Former White House insider testifies Trump did not care that Jan. 6 rioters were armed, tried to hijack limo
Cassidy Hutchinson, a top aide to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, described Trump supporters being armed with AR-15-style rifles and other weapons in testimony on Tuesday to the House of Representatives select committee.
WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump knew that the crowd at his Jan. 6, 2021, rally had guns and other weapons but encouraged them to march to the Capitol anyway, White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified Tuesday at a hearing on the Capitol insurrection.
Hutchinson said Trump also physically grabbed the steering wheel of the presidential limousine and attacked a Secret Service agent when he was told his security detail would not take him to the Capitol on that day.
She added that Trump was furious that the audience at his speech near the White House wasn’t at capacity, even though he was told by the Secret Service that there was a large number of people outside the fence who had weapons and weren’t being screened by magnetometers, referred to as mags.
At that point, Hutchinson said Trump told them, “I don’t f---ing care that they have weapons, they’re not here to hurt me. Take the f---ing mags away.”
After the speech, in which Trump told the crowd that he would be going with them to the Capitol, the Secret Service instead returned him to the White House. Trump became irate, Hutchinson said she was told by Secret Service agent Bobby Engel, who was traveling with the president.
“The president reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel. Mr. Engel grabbed his arm, and said, ‘Sir, you need to take your hand off the steering wheel. We’re going back to the West Wing. We’re not going to the Capitol.’ Mr. Trump then used his free hand to lunge towards Bobby Engel,” Hutchinson said, adding that the agent gestured toward his clavicles to describe where the president lunged at him.
The committee abruptly scheduled the hearing Monday to “present recently obtained evidence and receive witness testimony,” despite setting expectations last week that it needed time to review new information and wouldn’t meet again until mid-July. The witness turned out to be Hutchinson, who was assistant to Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows.
Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said in his opening statement that the evidence presented Tuesday, including the testimony from Hutchinson, would focus on new details the committee has received on what was happening in the White House in the days leading up to Jan. 6, 2021, and Trump’s actions that day.
“It’s important that the American people hear that information immediately,” Thompson said.
Hutchinson said Trump’s lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani told her on Jan. 2, 2021, after a meeting at the White House that Trump would be going to the Capitol on Jan. 6. Hutchinson said she asked Meadows about it immediately afterward.
“He didn’t look up from his phone and said something to the effect of, ‘There’s a lot going on, Cass, but I don’t know. Things might get real, real bad on Jan. 6,’” she said.
In a video deposition, Hutchinson said she remembered hearing the “Oath Keepers” and “Proud Boys” in planning around the Jan. 6 rally, particularly when Giuliani was present.
White House counsel Pat Cipollone was worried about the language the president wanted to use in the speech, Hutchinson said, particularly his declaration that he would go with protesters to the Capitol, the phrases “fight for me” and “fight for the movement,” and references to the vice president.
Hutchinson said Cipollone approached her on Jan. 3 after Meadows raised the idea of Trump going to the Capitol.
“This would be legally a terrible idea for us,” Hutchinson said Cipollone told her.
Cipollone also pulled Hutchinson aside on Jan. 6 on the way to Trump’s speech and told her “please make sure we don’t go” to the Capitol.
“We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen,” Hutchinson said Cipollone told her.
A surprise witness
Surprise witnesses are rare at congressional hearings. The last major surprise witness was White House aide Alexander Butterfield, who in 1973 confirmed the existence of a recording system in the Oval Office during the Watergate hearings, testimony that led to Nixon’s resignation and changed U.S. history.
Hutchinson has sat for at least four depositions with the House select committee, including once within the last two weeks. As Meadows’ top aide, she was present or briefed on several key meetings at the White House leading up to Jan. 6 and was backstage while Trump gave his speech at the “Stop the Steal” rally on the Ellipse near the White House. She was also the main point of contact between Meadows and many members of Congress.
Hutchinson has been particularly forthcoming since she recently changed attorneys from Stefan Passantino, who was a White House ethics lawyer early in Trump’s tenure, to Jody Hunt, who is a longtime confidante of Jeff Sessions, Trump’s first attorney general.
Her depositions have been the source of some of the committee’s biggest revelations to date, including that Meadows was warned by the Secret Service that violence was possible Jan. 6 and that Trump cheered on rioters who chanted, “Hang Mike Pence.”
She also told the committee that Trump, Meadows and members of Congress pushed a plan to try to have state electoral slates dismissed even after the White House counsel’s office repeatedly said it was unlawful, and that Meadows burned documents in his office following a meeting with Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., in the weeks after the 2020 election.
Hutchinson also told the committee names of Republican members of Congress who sought presidential pardons after Jan. 6.
Hutchinson interned in the White House in 2018 and rose to become coordinator for legislative affairs in Meadows’ office as well as his executive assistant.
Trump denied her account in a social media post. He said he never tried to grab the steering wheel.
"Her Fake story that I tried to grab the steering wheel of the White House Limousine in order to steer it to the Capitol Building is 'sick' and fraudulent," he wrote on his Truth Social account.
He also denied Hutchinson's testimony that he threw food and plates at the White House on several occasions.
©2022 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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