

Again, it was difficult, and I -- I'm not trying to make excuses. I don't have a hero's complex over here. I -- I know a lot of what I did was wrong, but, you know, I got to where I am today.

But it was an important year for me because I was able to look back and reflect on things that, one, that I was complicit in but also understand the dangers of what we were doing at the White House.

TAPPER: So, there are a couple things in the book that I just want to ask you quick questions about. You write about Mark Meadows burning documents in the fireplace in the chief of staff office. Now, he has said or his spokesman had said this was not about documents. They were just using newspaper to get the fire going.

I want to give you an opportunity to respond. What do you think he was actually burning in there? Was it newspaper?

HUTCHINSON: I -- I can't speak to what exactly he was burning. But I'm confident that it wasn't just newspaper.

TAPPER: Do you think he was burning documents? I mean, you -- you suggest in the book that what he was doing could have been a violation of the Presidential Records Act?

HUTCHINSON: It could have been, yes.

TAPPER: You write about being at a Trump rally in Georgia, and Trump asks Meadows to meet with Hunter Biden's old business partner Tony -- partner Tony Bobulinski. You write, quote, I had a weird feeling that we were in danger. I couldn't explain it, but the feeling was real.

Why was -- why was the White House chief of staff meeting with Tony Bobulinski?

HUTCHINSON: You are asking the same questions I've asked myself since that night.

TAPPER: I mean, so random.

HUTCHINSON: But that was -- that was also -- right, because we had been in public with Tony Bobulinski a few weeks before at the national debates. So the fact that Trump and his associates --

TAPPER: But they were meeting secretly, right, in the --


HUTCHINSON: Secretly, yes. I mean, when Mark got off the plane, actually it was a campaign official that asked, that they need -- needed to convene a private meeting away from everybody's prying eyes. You know, I don't have the answer to that. I didn't ask Mark.

But Mark after we left I wasn't -- I couldn't overhear what they were talking but I walked away with Mark and Mark said something to me that, you know, reaffirming my loyalty to him. And it just left this unsettling feeling in me in that moment that, you know, there were things going on that were beyond my purview and I wasn't sure what we were doing, but I knew that it wasn't right.

TAPPER: Another example of this category of things behind your purview that felt wrong to you, Meadows takes what you believe is a classified binder Crossfire Hurricane, which is the Trump Russia investigation.


And he takes it to two far right media figures who basically toe the MAGA party line and Cipollone tells you there's classified information that to get it back, and you get it back. Meadows said --

HUTCHINSON: I don't personally get it back.

TAPPER: But it gets brought back.

HUTCHINSON: It gets brought back.

TAPPER: It gets brought back.

HUTCHINSON: Not in binders, by the way. It was unbound.

TAPPER: Unbound, okay. But Meadows says, no, everything he gave had been unclassified by Trump.

HUTCHINSON: Well, I would say there were a reason those documents were brought back. And I -- I would -- that's a very dubious response in my opinion because, one, we got those documents back for a reason, and two, those documents still have not been fully declassified by the Justice Department.

TAPPER: Yeah, I mean, that's a potential law breaking -- law violation.

HUTCHINSON: Correct, that is also -- it goes to show how there's a mentality -- there was a mentality in the Trump administration of being frivolous with some of our nation -- with some of our country's most sensitive national security secrets. And do we really want people like that back in power?

TAPPER: One of the other things that you overhear Trump saying is when the Supreme Court refuses to hear that case from Texas, the wild case from Texas that has all those lies and things, Ken Paxton, the attorney general of Texas, and Trump is livid.


TAPPER: And he starts yelling at Meadows, we should have made more calls, we should have done this, we should have done that, I don't know exactly what could have been done. It's the Supreme Court.

But then Trump says, I don't want people to know we lost. It's embarrassing.

I mean that's potential potentially of significance legally if he knows that he lost.

HUTCHINSON: Correct. But, you know, that's -- and I elaborate this on my testimony, too, where I can't climb inside the former president's mind and know exactly what he was thinking, but it's not just me that has come forward with information like that. General Milley has also said that he was in the former president's presence when he admitted that he lost. Alyssa Farah Griffin as well.

You know, I -- I can't speculate about his actual mindset and his motivations behind this, but in that moment, it was clear to me there was some concession. I would also like to point out, Jake, that the president directed Mark to begin declassifying the Crossfire Hurricane documents before January 6th happened because he was worried that those documents would never get declassified under a Biden administration.

So, you know, there's -- there was a mentality in that era of just chaos to be frank. And it's happening in the West Wing of the White House.


