January 6 Hearings: Meadows Assistant Cassidy Hutchinson Testifies

Then-President Trump and his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, were aware that the Capitol was a target of violence and that Trump supporters were armed with weapons when the president urged them to march toward the building on January 6, 2021, a former aide testified in a bombshell hearing Tuesday that also revealed Trump has repeatedly called for clemency from those involved in the attack.

In a hearing abruptly called by the House panel investigating the Capitol uprising, Meadows’ former aide Cassidy Hutchinson gave a detailed account that the Secret Service had informed Meadows in advance that violence was possible on Jan. 6, and that Trump expected the crowd to come to the Capitol to pressure lawmakers to keep him in
office – an act that White House counsel warned could be a crime.

Hutchinson also said Trump aides are pressuring him to give a speech the next day threatening him to be removed from office under the 25th Amendment.

In addition, the committee suggested Tuesday that it has evidence that Trump supporters are trying to tamper with witness statements before the panel.

Tuesday’s testimony from Hutchinson was the most direct evidence provided by the commission that Trump and his inner circle knew about but ignored the threats to the Capitol.

Hutchinson said she heard Trump went so far as to grab the wheel of the presidential SUV and attack a Secret Service agent when told his security detail would not take him to the Capitol on Jan. 6.

She added that Trump was furious that the audience was not full at his speech near the White House, even though he was told by the Secret Service that there were a large number of people outside the fence who had guns and were hiding. not subjected to screenings by magnetometers called “mags”.

Hutchinson said Trump told Secret Service, “I don’t care if they have guns, they’re not here to hurt me. Get rid of the running magazines.”

After the speech, in which Trump told the crowd he would go to the Capitol with them, the Secret Service instead returned him to the White House because of the violence already going on inside the Capitol. Trump was furious, Hutchinson said she was told by Anthony Ornato, Trump’s chief of operations. Trump’s intelligence chief, Secret Service agent Bobby Engel, who was traveling with the president, was in the room when the story was passed, she said.

“The president reached to the front of the vehicle to grab the steering wheel. Mr. Engel grabbed his arm and said, “Sir, you must 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 at Bobby Engel,” Hutchinson said, adding that the agent gestured to his collarbone to describe where the president lunged at him.

Trump denied the allegation in a post on his Truth Social platform during the hearing.

As the White House grappled with how to respond in the days following the January 6 attack, including discussions between the president’s office about invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from power, Meadows and Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani both received presidential pardons for their actions on Jan. 6, Hutchinson said.

Trump agreed to deliver a speech on Jan. 7 calling for unity after his aides convinced him it was necessary to protect his legacy and to avert talk of invoking the 25th Amendment. Rather than advocating for the prosecution of rioters, as early drafts had done, Trump and Meadows urged to include language in the speech that indicated that the president might pardon those involved.

“He didn’t think they had done anything wrong. The people who did something wrong that day, or the person who did something wrong that day, was Mike Pence by not standing next to him,” Hutchinson said of the president.

Hutchinson’s personal testimony before the committee Tuesday came just a day after the panel scheduled the hearing to “present recently obtained evidence and receive witness statements,” despite expectations last week that it needed time to review new information and wouldn’t come to an end. reunited in mid-July.

Little known outside the White House or Capitol Hill, Hutchinson was a constant factor on Meadows’ side, giving her a detailed understanding of the inner workings of the White House and putting her in a position to cut off conversations. listen as Trump and his advisers planned to reverse Joe Biden’s victory.

Commission chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said in his opening statement that the evidence presented Tuesday could not wait for the panel to meet again next month.

“It’s important that the American people hear that information immediately,” Thompson said.

Surprise witnesses are rare at congressional hearings. The last major surprise witness was White House aide Alexander Butterfield, who confirmed the existence of a recording system in the Oval Office in 1973 during the Watergate hearings, a testimony that led to President Nixon’s resignation.

Hutchinson has made at least four statements to the House selection committee, including once in the past two weeks.

As Meadows’ top aide, she attended or briefed on several key White House meetings leading up to Jan. 6 and was backstage as Trump delivered his speech at the White House meeting that day on the Ellipse. She was also the primary point of contact between Meadows and many members of Congress.

Hutchinson has been particularly outspoken since she recently changed attorneys from Stefan Passantino, who was a White House ethics attorney early in Trump’s tenure, to Jody Hunt, who has been a longtime confidant of Jeff Sessions, the first attorney general of the United States. Trump. Much of the video deposition shown Tuesday appeared to be from her most recent deposition.

