In perhaps the most significant public hearing held so far by the House’s Jan. 6 committee, a former White House aide testified Tuesday that President Donald Trump was aware that protesters at the Capitol had weapons but briefly insisted on going there himself.
The House select committee’s vice chair, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., also seemed to allege that Trump allies were trying to influence witnesses as the panel investigates the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
The key witness Tuesday was Cassidy Hutchinson, who had close proximity to the Oval Office as executive assistant to Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows. Hutchinson told the panel that she was present during conversations involving major players.
The hearing also featured video testimony from several other former Trump White House officials, including former press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
The Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol made a surprise announcement of the hearing after initially announcing that it would not resume its work until July. Cheney, one of two anti-Trump Republicans on the nine-member, Democrat-stacked panel, led the questioning.
Here are four big takeaways.
1. ‘Not Here to Hurt Me’
In the backstage area of the Trump rally that preceded the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, Hutchinson testified, the president was angry that the crowd wasn’t larger.
“He wanted it to be full and for people to not feel excluded because they had come far to watch him at the rally, and he felt the mags were at fault,” Hutchinson, 26, said in a taped interview, referring to magnetometers or metal detectors.
“I was in the vicinity of a conversation, where I heard the president say something to the effect of ‘I don’t effing care if they have weapons. They are not here to hurt me, take the effing mags away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here,’” Hutchinson said, quoting Trump.
During live testimony, when Cheney asked whether Trump wanted to remove the metal detectors as long as no one was there to hurt him, Hutchinson responded: “That’s a fair assessment.”
Whether the Capitol rioters had weapons has been a point of contention for those assessing what happened that day.
Although several persons were charged for having weapons on the Capitol grounds, which is prohibited by law, none was charged with having a weapon inside the building after it was breached by rioters.
Before 10 a.m. on Jan. 6, Hutchinson testified, White House deputy chief of staff Tony Ornato told Trump about reports from law enforcement on the scene that some of those on the Ellipse were carrying weapons, including knives, spears, guns, and flag poles with spears at the top.
She remembered that back at the White House, as the riots occurred, White House counsel Pat Cipollone told Meadows about the chants of “Hang Mike Pence” from Capitol rioters.
“You heard it, Pat,” Meadows responded, according to Hutchinson. “He thinks Mike deserves it. He thinks they aren’t doing anything wrong.”
2. ‘Attempting to Influence Witnesses’
After the live testimony and video presentation featuring Hutchinson, Cheney raised the specter of Trump allies trying to influence witnesses’ testimony.
“I think most Americans know that attempting to influence witnesses to testify untruthfully presents very serious concerns,” Cheney said.
Cheney pointed to deposition excerpts from unnamed witnesses projected on the wall. Cheney read the words of one witness, saying:
What they said to me is that as long as I continue to be a team player, they know I’m on the right team. I’m doing the right thing. I’m protecting who I need to protect. You know I’ll continue to stay in good graces in Trump world. And they have reminded me a couple of times that Trump does read transcripts. And just keep that in mind as I proceed through my interviews with the committee.
She read a separate statement from a witness.
“A [person] let me know you have your deposition tomorrow,” she quoted the witness as saying. “He wants me to let you know he’s thinking about you. He knows you’re loyal and you are going to do the right thing when you go in for your deposition.”
3. ‘Try to Grab the Steering Wheel’
The committee showed some of a recorded deposition from McEnany, who was Trump’s White House press secretary from April 2020 until the end of his presidency Jan. 20, 2021.
“When we got back to the White House [after the rally],” McEnany said in the deposition, Trump “said he wanted to physically walk with the marchers. And according to my notes, he said he’d be fine with just riding The Beast. So, that’s my recollection. He wanted to be part of the march [to the Capitol] in some fashion.”
The Beast is the nickname for the president’s armored limousine.
However, Hutchinson told the committee that Cipollone, the Trump White House counsel, had told her on Jan. 6, “Please make sure we don’t go up to the Capitol, Cassidy.”
If Trump did so, she quoted Cipollone as saying, “We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen.”
Hutchinson also told a dramatic story of Trump’s trying desperately to go to the Capitol despite the Secret Service’s concerns.
She said that Ornato told her that Secret Service agent Bobby Engel, assigned to the president, was there. When Trump got into The Beast, he insisted to Engel that he wanted to go to the Capitol himself.
“When Bobby relayed to him, ‘You’re not, we don’t have the assets to do it, it’s not secure, we are going back to the West Wing,’ the president had a very strong, very angry response to that,” Hutchinson testified. “Tony described him as being irate.”
The president said something to the effect that ‘I’m the effing president. Take me up to the Capitol right now.’ To which Bobby responded, ‘Sir, we have to go back to the West Wing.’
The president reached up toward the front of the vehicle to try to grab the steering wheel. Mr. Engel grabbed his arm and said, ‘Sir, you need to take your hand off the steering wheel. We are going back to the West Wing. We are not going to the Capitol.’
Mr. Trump then used his free hand to lunge toward Bobby Engel.
He said Ornato told her that Trump had reached for the Secret Service agent’s neck.
4. War Room and Pardon Interest
Hutchinson said that on the day before, Jan. 5, Meadows talked to former Trump campaign operative Roger Stone and Flynn, who served briefly as national security adviser.
Both men were part of a “war room” at the Willard Hotel, less than a mile from the White House, to try to save Trump’s presidency.
“I wasn’t sure everything that was going on at the Willard Hotel, although I knew enough about what Mr. Giuliani and his associates were pushing during this period,” Hutchinson said, adding: “I didn’t think that it was something appropriate for the White House chief of staff to attend.”
Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York, is a close Trump adviser who has served as his personal lawyer. Giuliani was among speakers at the rally preceding the riot.
During the hearing, the committee showed edited footage of Flynn’s deposition in which the retired Army lieutenant general repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
In the edited video clips, Cheney unsuccessfully asked Flynn whether the Capitol riot was moral. She also asked him whether he believed in the peaceful transfer of power.
Hutchinson told the committee that Meadows and Giuliani both wanted presidential pardons from Trump after the riot.
“Ms. Hutchinson, did Rudy Giuliani ever suggest he was looking for a pardon related to Jan. 6?” Cheney asked.
“He did,” Hutchinson said.
Cheney then asked: “Ms. Hutchinson, did White House chief of staff Mark Meadows ever indicate that he was interested in receiving a presidential pardon related to Jan. 6?”
Hutchinson replied: “Mr. Meadows did seek that pardon, yes, ma’am.”
At a previous hearing, the committee noted that another Trump lawyer, John Eastman, sought a pardon for his role surrounding the events of Jan. 6. During a prime-time hearing June 9, Cheney said some Republican members of Congress also sought pardons from Trump after the riot.
This report has been modified to correct the spelling of Secret Service agent Bobby Engel’s name.
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