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Trump 'lunged' at Secret Service agent to try to get to Capitol, former WH staffer testifies

Cassidy Hutchinson, a former top aide to chief of staff Mark Meadows, testified publicly under oath that Donald Trump knew the mob was armed on Jan. 6.

WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump knowingly directed an armed mob toward the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6 and lunged at the head of his security detail when he wasn’t allowed to join them, according to testimony Tuesday from one of his chief of staff’s top aides.

Over two hours of testimony, Cassidy Hutchinson, 25, described to the January 6th Committee and the public the former president’s rage and, on at least two occasions, violent outbursts at the obstacles in his path to overturning the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Hutchinson was executive assistant to former chief of staff Mark Meadows on Jan. 6, having previously served as a special assistant to Trump himself, as well as a Congressional aide for Meadows and House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA). Hutchinson was in the room during key meetings between Meadows, Trump and other White House staff in the days leading up to Jan. 6 – including one previously spotlighted by the committee in which the plan to replace acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen with another Justice Department attorney, Jeffrey Clark, was discussed. Hutchinson testified in a video deposition that multiple members of Congress present for that meeting later requested presidential pardons. On Tuesday, Hutchinson added two new names to that list: Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and her former boss, Meadows.

Vice Chair Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) began testimony by asking Hutchinson about a Jan. 2 conversation between herself and Giuliani. Hutchinson said Giuliani asked her if she was “excited” about Jan. 6 and said Trump would “look powerful,” and would be heading to the Capitol. She said she returned to the White House afterward and questioned Meadows about it.

“Things might get real, real bad on Jan. 6,” she said Meadows responded.

“That evening was the first moment I remember feeling scared and nervous about what could happen on Jan. 6,” Hutchinson said.

Two days later, Hutchinson was part of meetings and conversations with National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and Anthony Ornato, the White House chief of operations, about the possibility of violence on Jan. 6. That possibility seemed more likely on the day itself when D.C. Police officers and U.S. Secret Service Agents began confiscating weapons and body armor from Trump supporters going through magnetometers to see his speech at the Ellipse – and identifying many others with weapons, including rifles, who “don’t want to come in” and go through the mags, according to a text Ornato sent Hutchinson.

According to Hutchinson, when Ornato told Meadows about the weapons he was unmoved and didn’t look up from his cell phone. And when Trump found out his supporters were being disarmed, he was allegedly irate.

“I don’t f’ing care that they have weapons,” Hutchinson recalled Trump saying. “They’re not here to hurt me. Let them in. Let my people in. Take the f’ing [magnetometers] away. Then they can march to the Capitol from here.”

When his supporters did march to the Capitol – and even as they were breaking through police barricades and storming into the building itself – Trump was adamant that he was going with them, Hutchinson said. Trump’s plans to go to the Capitol were so widely known that multiple close advisers and allies – including White House counsel Pat Cipollone and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy – texted or called Hutchinson begging her to prevent it.

Cipollone, who has so far not agreed to testify publicy before the committee, told Hutchinson, “We need to make sure this doesn’t happen. We have serious legal concerns if we go to the Capitol that day.” Cipollone added, “We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable if that move happens. Hutchinson said Cipollone specifically mentioned his concern that it would look like Trump was inciting a riot if he went to the Capitol.

Despite all that, Trump remained set on going to the Capitol – and apparently believed, according to Hutchinson, that’s where he was going when he entered the presidential motorcade. When the head of his security detail, U.S. Secret Service Agent in Charge Robert Engel, told Trump they were headed back to the White House, Trump allegedly “lunged” at him and then attempted to grab the steering wheel himself. Hutchinson said Ornato relayed that information to her while Engel was in the room, and Engel did not dispute it.

Hutchinson said Ornato told her Trump had a “very strong, very angry response” to being told he was going to the White House and said something to the effect of, “I’m the f’ing president. Take me to the Capitol now.”

Testimony: Trump Knew About 'Hang Mike Pence!' Chants Prior to Tweet

Once Trump returned to the White House, Hutchinson said, he retreated away from staff in a sullen rage. Meadows, his chief of staff, was reluctant to bring anything new to his attention, Hutchinson said – even as the situation at the Capitol continued spiraling out of control. Eventually, she got his attention by asking if he knew what was happening with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). He was also roused to action, she said, by Cipollone, who told him if he did nothing people would die and “blood is going to be on your hands.”

Meadows and Cipollone then huddled with Trump in the dining room near the Oval Office. That’s where they were when Jordan eventually called back, and Hutchinson gave the phone to Meadows. At that point, she said, Meadows – and Trump – learned rioters were in the Capitol chanting “hang Mike Pence!”

Trump, she said, responded that Pence “deserved it” and that rioters weren’t doing anything wrong. Despite the repeated entreaties of White House staff and his own children to try to defuse the situation, at 2:24 p.m. on Jan. 6, Trump then sent his now-infamous tweet declaring, “Mike Pence didn’t hanve the courage to do what should have been done…” The tweet immediately became fuel on the fire at the riot, where members of the mob shouted it to others through megaphones.

The tweet prompted former Deputy National Security Advisor Matt Pottinger to decide to resign on the spot, and was directly linked to the resignations of Cabinet secretaries Betsy DeVos and Elaine Chao as well.

“As an American, it was disgusting,” Hutchinson said. “You’re watching the Capitol be defaced over a lie.”

Hours later – after a continuous stream of messages from Trump allies as varied as Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, his son Donald Trump Jr. and Republican members of Congress – Trump eventually did tell rioters to go home. Instead of the message dictated by his chief of staff and White House counsel Eric Herschmann, however, Trump added to his statement, “We love you. You’re very special.” In a follow-up tweet he again double-downed on the lie that the election was stolen, writing, “These are the things that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously and viciously stripped away.”

On Tuesday, Hutchinson became only the second White House staff member to testify publicly before the committee. Attorney Greg Jacob, who served as former Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, testified in an earlier hearing about the “pressure campaign” to get Pence to agree to unilaterally reject the results of the election.

In the aftermath of the attack on the Capitol, Hutchinson said multiple members of Cabinet began discussing using the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from power. That was one of the primary motivations, she said, for his Jan. 7 speech – which, she added, he was very reluctant to do. An early draft of that speech seen by Hutchinson reportedly contained lines about not prosecuting rioters or even pardoning them.

Though the committee has seen video depositions from multiple White House staffers, Hutchinson was only the second, following Pence’s general counsel Greg Jacob, to agree to testify publicly. Her testimony could prove to be a key leveraging factor in convincing others who were inside the White House on Jan. 6 to appear during a future committee hearing.

Cheney ended Tuesday’s hearing by presenting statements from two witnesses who told the committee they had been contacted by former associates or people close to Trump prior to the depositions.

In one statement, a committee witness said they were told, “[A person] let me know you have your deposition tomorrow. He wants me to let you know that he’s thinking about you. He knows you’re loyal, and you’re going to do the right thing when you go in for your deposition.”

In another statement, a witness said they were told “as long as I continue to be a team player… I’ll continue to stay in good graces in Trump World.”

Without expressly accusing Trump of witness tampering, Cheney said the statements raised “very serious concerns” and that the committee would be investigating them further.

The committee was expected to resume hearings after Congress returned from recess on July 12. Committee members have promised future hearings will focus on connections between Trump associates and groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers.

We're tracking all of the arrests, charges and investigations into the January 6 assault on the Capitol. Sign up for our Capitol Breach Newsletter here so that you never miss an update.

   

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