Author Chris Whipple, who has interviewed dozens of White House chiefs of staff, said Cassidy Hutchinson’s shocking testimony before a House committee on Jan. 6 made it abundantly clear that Mark Meadows is the “worst” chief of staff The White House in history.
In the wake of Hutchinson’s damning testimony about her former boss’s inaction surrounding the Capitol riot, Whipple argued that even Richard Nixon’s Watergate cronies were no match.
“It used to be a pretty fierce competition for worst chief of staff in history, but Meadows absolutely owns it,” Whipple told Insider on Thursday in an interview about Trump’s fourth chief of staff.
Hutchinson, a former top aide to Meadows, painted a striking portrait of his boss, seemingly unfazed by a riot unfolding just blocks away, an attack fueled by President Donald Trump’s campaign to overturn the election.
“The rioters are getting really close. Have you spoken to the president?” Hutchinson told the committee she asked Meadows as the riot unfolded.
According to Hutchinson, Meadows replied, “No, he wants to be alone right now.”
Hutchinson also describes repeated attempts to convince one of the most powerful people in the US government that he should worry about a violent attempt to storm the Capitol, where Meadows served four terms in the House of Representatives.
“I’m starting to get frustrated because I felt like I was watching a bad car accident that’s going to happen when you can’t stop it, but you wish you could do something,” she said. “I remember thinking at that point, ‘Mark needs to get out of this, and I don’t know how to get him out of this, but he needs to care.’
That image, Whipple said, in particular, Meadows’ muted response to violence, would become the enduring part of Meadows’ legacy.
“I thought the defining lasting image of Mark Meadows would be the mugging for Don Trump Jr.’s video camera in the tent at the Ellipse just before Trump came out to incite a mob to attack the Capitol,” Whipple said. “Now I think the defining image of Meadows is the guy sitting on the sofa in the White House chief of staff’s office scrolling through his phone while a violent mob attacked the Capitol Police that day.”
During his testimony, Hutchinson often described Meadows as sitting on his couch and scrolling through his phone. In one instance, she said, Meadows didn’t look up while thinking “things could get really, really bad on Jan. 6.”
To call Meadows the worst boss in history is to elevate Trump’s latest boss over HR Haldeman, Nixon’s chief of staff during the Watergate break-in and subsequent cover-ups. Haldeman, who served 18 months in prison for his role, called himself Nixon’s “son of a dog.”
Mark Meadows struggled even in an admittedly difficult role, Whipple says.
Whipple said it was even more clear to him after Hutchinson’s testimony that Meadows was far worse than Haldeman. The extent of what the public knows about Meadows’ behavior has only grown since the Washington Post’s January 2021 op-ed, where Whipple first declared that he was the worst boss in history.
“The Watergate figures really do look like choirboys compared to Trump, Meadows and their gang,” Whipple said. “This has been the most serious political scandal in American political history so far, but it pales in comparison to a president sending an armed mob against the Capitol, knowing they were armed, knowing there would be violence.” And with a chief of staff who at best just shrugged his shoulders and looked the other way, and at worst was a co-conspirator.”
A spokesperson for Meadows did not respond to Insider’s request for comment. In a statement to NBC NewsBen Williamson, a former Meadows aide who is now Meadows’ spokesman, disputed any notion that Meadows was uninterested in the attack on the Capitol.
“I worked for Mark Meadows for 7 years – any suggestion that he doesn’t care is absurd,” Williamson wrote in a text message to NBC earlier this week. “And if the committee really wanted answers to that question, they could have played my interview in which I described to them how Meadows acted immediately when I told him about the initial violence at the Capitol that day. They seem more interested in hearsay, speculation, and conjecture as a means of smearing people, and it’s obvious why.”
Meadows had initially cooperated with the committee’s investigation since Jan. 6, turning over thousands of text messages that detailed the extent to which lawmakers and even Fox News anchors pleaded with the White House to get Trump to appease the mob. But since then, Meadows has repeatedly refused to provide more documents or testify about the texts. The House later held Meadows in contempt, although the Justice Department decided not to prosecute him for his refusal.
Whipple wrote the literal book on White House chiefs of staff.
Whipple literally wrote the book on what it’s like to be a top aide to the president. In “The Gatekeepers: How White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency,” Whipple traces the history of the office, beginning with President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Sherman Adams, nicknamed “The Abominable Nobody.”
The job has become even more critical as the modern presidency has increased the size of the executive office. It can be so stressful that Dick Cheney blamed his first heart attack on the job. James A. Baker, who Whipple and other historians say was one of the most effective to ever hold the title, said that only the president was more powerful than his boss.
“I’ve often said that being the White House chief of staff is probably the second most powerful job in Washington, D.C. I think that’s true. But so much depends on your relationship with the present,” Baker told NPR in 2017 during a joint interview with Whipple.
Trump has gone through more chiefs of staff than any other single-term president, or even any president in just their first term. Whipple admits that those who took on the job faced “mission impossible” in appeasing a living president. But even judging by that curve, Whipple says Meadows is still very short.
“What he wanted is what he ended up getting in Mark Meadows, who is underdog,” Whipple said of Trump’s approach to the job. “I think he wasn’t so much a chief of staff as a kind of amiable butler who was trying to please Trump in every way possible.” And he actually told everyone what they wanted to hear, not just Trump. and is a dispassionate character, and the polar opposite of the best chiefs.”
Other former Trump staffers have also gone after Meadows. In her memoirs, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway felt that Meadows “wasn’t right for the moment,” despite presenting herself as “the boss’s boss.” Trump himself lashed out at the North Carolina resident after Meadows wrote in his own book that Trump contracted COVID-19 before the first presidential debate. (Meadows’ spokesman later said it was a misunderstanding about a false-positive rapid test and that Trump did not have COVID at the time of the debate.)
Now it’s up to President Joe Biden’s administration to figure out how to respond to what the Jan. 6 panel reveals. But Whipple doesn’t expect this to be the end of what Americans learn about what really happened in the West Wing under Trump’s watch.
Reince Priebus, who had just left the Trump White House when “The Gatekeepers” was published, made a remark to Whipple that proved more ominously prescient as time went on.
“Take everything you’ve heard and multiply it by 50,” Priebus said of the first heady days of the Trump administration. Whipple will write about Biden’s presidency in the upcoming “Battle of His Life.”
Before this week, Whipple pointed out, few people even in Washington knew who Hutchinson was.
“I have no doubt that there is much more to come. Think about where we were on Monday as opposed to the end of the day on Tuesday when Cassidy Hutchinson finished,” Whipple said. “I don’t think we’re at the end of the road by any means.”