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‘As an American, I was disgusted’: White House aide tells Jan. 6 panel Trump wanted to join rioters, didn’t care many were armed

June 28, 2022 Updated Tue., June 28, 2022 at 8:38 p.m.

WASHINGTON – In sworn testimony on Tuesday to the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, an aide to President Donald Trump’s chief of staff told lawmakers an “irate” Trump wanted to march to the Capitol with his supporters despite knowing many of them were armed.

Cassidy Hutchinson, who served as the principal aide to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, delivered a blow-by-blow account of the day’s events from inside the West Wing and on the Ellipse outside the White House, where Trump directed his supporters to march to the Capitol and told them, “I’ll be there with you.”

In the surprise hearing announced just a day earlier, Hutchinson told the committee the president was angry that the crowd gathered to hear him speak wasn’t big enough. When the head of his Secret Service detail explained that was because many in the crowd were armed and didn’t want to pass through metal detectors to enter the Ellipse, Hutchinson said Trump responded, “I don’t … care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me.”

Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, one of two Republicans on the nine-member panel, led the hearing and played audio of police reporting seeing handguns, AR-15 rifles and other weapons in the crowd.

Hutchinson said she was told by Tony Ornato, a senior Secret Service official, that when the head of the presidential security detail refused to drive to the Capitol after the speech on the Ellipse, an enraged Trump lunged for the steering wheel and said, “I’m the … president. Take me up to the Capitol now.”

Ornato shared that account with Hutchinson, she said, in the presence of the driver, who didn’t dispute the incident.

Hutchinson also described Meadows spending much of the day sitting on a couch in his office, scrolling through his phone and seemingly unbothered by what was transpiring at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, where the mob of Trump supporters forced its way into the Capitol, leaving police officers bloodied and forcing Congress to halt the symbolic counting of electoral votes.

Seven people died in connection to the riot, including a rioter shot by police when she tried to breach a door to the House chamber and three others who died of a stroke, a heart attack and a drug overdose, according to the D.C. medical examiner. Three police officers died in the days after the riot, two by suicide and a third of multiple strokes suffered after rioters sprayed him with bear spray.

Cheney pointed out that Meadows is fighting in court to avoid testifying under oath to the committee. Other Trump allies, including lobbyist Roger Stone and retired Army General Michael Flynn, have invoked their Fifth Amendment right to avoid incriminating themselves when questioned by the panel.

Hutchinson testified that on the night of Jan. 5, 2021, Meadows asked her to work with the Secret Service to coordinate his travel to a hotel near the White House where Stone and Flynn, neither of whom had an official role in the administration at the time, had set up a “war room” to plan the next day’s events.

The former aide revealed that Meadows and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani sought pardons from the president after the attack on the Capitol. She testified that on Jan. 2, 2021, Giuliani told her something to the effect of, “Cass, are you excited for the 6th? It’s going to be a great day.”

“We’re going to the Capitol,” she recalled Giuliani telling her. “It’s going to be great. The president’s going to be there. He’s going to look powerful.”

When she told Meadows what Giuliani had said, Hutchinson recalled Trump’s chief of staff replying, “There’s a lot going on, Cass, but I don’t know. Things might get real, real bad on Jan. 6.”

Much of Hutchinson’s testimony focused on the events of Jan. 6, when she said other White House officials repeatedly warned Meadows that the crowd was likely to become violent and pleaded with him to get Trump to condemn the violence.

“These … people are fastening spears onto the end of flagpoles,” she recalled Ornato saying as he told Meadows members of the crowd were wearing body armor and carrying guns, knives and other weapons.

In response, Hutchinson said, “I remember distinctly Mark not looking up from his phone.”

In the days leading up to the riot, Hutchinson told the committee, Trump made it clear he wanted to go to the Capitol with his supporters. On the morning of Jan. 6, she said, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone warned that doing so would be illegal.

“Mr. Cipollone said something to the effect of, ‘Please make sure we don’t go up to the Capitol, Cassidy,’ ” she said. “ ‘Keep in touch with me. We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen.’ ”

As the rioters breached the Capitol, Hutchinson said, Cipollone entered Meadows’ office and told the chief of staff Trump needed to make a public statement calling for his supporters to stop, to which Meadows replied that Trump didn’t want to do anything.

