Even to his enablers, Donald Trump appeared unhinged. What does that say about them?

WASHINGTON — During Tuesday’s U.S. congressional hearing into the events of Jan. 6, 2021, a pattern from earlier hearings became unmistakable — the way many of former president Donald Trump’s closest and most senior advisers describe him, his behaviour and that of those he’d gathered after the election to help him.

“Crazies,” former Trump campaign spokesperson Katrina Pierson said.

“Crazy stuff,” former attorney general Bill Barr said.

“Nutty,” former senior White House lawyer Pat Cipollone said.

“I thought it was nuts,” former White House lawyer Eric Herschmann said.

“The West Wing is unhinged,” the former chief of staff’s deputy Cassidy Hutchinson texted someone at one point in December 2020.

These were all loyal Trump soldiers, who long fought beside him and for him. Under oath, they seem to routinely reach for synonyms for insanity when describing the president’s behaviour and mindset. We’ve learned the team of White House staff even had a name for the outside team — led by Rudy Giuliani and included Sidney Powell, John Eastman, and Michael Flynn — that Trump had begun relying on to overturn the results of the election: “Team Crazy.”

Of course, Trump and his favoured team had a term they used for the White House crew, too, as Giuliani recalled of Trump’s attitude during a contentious December 2020 meeting featuring both sets of advisers: “You guys are a bunch of pu – – – – s,” Giuliani said. “Excuse the expression, but I’m almost certain the word was used.”

It was after that meeting that Trump sent his middle-of-the-night tweet calling for a Jan. 6 assembly of his supporters in Washington, one he promised would “be wild.”

The rest is history.

Ongoing history. It’s not clear yet on what, if any, consequences Trump will suffer as a result of sicking an angry and armed mob he knew to be dangerous on legislators and his own vice-president to try to prevent the transfer of power to the winner of the presidential election. Trump is still a leading candidate to win the presidency in 2024. It is unclear whether the attorney general’s office will summon up the conclusive evidence and political gumption to file criminal charges. There are chapters of this saga yet to be written.

But whatever happens next, the consensus opinion of the political professionals closest to Trump — that he was acting like a lunatic, relying on support from “crazies” — ought to stand out as salient.

Of course, their accounts are added to the long record compiled by former staff members who’ve written books or given accounts of their time in Trump’s service (Mark Esper, John Bolton, Stephanie Grisham, Michael Cohen, Omarosa Manigault Newman and others) that point a portrait of consistent dishonesty, wild impulsiveness, narcissism and irrationality. Is the latest testimony much different?

A lot of the punditry about the Jan. 6 commission hearings has revolved around the odds of criminal charges being eventually filed against Trump — and a lot of his defenders who email me point to courtroom concepts like hearsay and cross examination in alleging a rush to judgment by members of Congress and the media. But there is a larger picture here than criminal liability.

We are discussing the conduct of the man who was president of the United States, in control of a vast nuclear arsenal and leading the most powerful country in the world. This in a country that has long held itself up as a “shining city on the hill,” in its own estimation a beacon of democracy for other nations to emulate. You might expect the standard for judging leaders would be higher than “arguably not technically proven criminal by courtroom standards.”

Mere sanity — a bare connection to rational, responsible behaviour — might seem an equally low bar, but it is one that many of those who worked with Trump daily do not think he met.

Some say Barr’s estimation in earlier testimony that Trump might have become “detached from reality” could be a defence of a kind against criminal liability: if he’d actually believed the lies he was telling in assembling and directing a mob, then he didn’t have the malicious intention criminality requires.

If Trump was misled by advisers he brought in who told him what he wanted to hear, how can we blame him?

To this sentiment, Republican commission member Liz Cheney — among the most conservative ideologues in the party, now excommunicated because of her insistence on telling the truth about the 2020 election — pointed out the obvious: “President Trump is a 76-year-old man. He is not an impressionable child.”

That the most powerful person in the country would need basic civic morality explained to him, as you might to a small child, seemed to exasperate attorney Cipollone. “I don’t understand why I have to tell you that’s a bad thing,” he said while trying to explain why seizing voting machines over wild conspiracy theories was wrong. “It’s a terrible idea.”

Again, this is the reflection of one of Trump’s most loyal advisers, the man who served as his lawyer in his first impeachment trial. Throw it on the pile of testimony from those who knew him best and longest.

And maybe add this one, from text messages sent on Jan. 6, 2021 by his 2016 campaign manager to another Trump aide. “This is about Trump pushing for uncertainty in our country, a sitting president asking for civil war,” Brad Parscale wrote. And then, “This week I feel guilty for helping him win.” And then, “If I was Trump, and I knew my rhetoric killed someone.”

When the aide responded it wasn’t rhetoric that killed a woman who’d shown up for Trump on Jan. 6, Parscale responded: “Yes, it was.”

History will record the verdicts of the justice system and the political system. But it will also record the verdicts of those who worked for him. And those are damning.


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