WASHINGTON — When an alarmed Representative Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader, called the White House on Jan. 6, 2021, demanding to know why the president of america had suggested he was coming to the Capitol while Congress met to certify his election defeat, the person on the opposite end of the road had just turned 25 years old.
“I said, ‘I’ll run the traps on this,’” Cassidy Hutchinson, now 26, testified this week before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, recalling what she had told Mr. McCarthy, Republican of California. “I can assure you, we’re not coming to the Capitol.”
Ms. Hutchinson’s two hours of testimony provided a riveting account of President Donald J. Trump’s mind-set and actions the day of the mob attack and situated the young aide — an assistant by title, but a gatekeeper in practice — on the very center of a number of the most sensitive conversations and events of that day.
It also pulled back the curtain on a little-acknowledged truth about how Washington works: The capital’s power centers could also be helmed largely by the geriatric set, but they’re fueled by recent college graduates, often with little to no previous job experience beyond an internship. And while lots of those young players rank low on the official food chain, their proximity to the head of power gives them disproportionate influence, and a front-row seat to critical moments that may define the country.
Sometimes, the interns themselves seem like running the show.
After the House investigative committee accused Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, of attempting to hand-deliver to Vice President Mike Pence a slate of false electoral votes for Mr. Trump, Mr. Johnson, 67, blamed the incident on a young underling. He claimed that an unidentified “House intern” had instructed his staff to offer the list of faux electors to Mr. Pence.
Other former Trump aides who’ve appeared in video testimony through the Jan. 6 hearings include Nick Luna, now 35, Mr. Trump’s former body man; Sarah Matthews, now 27, a former deputy White House press secretary; and Ben Williamson, now 29, like Ms. Hutchinson a former aide to Mark Meadows, the ultimate Trump White House chief of staff.
The committee has also featured a few of its own young-looking investigators in videos laying out its work.
The relative youth of critical players wielding sway in the federal government will not be a latest phenomenon.
Lawrence Higby, who served as a top aide to H.R. Haldeman, President Richard M. Nixon’s chief of staff, was 25 years old when he testified as a key witness through the Watergate hearings.
President Lyndon B. Johnson’s final chief of staff, James R. Jones, was 28 years old when he was appointed to the highest job within the White House.
In an interview, Mr. Jones said he was in a position to rise so high so quickly by following the recommendation he had received from his boss, W. Marvin Watson, when he joined the White House staff on the ripe old age of 25.
“What I used to be doing was passing his notes to the president, and he said, ‘You’ll be noticed at the correct time. Just do your work now and stay out of the president’s view.’”
Mr. Jones added, “You only needed to be at the correct place at the correct time. I played very low key, I attempted to offer the credit of successes to others, I didn’t seek advice from reporters — that’s how I feel I made it. I probably would have made numerous key decisions otherwise with more years on me.”
For the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 assault, counting on junior aides like Ms. Hutchinson — who held internships with Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana after which on the White House before joining Mr. Trump’s staff — has been an important a part of its strategy. With lots of Mr. Trump’s senior advisers refusing to cooperate, investigators moved down the organizational chart and quietly turned to at the least half a dozen lower-level former staff members who provided critical details about their bosses’ activities.
“We’re definitely benefiting from the incontrovertible fact that most senior-level people in Washington rely on a whole lot of young associates and subordinates to get anything done,” Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland, told Politico last month, claiming that the young people “still have their ethics intact.”
Representative Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming and the vice chairwoman of the committee, compared Ms. Hutchinson favorably to the more seasoned officials who’ve stonewalled the panel.
“Her superiors — men a few years older — numerous them are hiding behind executive privilege, anonymity and intimidation,” Ms. Cheney said in a speech this week. (Her father, the previous vice chairman Dick Cheney, became deputy chief of staff in President Gerald R. Ford’s White House on the age of 33.)
John Podesta, a former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton and a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, said it has at all times been the case that within the White House, “there are a whole lot of people of their late 20s and early 30s” coming from campaigns or from Capitol Hill for jobs with considerable responsibilities.
“They’re expected to perform with fealty to the institution and the Structure,” Mr. Podesta said. “On this case, it looks like the younger people did a greater job than the older people on that front.”
In addition they have longer careers ahead of them, perhaps making them less willing to tie themselves endlessly to Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the election.
For ambitious young people, government jobs in Washington have long offered a jet-fueled rise to power that the private sector, nevertheless lucrative, can’t compete with.
Key Revelations From the Jan. 6 Hearings
“You possibly can get a greater job as a 24-year-old in Washington in government than you may in an enormous company,” said Steve Elmendorf, a well-connected Washington lobbyist who early in his profession worked as a senior adviser to Representative Richard Gephardt, the Democratic leader. “The West Wing is physically so small, the one who is the 24-year-old is sitting right on top of the principals. Young people find yourself getting a whole lot of responsibility, since the principals are so busy and so hard to get to.”
That makes the assistants into gatekeepers who develop into players in their very own right.
“Should you can’t work out methods to get Ron Klain on the phone,” he said, referring to President Biden’s chief of staff, “work out the three individuals who sit outside his office.”
Adding to the post-collegiate feel of Capitol Hill and the West Wing is the problem of who can afford to work in government, and for the way long.
The typical age of a House staffer is 31, in line with the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to transparency in government, which noted in a report that the wage gap between the private and public sector “may encourage staff to hunt greener pastures while depriving Congress of experience and expertise.”
A chief of staff on average would earn 40 percent more within the private sector than on Capitol Hill, in line with the report, and “ex-staffers who develop into lobbyists can increase their earnings by many multiples.”
During her time within the Trump administration, Ms. Hutchinson, whose title was special assistant to the president for legislative affairs, earned $72,700, in line with White House records. Probably the most senior officials earned as much as $180,000.
Still, she was there within the West Wing to witness the ketchup-dripping aftermath when Mr. Trump is alleged to have thrown his lunch against the wall in a rage that William P. Barr, the attorney general, had said publicly that there had been no widespread fraud within the 2020 election.
It was Ms. Hutchinson to whom the White House counsel, Pat A. Cipollone, turned with a dire warning about what would occur if Mr. Trump followed through together with his plan to follow his supporters to the Capitol on Jan. 6. “We’re going to get charged with every crime possible,” Ms. Hutchinson said Mr. Cipollone told her.
And Mr. Meadows, who was said to have brought Ms. Hutchinson to virtually every meeting he attended, and Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, addressed her familiarly as “Cass” as they spoke freely to her about what they were anticipating on Jan. 6.
As she leaned against the doorway to his office a number of days before, she testified, Mr. Meadows confided to Ms. Hutchinson, “Things might get real, real bad on Jan. 6.”