The secret support system for former aides taking on Trump: The other women

As Cassidy Hutchinson sat alone at a long wooden table inside a Capitol Hill hearing room, her one-time Trump White House colleague Alyssa Farah Griffin, watched from the CNN green room.

Griffin felt nervous. And for good reason. Hutchinson’s testimony before the Jan. 6 committee had been kept largely secret up till a day or so before. When it was revealed, it was under the billing that it would provide bombshells about what had transpired inside the Trump White House on that day.

As Hutchinson began laying out those eye-popping revelations, Griffin texted another former colleague, Sarah Matthews, slated to soon testify before the same committee. And she reached out to Olivia Troye, a former Trump national security official who was sitting in the hearing room as Hutchinson testified.

The women felt mutually stunned as they watched. They were also concerned for Hutchinson, understanding that as soon as she left that hearing room, she’d face intense scrutiny from the media, nasty messages and encounters online and, at times, in person, and the loneliness of being a Republican in Washington who speaks out against former President Donald Trump. After all, they each experienced that themselves.

When the proceedings were done they each reached out to Hutchinson, too.

“I was so nervous watching her,” said Griffin. “But she immediately had such a commanding presence — I was beyond proud to see my friend stand up before the world and tell the truth when so many others were too cowardly to do.”

The Jan. 6 committee hearings have been among the most dramatic and significant congressional investigations into the conduct of a White House in our nation’s history. They reflect months of research, painstaking work by investigators, and testimony from dozens of Trump officials, law enforcement officers and election experts. But a key component has been a small club of women who have provided critical testimony and created a support structure for one another to combat the intense backlash it’s produced.

The small group includes a current and former member of Congress, aides long exiled from Trumpland and those who only recently decided it was time to make a break. In phone calls and text messages, they have shared tips on how to report social media harassment, passed along advice on safety and security measures — such as the benefits of wearing a baseball hat while walking through an airport — and calmed the nerves of each other’s family members.

“It is a lonely space to come forward and part of it for me was to make sure that they knew that even though it feels lonely – they bully, they intimidate, they want to make you feel like there’s no one left in the world, that’s kind of the point – for me it was important for them to know I wasn’t going to waver on them and there would be others,” said Troye.

The “small, lonely girls club,” as one woman described it, is composed largely of former Trump aides who became disillusioned with his presidency. Griffin, his onetime communications director, resigned in December 2020 and has been critical of Trump since. Troye broke earlier, amid the first impeachment process when it was revealed that Trump had pressured Ukrainian officials for dirt on Hunter Biden. Hutchinson’s fissure came after Trump left office, when she was subpoenaed by the committee for her direct knowledge of what happened in the White House Jan. 6. Matthews, who served as the deputy press secretary under Kayleigh McEnany, broke with the Trump White House that day as Trump failed to calm the riots on Capitol Hill.

Having found themselves largely in the same political space — persona non grata in the professional infrastructure through which they made their careers — they formed a quasi- support network of their own.

There is no central line of communication. But over phone and text, they have regularly kept in touch throughout the course of the Jan. 6 committee hearings. In interviews, they have stressed they aren’t digging for information or trying to influence the committee’s proceedings. Instead, they’re reminding each other constantly that, at one of the most intense moments of their young lives — Hutchinson is 26, Matthews is 27, Griffin is 33, and Troye and Grisham are 45 — they are not alone.

After Hutchinson’s testimony, several of the women said they formed what they called an informal kind of “rapid response” unit — defending her on TV and on Twitter from attacks from the right, who see the women as traitors to Trump, and the left, who question how they could have ever served a president whose shortcomings were so readily apparent to them in real time.

“It’s a very unique group that experienced such a specific, critical moment in history together and I think we feel bonded by it and are incredibly protective of one another,” said Griffin.

At the heart of the group’s formation is a belief — especially unique to these circumstances but true in other crisis points for Washington D.C. — that female political operatives carry different burdens than their male colleagues. It has been manifested in the death threats and smears they have faced, at times from random social media users.

“U are a f—ing traitor. U need to be raped. We know where you live bitch. Ur a f—ing Rino,” read one series of recent Instagram messages left on one of the women’s accounts and shared with POLITICO.

There also are the disparaging messages blasted out on social media by Trump himself.

"Her body language is that of a total bull…. artist. Fantasy Land!" Trump posted on his social media platform Truth Social, during Hutchinson’s testimony.

