The 20-year-olds who help the 70-year-olds run Washington

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WASHINGTON –– When an alarmed Representative, Kevin McCarthy, the leader of the minority, called the White House on Jan. 6, 2021, wanting to know why the President of the United States had proposed coming to the Capitol while Congress was convening to vote on his election confirm defeat, the person on the other end of the line had just turned 25.

“I said, ‘I’m going to set the traps,'” Cassidy Hutchinson, now 26, told this week before the House Inquiry Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, recalling what she told McCarthy, R-Calif , said. “I can assure you, we’re not going to the Capitol.”

Hutchinson’s two-hour testimony provided a compelling account of former President Donald Trump’s thoughts and actions on the day of the mob attack, putting the young aide – an assistant in title but a gatekeeper in practice – at the center of some of the most sensitive conversations and events of that day.

It also drew the curtain on a little-recognized truth about how Washington works: While the capital’s powerhouses are largely run by geriatrics, they are fueled by recent college graduates who often have little or no work experience beyond an internship. And while many of these young players rank low in the official food chain, their proximity to the pinnacle of power gives them disproportionate influence and a front-row seat at critical moments that can define the country.

Sometimes the interns themselves seem to run the show.

After the House investigative committee accused Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., of attempting to personally deliver a list of false votes for Trump to former Vice President Mike Pence, Johnson, 67, blamed a young subordinate for the incident. He claimed an unidentified “house intern” instructed his staff to give Pence the list of the wrong voters.

Attack on the US Capitol

Other former Trump aides who have appeared in video testimony during the Jan. 6 hearings include Nick Luna, now 35, Trump’s former body man; Sarah Matthews, now 27, former Assistant White House Press Secretary; and Ben Williamson, now 29, like Hutchinson, a former adviser to Mark Meadows, Trump’s last White House chief of staff.

The committee has also featured some of its own young-looking investigators in videos detailing its work.

The relative youth of critical leaders in government is not a new phenomenon.

Lawrence Higby, who served as senior adviser to HR Haldeman, former President Richard Nixon’s chief of staff, was 25 years old when he testified as a key witness during the Watergate hearings.

Former President Lyndon Johnson’s last chief of staff, James Jones, was 28 when he was appointed to the top post in the White House.

Jones said he was able to rise so high so quickly by following the advice he received from his boss, W. Marvin Watson, when he joined the White House staff at the ripe age of 25.

“What I did was hand his notes to the President, and he said, ‘You’re going to be noticed at the right time. Now just do your job and stay out of the President’s view.’”

Jones added: “You just had to be in the right place at the right time. I played very conservatively, I tried to credit the successes to others, I didn’t talk to reporters – that’s how I think I managed it. With more years I probably would have made a number of important decisions differently.”

For the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, it relied on junior assistants like Hutchinson — who had internships with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La, and then before in the White House completed joining Trump’s staff – was a crucial part of his strategy. With many of Trump’s senior advisers refusing to cooperate, investigators moved down the org chart, quietly reaching out to at least half a dozen lower-level former employees who provided vital information about their bosses’ activities.

“We’re definitely taking advantage of the fact that most executives in Washington depend on a lot of young associates and subordinates to get anything done,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., told Politico last month, claiming that the young People “have their ethics still intact”.

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the committee’s vice chair, compared Hutchinson favorably to the more experienced officials who have blocked the panel.

“Their bosses — men many years older — some of them hiding behind executive privileges, anonymity and intimidation,” Cheney said in a speech this week. (Her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, became deputy chief of staff in the White House of former President Gerald Ford at the age of 33.)

John Podesta, former President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff and former President Barack Obama’s senior adviser, said it’s always been the case in the White House that “a lot of people are in their late 20s and early 30s.” come off campaigns or off Capitol Hill for jobs of considerable responsibility.

“They are expected to be loyal to the institution and the constitution,” Podesta said. “In this case, the younger guys seem to have done a better job on that front than the older ones.”

They also have longer careers ahead of them, which may make them less willing to commit forever to Trump’s efforts to overthrow the election.

For ambitious young people, government jobs in Washington have long offered a jet-powered rise to power that the private sector, however lucrative, cannot compete with.

“You can get a better job in government as a 24-year-old in Washington than in a big corporation,” said Steve Elmendorf, a well-connected Washington lobbyist who began his career as a senior adviser to Rep. Richard Gephardt, the Democratic leader . “The west wing is so physically small that the person who is the 24-year-old sits right above the directors. Young people get a lot of responsibility because the directors are so busy and so difficult to reach.”

This turns the assistants into gatekeepers who become players in their own right.

“If you can’t figure out how to get Ron Klain on the phone,” he said, referring to President Joe Biden’s chief of staff, “find out the three people that are sitting outside his office.”

Adding to the post-collegiate atmosphere of Capitol Hill and the West Wing is who can afford to work in government and for how long.

According to the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to transparency in government, the median age of a House official is 31. In a report, she noted that the pay gap between the private and public sectors “could encourage employees to seek greener pastures while robbing Congress of experience and know-how.”

According to the report, a chief of staff in the private sector would earn an average of 40% more than they do on Capitol Hill, and “ex-employees who become lobbyists can see their earnings multiply.”

During her time in the Trump administration, Hutchinson, whose title was special assistant to the president for legislative affairs, earned $72,700, according to White House records. The highest officials earned up to $180,000.

Still, she was there in the West Wing to witness the ketchup-dripping aftermath when Trump reportedly threw his lunch against the wall in a rage that William Barr, the attorney general, had publicly said there had been no widespread fraud in the Election 2020.

It was Hutchinson who was addressed by White House Counsel Pat Cipollone with a somber warning about what would happen if Trump went through with his plan to follow his supporters to the Capitol on January 6. “We will be charged with every crime imaginable,” Hutchinson said, Cipollone telling her.

And Meadows, who is said to have brought Hutchinson to virtually every meeting he attended, and Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, confidentially addressed her as “Cass” when they were candid with her about what she did on Jan. 6 expected.

Leaning on the door to his office a few days ago, she testified that Meadows confided in Hutchinson, “Things could get really, really bad on January 6th.”

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