“I think some of the legal advice [Hutchinson] didn’t allow her to be as candid as we thought,” Thompson told reporters after the hearing. “So at some point she switched lawyers and started opening up more and more about what happened around January 6th.”

Thompson praised Hutchinson’s courage to speak publicly and urged other unruly witnesses to reconsider their previous statements to the committee.

“If you’ve heard this testimony today and you suddenly remember things you couldn’t remember before, or you discover courage that you had hidden somewhere, our doors remain open,” he said.

Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), one of the two Republicans on the committee, Hutchinson whispered to Hutchinson, “I’m proud of you,” as she was escorted out of the hearing room.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), vice chair of the committee, also indicated that the panel is aware that people in Trump’s orbit are pressuring witnesses not to be honest with the committee, and that it may has evidence of witness tampering or obstruction of justice. She showed several text messages to witnesses received by the commission.

†[A person] let me know you have your statement tomorrow. [Trump] want me to let you know that he is thinking of you. He knows that you are loyal and that you will do the right thing if you make your statement,” a message said to an unnamed witness.

Hutchinson’s statements have already been the source of some of the commission’s biggest revelations yet, including Trump’s cheering for rioters chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” something she spoke about in more detail on Tuesday.

Hutchinson said she heard discussions in the dining room of the Oval Office about the chants as she brought Meadows his cell phone, as well as Meadows and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone arguing about it as they returned to Meadows’ office.

“I remember Pat saying…”They’re literally yelling to hang the vice president.” And Mark had responded along the lines of, “You heard him, Pat. He thinks Mike deserves it. He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong,” Hutchinson said.

Around the same time, Trump tweeted, “Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done.”

“As an American, I was disgusted,” Hutchinson said. “It was unpatriotic. … We watched as the Capitol was defaced because of a lie. … I still struggle to process the emotions of that.”

Hutchinson also gave new details about Trump’s intentions to lead his supporters to the Capitol and about Meadows downplaying the threats from the mob. Hutchinson said Giuliani told her on January 2, 2021, after a meeting at the White House that Trump would go to the Capitol on January 6. Hutchinson said she asked Meadows about it immediately after.

He didn’t look up from his phone and said something like, ‘There’s a lot going on, Cass, but I don’t know. On January 6 it might get really, really bad,” she said.

At about 10 a.m. on Jan. 6, Meadows was briefed by Ornato about the number of people Secret Service had identified in the crowd who were carrying pistols, rifles, body armor and bear spray and who had spearheads attached to the ends of flagpoles.

“I clearly remember Mark not looking up from his phone,” Hutchinson said of Meadows, noting that it took him a while to respond. When he answered, he asked Ornato, “Okay, anything else?”

Later, Meadows had “almost lack of response” to hearing of the violence at the Capitol, Hutchinson said, noting that the president wanted to be left alone.

In a videotaped for Tuesday’s hearing, Hutchinson said she remembered hearing the names “Oath Keepers” and “Proud Boys” when planning around the Jan. 6 meeting, especially when Giuliani was present. . On Jan. 5, Trump ordered Meadows to contact former national security adviser Michael Flynn and adviser Roger Stone, who were being mentored by members of those groups, to discuss what would happen the next day, Hutchinson said.

Cipollone was concerned about the language the president wanted to use in his speech, Hutchinson said, notably his statement that he would go to the Capitol with protesters, the phrases “fight for me” and “fight for the movement,” and references to the deputy director.

Hutchinson said Cipollone approached her on Jan. 3 after Meadows suggested that Trump go to the Capitol.

“This would be a terrible idea for us legally,” Hutchinson told her, Cipollone said.

Cipollone also pulled Hutchinson aside on Jan. 6 on his way to Trump’s speech, telling her, “Make sure we don’t go to the Capitol.”

“We will be charged with every crime imaginable if we allow that move,” Hutchinson told her, citing obstruction of justice or defrauding the electoral count as possible charges.

Hutchinson also told the committee in her statements that Trump, Meadows and Republican members of Congress had pushed through a plan to try to get the state’s electoral lists rejected, even after the White House counsel’s office repeatedly said it would illegal, and that Meadows burned documents in his office after meeting Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) in the weeks following the 2020 election.

She also gave the committee the names of Republican members of Congress who filed for presidential pardons after Jan. 6.

Times staff writer Anumita Kaur contributed to this report.

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