Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony was unique. The sequel was not.

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Perhaps the most telling of Donald Trump’s many tirades about Tuesday’s House Select Committee hearing was the one targeting the day’s only witness.

“His body language is that of a total bull…artist,” Trump wrote, for some reason hiding his longtime predilection for vulgarity in ellipsis. “Imaginary world!”

He had posted on his bespoke social media site a number of other times about the witness, Cassidy Hutchinson, and the hearing itself. It was “kangaroo court,” Trump said, and Hutchinson’s handwriting, as noted on a note shown during the hearing, “that of a Whacko?” If you’ve been aware at any time in the past seven years, you can guess the kind of complaints Trump has been making.

But that comment about “body language” that Trump posted on Truth Social was about something other than Trump Trumping. This immediately brought to mind the response of another young woman who recently gave high-profile testimony in a well-watched proceeding: that of actress Amber Heard.

“Amber Heard 2.0” was soon trending on Twitter. The intention of using this phrase was to denigrate Hutchinson as a liar and opportunist, as Johnny Depp supporters believed Heard had been in the recently concluded libel suit. The comparison was aided by a swift effort to undermine Hutchinson’s testimony and Hutchinson herself wherever possible. And describing the situation as “Amber Heard 2.0” is, in fact, apt: not because the two women were particularly similar, but because the reaction has been.

Because, in other words, “Amber Heard 2.0” ended up trending.

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It must first be acknowledged that Hutchinson’s testimony did not provide a complete picture of what happened in the Trump White House during the post-election period. Hutchinson testified under oath to remarkable anecdotes in compelling detail, sometimes conveying what she remembered or noted and sometimes conveying things she was told. Those details of what happened as Trump left the Ellipse after his January 6, 2021 speech, for example, were passed to Hutchinson by a member of Trump’s Secret Service.

This story — about an enraged Trump demanding he be driven to the Capitol, about Trump then trying to grab the steering wheel of the vehicle, about Trump then getting his hands on an officer sitting near him — is quickly became the center of the effort to discredit Hutchinson. Figures from the most right-wing fringe of Republican politics have taken over a diagram of the presidential limousine published by the Daily Mail. See! Impossible to drive! But Trump wasn’t in that limo on January 6; it was a less compartmentalized SUV. Additionally, earlier reports from Politico indicated that the agent Trump allegedly accosted described to committee investigators a dispute between him and the president in that vehicle.

People speaking on behalf of the Secret Service told reporters that Hutchinson’s description of what he was told was inaccurate. In a statement, an agency official indicated the willingness of those present to provide sworn testimony about what happened. The specific details then remain unclear.

That this question had to be decided first is, of course, the point. This conflict is not trivial either for our understanding of what happened that day or for our assessment of Hutchinson’s credibility. But that credibility does not depend on what happened, but if Hutchinson was Told these things happened, because she does not claim that she was in the car. The focus on the limo and its structure and whether the steering wheel can be reached is part of the familiar process of digging deep enough into a claim to find something that may be presented as fishy – allowing that doubt to flow upstream to challenge the plaintiff.

At least this effort to diminish Hutchinson is rooted in something like analyzing the evidence. Hutchinson was also widely maligned on a personal level, dismissed as just a low level employee, despite his time in Republican politics. Things like Trump’s assertion of ‘body language’ or the Newsmax host’s breathless bashings Greg Kelly (“How the hell did ‘CASSIDY’ get her job. Does she have ANY ability? Or is she just a beautiful gossip??”) lives up to the most grotesque efforts to take down Amber Heard.

In his excellent summary of the Heard-Depp lawsuit, Michael Hobbes compares the scrutiny and disparagement the actress faces with long-familiar patterns.

“All of this – the bad faith review, the obsession with minor deviations, the trust that vast conspiracies can be uncovered on Google – are instantly recognizable from previous outbursts of misogynistic bullying on the internet. The ‘body language experts’ who swarmed around Heard spent years applying the same junk science to Amanda Knox, Meghan Markle and Carole Baskin.The gremlins who targeted Anita Sarkeesian during GamerGate pretended to be offended by the (extremely minor) technical errors in his videos rather than his presence in their boy-only treehouse.

“GamerGate” refers to one of the first major outbursts of internet-fueled misogyny hypervoting. A group of men, frustrated by renewed scrutiny of the lack of diversity in the video game industry, have directed attacks and criticism against those who drew the scrutiny and their advocates. This raged on for months, and the relative novelty of the style of attack – internet group bullying, digging up anything that looked like dirt – meant a lack of ability to respond effectively. Doxing and swatting have both emerged as common online harassment tactics, thanks in part to GamerGate.

Writing for The New York Times, Amanda Hess explored how similar dynamics were deployed against Amber Heard — often but not exclusively by women who supported Depp — again reflecting the scrutiny quickly applied to Hutchinson. It wasn’t just that Hutchinson was offering testimony, it was that she was offering testimony that implicated a cult figure: Donald Trump. She dared to speak out against someone thousands of Americans have spent years reflexively defending. She faced a well-oiled system used to both downplay Trump’s actions and eviscerate his opponents.

For an objective observer, the idea that Hutchinson would intentionally lie under oath — in a hearing scripted enough that she knew beyond doubt what was about to happen — bears the burden of proof. His first-hand accounts match what we know about Trump and his actions and statements before and after the Capitol Riot. If it is shown that she lied under oath, she should and probably would face legal repercussions.

But she has not been shown to have lied under oath, although you might not know that from MAGA’s global reaction on Wednesday morning. Those desperate to defend Trump at all costs are deploying a network of allies and an established pattern of surveillance to try to take down Hutchinson.

A young woman offering credible testimony against a popular public figure she was once loyal to — and invoking the wrath of her defenders: Amber Heard 2.0.




Washington

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