But it’s also been internalized by the group in a form of frustration that women like Hutchinson and Matthews – who only recently started their careers wide-eyed and faithful to the conservative cause — are taking the heat for speaking up, while their more senior male colleagues have settled back into Washington life. In particular, it gnawed at them that former White House counsel Pat Cipollone dragged his feet on testifying (and only did so in private, although it was recorded) until after Hutchinson went first.

“It's empowering but also so disheartening to see these men in Congress who are so afraid of one man that they won’t do the right thing,” said Stephanie Grisham, Trump’s since-disaffected former press secretary, who has been in touch with Troye and appeared in media hits alongside other group members, too. “And then you’ve got this small group of us led in a way by Liz Cheney — not formally — knowing and experiencing threats of all kinds. I absolutely empathize with what every one of these women are going through. It’s a tough storm to face. You do feel it’s the world against you.”

To help them navigate these waters, the group has leaned on those who have seen rough waters before. Former Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock, an early Trump critic, said she has gotten to know Troye and Griffin as fellow conservative women over the past year. An attorney from Virginia, she told Griffin she would be happy to help Hutchinson with any legal support for speaking out.

“I’ve had women friends contact me to say they want to support these women because they are the kind of stand up women we’d all like to have as staff and hope we were as staff or members. And they know it can be lonely when you stand up,” said Comstock. She noted that as a mother she would have been “pretty ticked” that Cipollone, who has a daughter in Hutchinson’s age range, “had to be dragged to testify after Cassidy.”

“But I guess cleaning up Trump’s mess — ketchup and all — is assumed to be women’s work!” Comstock added, in reference to Hutchinson’s testimony that Trump, in a fit of rage on Jan. 6 threw a plate with ketchup to the floor, which Hutchinson tried to clean up. Trump denied the episode.

In addition to Comstock, the group has also viewed Republican congresswoman Liz Cheney, the vice chair of the Jan. 6 committee, as an inspiration. The congresswoman has talked with both Griffin and Hutchinson. And in a speech earlier this month at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., she praised them — though not in name — and others for speaking out.

“It is especially the young women, young women who seem instinctively to understand the peril of this moment for our democracy, and young women who know that it will be up to them to save it,” Cheney said. “And I have been incredibly moved by the young women that I have met and that have come forward to testify in the January 6th Committee. Some of these are young women who worked on the Trump campaign, some worked in the Trump White House, some who worked in offices on Capitol Hill, all who knew immediately that what happened that day must never happen again.”

Despite the support from Cheney, the experience has been altogether unenjoyable. The women have been accused of speaking out in order to advance their career or get opportunities to appear on cable TV. Their one-time colleagues — and even some family members — have stopped talking to them. Their job prospects have slimmed, though they said Comstock has been trying to help on that front. A thread of fear is now woven through their lives, like when associates offer their homes as a place of refuge to wait out the fallout from a hearing.

There are better, more uplifting moments, too. Troye said she’s been heartened by the random mothers who have reached out to her to relay how much they admire Hutchinson for testifying.

“Ms. Troye, please tell Ms. Hutchinson I want my two daughters to grow up with her courage,” read one Twitter direct message.

But mainly, as the Jan. 6 hearings have progressed, it’s been a sense of surrealness that has crept in. They’re young. In normal times, they’d be starting their careers or moving towards the arcs of their professional achievements. Instead, they’ve been thrust into central roles in a historical drama — one that could very well determine the future of U.S. governance.

They spent their careers as Republicans never conceived that they would get marooned on a political island by themselves — alienated from their party and largely alone.

“When I ran into Alyssa before an interview with Jake Tapper before I went to the hearing for Cassidy we talked about it,” recalled Troye. “‘Did you ever imagine we’d be sitting here in this situation like this?’ Never.”

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Trump World is still trying to figure out how best to respond to the Jan 6. hearing

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack will soon hold its first primetime hearing on efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Trump World is still figuring out what to do about it.

Coordination remains underway between aides to former President Donald Trump, GOP allies on Capitol Hill, and the Republican National Committee. But aides in those circles say that with the Jan. 6 committee having not yet revealed its witness list or the content to be unveiled, their actual plans for pushback remain TBD.

Allies say they expect Trump to weigh in on the hearings, but they don’t know if he will call into radio or TV shows or post to his social media site, Truth Social. The two Republican members on the committee who could theoretically provide insight — Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — have both been ostracized by the party.

