Former President 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 insurrection.
Hutchinson, the former assistant to Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, 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 Anthony Ornato, Trump’s chief of operations. The head of his security detail, Secret Service agent Bobby Engel, who was traveling with the president, was in the room when the story was relayed, she said.
“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. Trump denied the allegation during the hearing in a post on his Truth Social platform.
As the White House struggled with how to respond in the days after the attack, including discussions among the president’s Cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from power, Meadows and Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani both sought presidential pardons for their actions on Jan . 6, Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson’s in-person testimony before the committee Tuesday came just a day after the panel abruptly scheduled the hearing in order to “present recently obtained evidence and receive witness,” despite setting expectations last week that it needed time to review new information and wouldn’ t meet again until mid-July. Little known outside the White House or Capitol Hill, Hutchinson was a constant fixture at Meadows’ side, giving her a detailed knowledge of the inner workings of the Trump White House and putting her in a position to overhear conversations as Trump and his advisers planned to reverse Joe Biden’s victory.
Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said in his opening statement that the evidence presented Tuesday, could not wait until the committee reconvened next month.
“It’s important that the American people hear that information immediately,” Thompson said.
Hutchinson said 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. On Jan. 5, Trump instructed Meadows to make contact with former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn and former advisor Roger Stone, who were being escorted by the members of those groups, to discuss what would occur the next day, Hutchinson said.
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.
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 US 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.