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Erica R. Hendry
Erica R. Hendry
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Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, offered new details during June 28 testimony before the House Jan. 6 committee about what former President Donald Trump and Meadows knew in the days before the attack and how they responded while it was underway, including a first-hand account of the president’s frustration and an attack on security detail who told him they could not secure a trip to the Capitol amid the unfolding violence by rioters.
Hutchinson detailed a slow response from Meadows as details emerged about weapons and threats to the vice president, who was at the Capitol overseeing the counting of electoral votes, and Trump’s resistance in the aftermath to publicly acknowledge the violence of rioters, or that the election was over and that he had not won.
READ MORE: Who are the witnesses testifying at the Jan. 6 hearings?
She told the committee that agency heads, White House staff, advisers and lawyers had expressed concern about Jan. 6 and the president’s participation in it. Much of that guidance reached the president himself, but the first line of defense was often Meadows, who was with the president throughout the election aftermath and the events of that day. In her role as senior adviser, Hutchinson accompanied Meadows almost everywhere, including alongside the president and in frequent trips to Capitol Hill and meetings with lawmakers, she said.
In a statement after the hearings, Trump disputed several parts of Hutchinson’s account, including the attack on the secret service agent.
Committee vice chair Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said the committee received evidence that people had contacted Hutchinson ahead of the hearings attempting to interfere with her testimony, adding that it would consider how to handle that offense in the coming weeks.
Here are highlights of Hutchinson’s testimony:
Warnings about violence
As early as December 2020, Hutchinson recalled in previously recorded video testimony for the committee, which was played during the June 28 hearing, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe had concerns about how the White House was handling the post-election period, including filing lawsuits in states where there was no evidence of voter fraud.
“He felt it could be dangerous and spiral out of control,” she said.
Others closest to the president were encouraging his plans for that day. During questioning from Cheney, Hutchinson recalled a conversation she had with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani on Jan. 2 – four days before the attack.
“He looked at me and said something to the effect of ‘Cass, are you excited for the sixth? It’s going to be a great day.’”
“I remember looking at him saying, ‘Rudy, could you explain what’s happening on the sixth?’ And he had responded something to the effect of, ‘We’re going to the Capitol, it’s going to be great, the president is going to be there. He’s going to look powerful.’”
He encouraged her to talk to Meadows, who she sought out after the meeting.
Meadows “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 January 6th.’”
“That was the first moment that I remember feeling scared. And nervous for what could happen on January 6th, and I had a deeper concern for what was happening,” she said.
READ MORE: WATCH LIVE: Jan. 6 Committee hearings – Day 6
Hutchinson confirmed there were numerous security concerns and warnings in the days before the attack, which were passed along to Meadows and to the president himself.
In previously recorded testimony, Hutchinson recalled a meeting between Meadows and security officials two days before the attack saying there could be violence, as well as additional security reports in the run-up to that day.
In the June 28 hearing, Hutchinson recalled a meeting between Meadows and Tony Ornato, a White House deputy chief of staff tasked with security, around 10 a.m. on the morning of the attack, in which Ornato warned him of rally-goers with knives, guns, pistols and rifles, body armor, spears and flag poles.
Meadows was slow to react, Hutchinson said, but eventually asked if Ornato had informed the president, to which Ornato responded he had.
In advance of the president’s speech on the Ellipse, Hutchinson recalled guidance from then-Trump legal adviser Eric Hershmann that “we would be foolish” to include certain language that Trump had insisted on including, to the effect of ‘“fight for Trump.’ ‘We’re going to March to the Capitol.’ ‘I’ll be there with you,’ ‘fight for me,’ ‘fight for what we’re doing.’ ‘Fight for the movement,’” Hutchinson recalled, both because of legal concerns and optics about what the president wanted people to do that day. She also said Hershmann warned against including specific references to then-Vice President Mike Pence.
White House lawyer Pat Cipollone approached Hutchinson several times before Jan.6, expressing concerns and stressing to her the importance of making sure a trip to the Capitol didn’t happen. She told the committee he approached her Jan. 3 to say “we need to make sure that this doesn’t happen” and other warnings to the effect of this: we have serious legal concerns if you go to the Capitol that day.
He urged her to continue to relay this to Meadows, whom Cipollone believed was pushing the idea with the president, Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said Cipollone approached her again on the morning of Jan. 6 to say: Make sure movement to the Capitol doesn’t happen.
We are going to be “charged with every crime imaginable” if the trip happened, Hutchinson recalled him saying, adding that in the days before the attack they’d had conversations about specific charges of obstruction of justice or defrauding the electoral count.
The day of the attack
When he arrived at the rally, Trump was “furious” that the front area in front of the stage was not full, Hutchinson said. He was informed that people did not want to enter the space, which was being monitored by magnetometers, because they did not want their weapons confiscated.