The absence of a game plan isn’t causing stress, at least overtly. The hope is that Republicans on the Hill, particularly Trump loyalists like Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), will play the role of Trump’s public defenders. But while the House GOP will be engaged in responding to the hearings, the Senate side is likely to lay low.

Among Trump allies, there is also a sense that the public’s opinions on Jan. 6 are already baked in place and that even expertly produced hearings won’t materially change that. Underscoring that nonchalance, a person familiar with coordination between Trump and Hill Republicans said that the Republican National Committee hadn’t been very involved until recently.

“They saw this as people don’t care about it and aren’t paying attention and there are bigger problems,” the person said. “If nothing else in an election year this [Jan. 6] committee has united every Republican faction with an illegitimate committee and bureaucratic and government overreach at a time when many member constituencies are suffering.”

As a tactical matter, Trump and his allies are prepared to dismiss any new finding as a political distraction — not tied to the real concerns of voters. Steven Cheung, a former Trump campaign official and Republican campaign strategist, said Republicans have aligned on that messaging already.

“It’s important to highlight that it’s been a year-and-a-half since Jan 6 happened and look where we’re at. High inflation rates. High gas prices. A lot of crime happening,” said Cheung. “These are things people are focused on, and we’re going to spend the entire month in primetime television on Jan 6. What’s the purpose of it?”

Those downplaying the significance of the hearings have interests in doing so. The RNC, for starters, is currently in a legal battle with the committee over records held by Salesforce, a company that handles the RNC’s data and digital operations. The committee is trying to glean information about how RNC messaging and fundraising emails may have pushed falsehoods about the election.

“The RNC plans on aggressively responding to the partisan attacks and political theater the Democrats are engaging in with Nancy Pelosi’s illegitimate January 6 Committee,” RNC spokesperson Emma Vaughn said in a statement.

Elsewhere, other Trump-allied institutions are not taking a casual approach. While Fox News has decided not to air the hearings in their entirety, the network was expected to bring on Trump-defending guests to rebut the news. Several of the network’s evening broadcasters, like hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, have had their personal texts to Trump officials revealed as part of the committee’s investigative work.

Chris Ruddy, CEO of the conservative leaning Newsmax, said the network plans to air the first hour in full and then will decide how much of the rest of the hearings to broadcast.

Steve Bannon, Trump’s former adviser, plans to have Stefanik and Harriet Hageman, the Wyoming primary challenger to Cheney, among others on his “War Room” show Thursday. While they will focus on the hearings, among other things, he insisted there was a general lack of excitement.

“There’s no electricity, no buzz, no real anticipation,” said Bannon, who was criminally charged with contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the select committee and is expected to go to trial next month. “It’s not even the A or B blocks [today] on MSNBC.”

And the Conservative Political Action Coalition, led by Trump-ally Matt Schlapp, will launch a website to publish documents and their own arguments. Schalpp said “dozens” of people will be working in a war room to respond to the hearings.

“We’re in a position of having to see what propaganda is out first, then us having to respond to it,” Schlapp said of the committee. “We’re aware of the seriousness of these charges and no one is taking this lightly in terms of the historic importance and of the American people understanding how outrageous and unconstitutional it is in an effort to mitigate [Democratic] losses in November.”

The committee, through carefully produced hearings, plans to present the initial summary of its findings about “the coordinated, multi-step effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and prevent the transfer of power.” So far, little information about witnesses and potential bombshells has been released or leaked to the press.

On Thursday night, the committee is expected to focus on how the far right neo-Fascist group Proud Boys helped coordinate violence on Jan. 6. The committee will hear from Nick Quested — a British documentarian who followed the Proud Boys around Jan. 6 — and Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards, one of the first officers injured in the attack. They will be the first in-person witnesses to appear before the committee as part of six Watergate-style hearings. In addition, the committee plans to air footage and recorded interviews with people including Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. Gregory Jacob, a top adviser to former Vice President Mike Pence, is also expected to appear in person under subpoena next week.

One reason that Trump allies aren’t fretting about the absence of a detailed game plan for Thursday is that they and Republicans have grown accustomed to these types of scenarios. The former president and his inner circle went through two impeachment trials and three high-profile Supreme Court hearings, along with testimony from former special counsel Robert Mueller before the House Judiciary and House Intelligence committees.