HUTCHINSON: You know, it wasn't lost on people that Joe Biden had won the election and that he had won the election and it was a free and fair election. But yet, January 6th still happened.

TAPPER: One of the things I wonder because you talk about this -- this journey. I don't want to belittle it but it does sound like leaving a cult. I mean, it really does because it's like difficult for you to leave, you're talking about loyalty, and you're talking about fear of what happens to you if you leave. And you're also talking about like doing the right thing.

And again, I'm not trying to belittle it at all, but it does sound like when people talk about leaving a cult it does sounds like that. But then there also is this inflection point where you are basically told you're not coming down to Florida --


TAPPER: -- to join -- to join the president's staff at Mar-a-Lago which is too bad --


HUTCHINSON: His foreperson (ph) thought I was insufficiently loyal.

TAPPER: Yeah, because you were insufficiently loyal, I guess they thought you were leaking some stuff, which by the way, maybe you would have helped them avoid the classified documents scandal because you were --

HUTCHINSON: I did my best in everything that I was asked, Jake.

TAPPER: So, but one of the things I wonder is, do you ever think that if they had let you go down to Mar-a-Lago, what would have happened? Like, would you have -- would you have testified? You would have been subpoenaed probably, but like --


TAPPER: -- would history have turned outside differently? Would the push-pull still have gone on? Would you still done the right thing if you were down in Mar-a-Lago? Like what is that alternative history?

HUTCHINSON: I guess my short answer is I don't know because that's not what played out.

TAPPER: That's not what happened.


TAPPER: Obviously, you on did the right thing, you did the brave thing I don't mean to belittle it.

HUTCHINSON: No, no, I think you're not belittling it.

TAPPER: It's just --

HUTCHINSON: Look, I haven't been -- ever been -- you say this, I have not been in a cult. I mean, we can sit here and debate whether MAGA movement is a cult. That's a separate topic.


TAPPER: No, no, I don't think it is. I don't think it is. But the way you describe it sounds like it is.


What I will say on that is I -- I would hope that I would have come forward to do the right thing still. But when you're in that environment, it becomes a lot more difficult, and I did get brought back into that environment and for a short period of time when I first began doing my depositions with the committee.


But I didn't feel empowered to comply completely. And also, Jake, if I'm being completely candid and frank, you know, I still felt that loyalty to him --


HUTCHINSON: -- at the end of the administration. And I worried that if I had gone down to Florida, that that would have only grown and I would not have come forward.

And whether or not my -- what I testified to changes the trajectory of any investigation, I fulfilled what I was obligated to do under the oath that I swore to protect and defend the Constitution and the country. And I fulfilled the obligations of my subpoena.

So, to me, this is not about what I did and the impact that it has for me. It's more about I was able to maintain my character and my integrity after I retained new legal counsel who empowered me and showed me the importance of telling the whole truth. So anybody that finds themselves in a situation like that, you know, I just would encourage them to listen to your conscience and this moment is much bigger than us.

TAPPER: So I guess the question -- the big question then is this, what you did was the right thing, no question. But it was also -- I think it's fair to say more difficult, right, and there are probably are other Trump people who want to do the right thing, but they have their own Trump world lawyers like you had, telling them to say, I don't recall, I don't recall, I don't recall, even though they could recall.

And, they're stuck. Why would they do the right thing? Do you regret doing the right thing ever?


TAPPER: Why not?

I mean, I'm glad you did the right thing. Don't get me wrong.

HUTCHINSON: You don't have to. I mean, look, I'm not asking for anybody to --


TAPPER: No, I think it's important to --

HUTCHINSON: No, but --

TAPPER: -- acknowledge that you did the right thing but that's not the easier thing.

HUTCHINSON: No, that's correct. And I also want to be clear, though, like as I was writing the book with my fantastic collaborator, Mark Salter, who worked for John McCain --

TAPPER: I'm familiar with him, yeah.

HUTCHINSON: -- for decades.

And Mark and I had this conversation a lot, too, though, about why it actually meant to break from Trump world. Mark and I had a lot of profound conversations about this mentality that I still had to break.

I didn't write this book with the intention of trying to convince people that I did the right thing. I wrote this book with the intention to show my journey. And I don't love the word journey, it sounds a little like "The Bachelor", but the journey that I had of being a Trump world insider.

I'm not a Democrat. I still consider myself a Republican. I -- but I don't consider myself part of what the Republican Party largely identifies with today, which is the Trump Republican Party in my opinion.

But in this period for me -- you know, I've never once doubted my decision to be truthful and be honest. And I had a conversation with a member of Congress who is a Republican member of Congress that did not serve on the January 6th Committee.