Trump repeatedly urged security to let them through, despite those security measures.
“I don’t [f***ing] care that they have weapons,” Hutchinson recalled Trump saying, adding that they weren’t there to hurt him and to take the magnetometers away.
“‘Let them in. Let my people in,’” Hutchinson recalled the president saying. “‘They can march to the Capitol from here.’”
Hutchinson said while at the Ellipse, it was becoming clear to Secret Service that Capitol Police were having problems controlling the perimeter of the Capitol and defending against rioters, especially as the crowd grew.
Hutchinson went to find Meadows, who was on the phone in a secure vehicle. She tried to open the door but he immediately closed it.
He shut the door a second time in the period of time that followed. Hutchinson said she could not share her information with him until more than 20 minutes later, by which point “there was a backlog of information that he should have been made aware of.”
When Meadows heard the news, he had “almost a non-reaction,” Hutchinson said, and only asked how much longer Trump had left in his speech.
Hutchinson also shared details of Trump’s desire to go to the Capitol on Jan. 6 and the many attempts from Secret Service, advisors and staff to try to stop him.
While there were no specifics about what Trump would do while there, possibilities Hutchinson heard included having another speech outside the Capitol before going in, as well as possibly going in to the House chamber
It was unclear what was elevated to the president or what he himself wanted to do that day, Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said in previously recorded testimony played during the hearing that before Trump got on stage at the Ellipse, Meadows assured Trump they were still working on making a trip to the Capitol possible.
Hutchinson told Meadows before the speech that security did not feel they could support such a trip, she testified. Trump mentioned marching to the Capitol in his speech, sparking a phone call from Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who warned Hutchinson: “Don’t come up here.” As the president got off stage, Hutchinson warned Meadows a trip was still not possible.
On the way to Trump’s vehicle, Meadows told the president that the head of his detail, Bobby Engel, had more information about the trip to the Capitol, Hutchinson said.
When Trump got into the car, Engel told him they didn’t have the assets for the trip and that it wasn’t secure. Trump became “irate,” Hutchinson said White House deputy chief of staff Tony Ornato recalled to her after she returned to the White House.
Trump said something to the effect of, “I’m the effing president, take me up to the Capitol now,” Hutchinson recalled. After Engel relayed they had to return to the White House, Trump reached up to the front of the vehicle to grab the steering wheel. Engel grabbed the president’s arm and said “Sir, you need to let go,” Hutchinson recalled. Trump then used his free hand to lunge toward Engel’s neck, Ornato told Hutchinson.
Trump denied Hutchinson’s account of the attack, as well as her description of him encouraging those with weapons to be let closer to the stage. “I didn’t want or request that we make room for people with guns to watch my speech,” he said in a statement after the hearing.
As rioters breached the Capitol, Hutchinson recalled feeling like she was “watching a car accident that was about to happen where you can’t stop it but you want to be able to do something.”
“I remember thinking in that moment: Mark needs to snap out of this, and I don’t know how to snap him out of this, but he needs to care.”
Cipollone again came to Meadows’ office, Hutchinson said. She overheard him telling Meadows they had to do something, pointing out the rioters were calling to hang Pence.
“You heard it Pat, he thinks Mike deserves it,” Meadows responded, according to Hutchinson, adding that Trump didn’t think the rioters were doing anything wrong.
Hutchinson was also asked for her response to Trump’s Jan. 6 tweet that former Vice President Mike Pence “didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done.” Hutchinson said, “As an American, I was disgusted.”
“It was unpatriotic. It was un-American. We were watching the Capitol building get defaced over a lie,” she told the committee.
Hutchinson also offered details about how Trump handled the immediate aftermath of the attack.
Trumps’ lawyers, advisers and daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner all encouraged the president to have a stronger response to the violence the day after the attacks, Hutchinson said.
Though Trump eventually did make a statement that day, Hutchinson said she learned the president had resisted the idea of giving a speech, and objected to some of the language in the original draft, including any acknowledgement of prosecuting the rioters, calling them violent, or that “this election is now over.”
Trump also wanted to put in a promise of pardons for the rioters, which those around him ultimately convinced him to omit, Hutchinson said.
Some of Hutchinson’s video testimony has been played out at previous hearings, including on June 23, when the committee shared a clip of her saying that she was involved in conversations about possible Jan.6 pardons with several lawmakers and staff, including Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., Mo Brooks, R-Ala., Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., Louie Gohmert, R-Texas and Scott Perry R-Pa.. A few of the lawmakers named said in statements following the hearings that they did not make such requests.
Hutchinson testified that her former boss sought a pardon for his role on Jan. 6.
For more on the key players in the Jan. 6 committee hearings, click here.
Erica R. Hendry is the managing editor for digital at PBS NewsHour.
Yasmeen Sami Alamiri is the Senior News Editor for the PBS NewsHour.
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