“Mark, something needs to be done or people are going to die and the blood’s going to be on your … hands,” Hutchinson recalled Cipollone saying. Only then, she said, did Meadows get up from his couch and talk to Trump.

After Hutchinson told Meadows the crowd was chanting, “Hang Mike Pence,” in response to the vice president refusing to comply with Trump’s demand to block the certification of the election results, Trump wrote a message on Twitter that prompted multiple administration officials to resign: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.”

When Cheney asked Hutchinson how she reacted to seeing Trump’s tweet, the former aide said it frustrated her as someone who had supported Trump’s policies.

“As an American, I was disgusted,” Hutchinson said. “It was unpatriotic. It was un-American. We were watching the Capitol building get defaced over a lie. And it was something that was really hard, in that moment, to digest, knowing what I’d been hearing down the hall, and the conversations that were happening.”

Cheney and Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, began the hearing by showing photos proving Hutchinson was with Trump and Meadows on Jan. 6, 2021, and presenting a map showing exactly how close she worked to the Oval Office. Despite their efforts to change the minds of viewers, the hearing underscored the fact that Republicans – including many who condemned the violence of Jan. 6 – have largely kowtowed to Trump in the months since.

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, who in a clip played by the panel called the violence at the Capitol “un-American” while it was unfolding, opposed the creation of a bipartisan commission to investigate the attacks. He later refused to seat any Republicans on the House select committee after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., blocked his attempt to place staunch Trump allies on the panel.

Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, the only two Republicans on the committee, are among vanishingly few GOP lawmakers who have chosen to risk their seats in Congress to call out Trump’s claim that he lost the election only because of massive voter fraud, which dozens of judges have found to be baseless.

Washington state Reps. Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Battle Ground were among House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the Capitol riot. Both have drawn Trump-endorsed challengers.

In the committee’s earlier hearings, several Trump administration insiders have revealed that they told Trump there was no evidence of voter fraud on a scale that would change the outcome of the presidential election. In recorded testimony shown by the panel, Trump’s former Attorney General Bill Barr said the former president had become “detached from reality” if he believed his own claim of a stolen election, which Barr called “complete nonsense.”

Hutchinson testified that after Barr told the Associated Press in December 2020 there was no evidence of widespread election fraud, Trump threw his plate across the White House dining room, leaving a wall streaked with ketchup. That was just one of several times the former president threw a plate or knocked dishes off the table in a rage during her tenure at the White House, Hutchinson told the panel.

In her closing remarks, Cheney thanked Hutchinson – who previously worked for Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, a leading House Republican, and Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz – for putting her loyalty to the rule of law above loyalty to Trump.

“Our nation is preserved by those who abide by their oaths to our Constitution,” Cheney said. “Our nation is preserved by those who know the fundamental difference between right and wrong. And I want all Americans to know that what Ms. Hutchinson has done today is not easy. The easy course is to hide from the spotlight, to refuse to come forward, to attempt to downplay or deny what happened.”

Thompson, the committee chairman, closed the hearing by thanking Hutchinson for her “courageous” testimony and calling on other former Trump administration officials to follow her example and shed light on the Capitol riot and the events that preceded it.

“To those whose memories have failed them again and again on the most important details and to those who fear Donald Trump and his enablers, because of this courageous woman and others like her, your attempt to hide the truth from the American people will fail,” Thompson said. “And to that group of witnesses, if you have heard this testimony today and suddenly you remember things you couldn’t previously recall, or there’s some details you’d like to clarify, or you’ve discovered some courage you had hidden away somewhere, our doors remain open.”

Cheney shared text messages sent to witnesses who testified under oath, including one that apparently referred to Trump when an ally of the former president told the witness, “He knows you’re loyal and you’re going to do the right thing when you go in for your deposition.”

“I think most Americans know that attempting to influence witnesses to testify untruthfully presents very serious concerns,” Cheney said.

“We will be discussing these issues as a committee and carefully considering our next steps.”

The panel plans to hold additional public hearings after the House returns to Washington from its Independence Day recess in mid-July.

Orion Donovan-Smith's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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