TAPPER: This is the person with the pseudonym in your book?


TAPPER: Sam. Right. HUTCHINSON: Now, I have been very open with Sam throughout this period

about how I was struggling. We were on the phone one night and Sam told me, he was -- go look in the mirror. I'll stay on the phone, go look in the mirror.

TAPPER: This is before you made your big decision?



HUTCHINSON: This is before I started back channeling to do, yes.

And I'm looking in the mirror. I'm on the phone with Sam. And he said to me, do you like what you're looking at? You're the only person that has to live with yourself for the rest of your life, nobody else has to.

Do you like what you're looking at? I don't mean your appearance, Cassidy. I mean, do you like the person that you are?

And I hadn't liked who I was for a while and I knew in that moment that I had to correct course for myself and come back to the person that I wanted to be and the person I thought I saw myself becoming when I entered public service.

TAPPER: The book is "Enough". The author is Cassidy Hutchinson. Thanks so much for talking to us. Really appreciate it.

HUTCHINSON: Thank you. Appreciate it.


TAPPER: So much to discuss. The panel is here. It's a great panel.

I'm going to get their reaction. We got Kinzinger. We got Farah Griffin. We got Collins. We got Gangel.

Squeeze in a quick break, and we'll be right back.



TAPPER: And sticking with our politics lead, as Donald Trump's former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson tells me today, Donald -- quote, Donald Trump is the most grave threat we will face in our democracy.

Our panel is here.

I want to begin by getting everyone short quick initial take away. What -- the biggest revelation from the interview what did you think?

ADAM KINZINGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think herself -- her look at herself and her honesty. That was my biggest take away from that. TAPPER: What did you think, Alyssa?

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I would say same actually because there's so many juicy nuggets and really important historical elements in this book, but she showed something we haven't seen in so many of the men who served in the White House, many members on Capitol Hill who still defend the former president was this self- reflection in this waking up to say what is my role in history. What am I doing when something needs to be done?

And you just see that in her in a way that is so missing in our politics.

TAPPER: Yeah, that's right. She's taken more responsibility for January 6th than like the guy --

GRIFFIN: Yeah, she's bearing the weight of that.

TAPPER: Than literally any of the defendants. What do you think?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: Well, and tying to that, I mean, the difference in how she speaks now and how she spoke out with the January 6th Committee and the difference of who is paying her legal fees is something I was thinking about while watching that. Because obviously, that's something we're talking about now with the Trump investigations and how she was -- and you pressed her on this, you know, if your critics say -- well, your credibility given what you wanted to do then what you're doing now. And now such a difference it makes in the fact that it was a Trump-paid, a Trump-PAC-paid attorney and then now when she had her own attorney, how she felt like she could come forward and speak more freely about what she really saw and really witnessed.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Two things that may have an impact on the legal case, one is that she heard him say the words that he knew he lost.


GANGEL: And he was embarrassed. That is very credible.

The second is, Jake, when she talked about -- when you asked her about why he went up to the Capitol and she talked about the fact that he knows the impact his words are going to have on his followers and she said, I think this is almost a direct quote, that he knew people would be violent and that is what he wants.

TAPPER: Yeah, she made a reference towards the end and I mentioned this in the digital piece I did about the book.

But, Alyssa, there is a section of the book, she called it back channeling, between her second interview behind closed doors and her third interview behind closed doors, she's still being represented by a Trump lawyer.

[16:50:07] So she still has to watch what she says.

She goes and has a glass of wine or two with you at your Georgetown -- your former Georgetown house, and guys come up with a way for the truth to come out. Tell us what that is? Because she alludes to it but you kind of have to read between the lines in the book.

GRIFFIN: Yeah, she came to me after her first two testimonies and said, there's more I need to say I don't know how to go about it.

We got together and over the course of hours of talking about different scenarios, and she frankly sat me down and kind of laid out what she knew. And it was -- it was damning, whether it's the burning of documents, whether it's the thinking Mike Pence, the president -- the former president thinking Mike Pence should be hung, things are incredibly important for history and also the criminal investigations.

And what we ultimately came up with, I said, what if I can take this information to Congressman Liz Cheney and see if she can call you back? In the meantime, we can try to get you representation pro bono. Luckily, she found fabulous attorneys who represented her pro bono.

And what I -- you can't forget in this -- 25 years old, at the time, did not -- not somebody who comes from money, not somebody whose had some high-paying job, could barely make end meet and still did the right thing when men with bigger titles and bigger salaries did not.