Those trials and hearings required weeks of preparation inside the Trump White House and created a general frenzy among GOP communications staffers on Capitol Hill. But there is a been-there-done-that mentality now in Trump land. The day before the Jan. 6 committee hearings, the RNC had yet to circulate talking points to surrogates.

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Trump escapes conviction but even his allies say he’s damaged

Donald Trump was acquitted in his second impeachment trial on Saturday.

What comes next for the 45th president is anybody’s guess.

Uncertainty looms over nearly every aspect of the former president’s post-impeachment political future — from the causes he will embrace, to his level of influence inside the GOP, to the possibility he could face criminal charges or see diminished voter appetite for a potential comeback bid in 2024.

In a statement following his acquittal, Trump hinted that something was on the horizon. But there were vanishingly few details about what it would be.

“In the months ahead I have much to share with you, and I look forward to continuing our incredible journey together to achieve American greatness for all of our people. There has never been anything like it!” Trump said.

For many Republicans, the uncertainty about Trump’s future is equal parts harrowing, provocative and paralyzing. The former president has promised to help the GOP retake the House in the midterm elections next fall but also wants revenge against 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him in the lower chamber. It is assumed he will reserve similar animus for the seven Senate Republicans who voted for his conviction on Saturday.

Trump has vowed to pursue statewide election reforms after insisting a second term was “stolen” from him. But in doing so, he threatens a massive schism in the Republican party, which is already deeply fractured by his false accusations of election fraud.

Trump allies are unsure how much success he’ll see in any of these ventures, particularly on the heels of an emotional impeachment trial that may have deeply wounded his reputation.

“100% [the impeachment trial] impacts Trump in a negative way not a positive way,” said former Trump adviser Bryan Lanza, suggesting the former president’s outsized sway over the GOP base has already started to wane.

“The world moved beyond him and now that he doesn’t have Twitter, it’s moving even more quickly,” Lanza said.

But others argue Trump’s acquittal will only cement his position in the party and send a message that Trump — and Trumpism — is the predominant force in GOP politics.

“It won’t change his shot for 2024,” said a former campaign aide. “His base will be emboldened and his detractors will hate him even more.”

Over the course of Trump’s second impeachment trial, House managers painted the former president as a reckless leader whose promotion of conspiracy theories, penchant for using violent language and unfounded claims of election fraud incited a mob that left the U.S. Capitol ransacked and threatened to upend the country’s democratic system of governance.

In the end, it was enough to convince seven Republican Senators to convict — far short of the 17 needed for a guilty verdict. But while Trump and his team may have claimed exoneration, they are not off the hook.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) voted to acquit Trump, citing his concerns over the constitutionality of impeaching a former president. Yet in a speech following his vote, he made clear his disdain for Trump’s behavior and his view that Trump should face consequences for the ghastly scene that unfolded on Capitol Hill.

“Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office,” said McConnell. “He didn't get away with anything yet. We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune from being accountable by either one.”

Without the legal protection against federal criminal prosecution afforded sitting presidents, Trump faces a web of investigations into his conduct in office and business practices beforehand. Just this week, Georgia prosecutors announced a new probe into Trump’s myriad attempts to overturn the state’s 2020 election results, including during a threatening phone call on Jan. 2 with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. The investigation could open the door for criminal charges against the former president by state and local authorities.

Trump could also face criminal charges in Washington, D.C., if the city’s attorney general, Karl Racine, decides to pursue a case against Trump for his alleged role in the Capitol riots. Racine was reportedly weighing the move even before the Senate voted to acquit Trump on Saturday.

Trump has framed his post-presidential legal exposure as remnants of “the greatest witch hunt in the history of our Country” — a phrase he also used to describe the Senate impeachment trial on Saturday.

“It is a sad commentary on our times that one political party in America is given a free pass to denigrate the rule of law, defame law enforcement, cheer mobs, excuse rioters, and transform justice into a tool of political vengeance, and persecute, blacklist, cancel and suppress all people and viewpoints with whom or which they disagree,” Trump said.

It was a message the Republican National Committee used in a fundraising message on Saturday that sought to project party unity even as Trump failed to secure the support of every Republican in the Senate.

“ACQUITTED AT LAST! The biggest political circus of ALL TIME is finally over and we want to send a message that the Republican Party is STRONGER THAN EVER BEFORE,” read a message.

That may seem like wishful thinking now. But perhaps not entirely so. The day before the acquittal vote, it was reported that Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) would be meeting with Trump in the near future to discuss his role in the GOP and the future of the party.

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