TAPPER: And, Congressman Kinzinger, what happens is she does this interview still being represented by this Trump paid attorney who is telling her just say, I don't recall, I don't recall, and all of a sudden, Liz Cheney knows all this and is asking her about all this stuff, because this back channeling --

KINZINGER: Yeah, it's brilliant.

GRIFFIN: I called Adam, too.


TAPPER: And Passantino is like, how does -- how does she know all this? Somebody must be talking.

KINZINGER: Yeah. Thank God you didn't anchor on me for that one. You did way better.

No, I mean, it's -- it's brilliant -- it's a brilliant way to do it. I don't want to over or underestimate, whichever the right estimate is, the impact of a cost of a lawyer and especially as Alyssa said, when you're barely making ends meet and the lawyer without telling you, tells you, look, here's what we need you to do and this is all free. You don't have to worry, you get a pass. And there are going to be many people I wish they had the courage to speak out like she did that will talk about the fact that, you know, I had to say no comment or I can't remember because I just couldn't afford a lawyer.

Lawyers around here, by the way, are really expensive, especially around D.C.

TAPPER: Right. And we should point out that as Stefan Passantino underlines it, he never told her to perjure herself and she says he never told me to perjure myself, but it's also said that she says that he said, I don't recall is not perjury. And it certainly seems as though he was not trying to get her to cooperate.

COLLINS: Yeah. I mean, well, there's so much that she knew, and the pattern. I mean, look what's happening right now in the classified documents case in Florida. I mean, does that not have complete echoes of that. We know Yuscil Tavares, one of the employees there, is cooperating.

It all came down to, he didn't have the money to pay for an attorney in that sense. And so we're seeing this play out.

And talking to the impact is so -- so important because it's what -- what she said, what she testified to. She was easily the star witness. And that could have potentially never happened had that relationship continued, had that conversation not happened.

Had she not come forward talking about the carelessness with which they treated classified documents, which we now know about, but to see how they talked about it on that final day. That it was distressing to the White House counsel's office and the Trump world, of how they -- of how Mark Meadows was handling classified documents. It just reverberates to what we're even following now with these investigations.

TAPPER: Now we didn't get into it in the interview, but, obviously, the story that she told that was hearsay in her testimony which was Ornato and Bobby Engel, the Secret Service guys, former Secret Service guys in terms of the deputy White House chief of staff, telling her the story about Trump lunging. They deny it.

GANGEL: They say they don't recall.

TAPPER: They say they don't recall.

Now, she only testi -- she says she wasn't there. They told her this story. I personally don't doubt that they told her the story. Now maybe they were just BS-ing with her, I don't know, but, what's interesting is one assumes that they have testified before Jack Smith, the special counsel.

Now we don't know for sure one way or another, but Jack Smith is investigating and has indicted the president on January 6th charges. And one assumes that they have been forced to say one way or another under oath.

GANGEL: Look, there are a couple things wherever there have been discrepancies if you look closely at what people have said there's a lot of I don't recall, or that's not my recollection. I think it's important to also remember that she testified under oath to the committee and she has no reason not to tell the truth. With everything she's been through, why would she make something like this up? KINZINGER: And the Trump people after she testified, after anybody

testified willingly, they tried to assassinate her character. You remember after the story about the limo, they went after her and said this is a complete lie, she's lying, she's a liar. She lies.


They try to intimidate you out of doing that and she wasn't intimidated and that is to say way morning as you alluded at the beginning of this, to 99 percent of the men in the Trump administration.

TAPPER: Yeah, what was the significance that you think Alyssa of her testimony.

GRIFFIN: I mean, it was beyond critical. I think that -- and by the way, before the live testimony, she was cooperating both with the January 6th Committee then ultimately DOJ. I think she played a fundamental role in the indictments of the former president.

But also keep in mind, 13 million people watched her testify live. That was before the midterms. I think there was an impact there in how people perceived the Republican Party. I think it did have an impact with voters who did not know what was happening in the final days of the election.

TAPPER: I think she also probably forced other people to come forward and tell the truth, right?

KINZINGER: She did. Yeah, she did. You notice we kinds of had a slew of people willing to come forward after that, both because she has made comments that, you know, around them. So, like, yeah, okay, I tell the truth. And secondarily, because there are a lot of people that felt shame that she could do it and they couldn't.

TAPPER: Yeah, a 25, 26-year-old young woman with no real wealth to her name.

We have much more to discuss. We're going to get reaction from another former Trump White House official.

Plus, how Cassidy Hutchinson's comments and testimony and even her book might play in a court of law. We'll get into all of f that. That's next.