The House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, Capitol Hill insurrection reconvened Tuesday for a hastily scheduled hearing, featuring blockbuster testimony from Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson.
Hutchinson has cooperated extensively with the investigation, having sat for four closed-door depositions. She revealed how then-President Donald Trump and his inner circle were warned about the potential for violence on January 6, and how Trump wanted to join the throngs of his supporters at the US Capitol.
The testimony bolstered the narrative that the committee has been driving toward over the last few weeks: That Trump incited and supported the insurrection as part of a desperate power grab to steal a second term, and that many of his top advisers thought his schemes were illegal.
Here are takeaways from Hutchinson’s key testimony.
Trump and his chief of staff were warned about violence – including armed attendees of rally
Hutchinson really moved the ball forward in terms of establishing that Trump was personally aware of the potential for violence, yet forged ahead on January 6 with his attempts to rile up his supporters to interfere with the joint session of Congress to certify President Joe Biden’s victory.
She said Trump was told that morning that weapons were being confiscated from some of his supporters who came for his rally. Later, when Trump and his team were at the Ellipse – the large oval lawn on the south side of the White House – and before his speech, Trump barked out orders to his staffers to “take the mags away” – referring to the metal detectors – because the people in the crowd, “they’re not here to hurt me.”
Trump also said, “I don’t f**king care that they have weapons,” according to Hutchinson. This is particularly shocking, because Trump then encouraged the same crowd to march to the Capitol while lawmakers were affirming Biden’s win. (Hundreds of Trump’s diehard supporters soon stormed the Capitol, many carrying knives, bear spray, metal poles, tasers and a few guns.)
When Hutchinson told her boss, Meadows, about early reports of weapons getting confiscated, Meadows didn’t even look up from his phone, according to Hutchinson. Two days earlier, he told her that “things might get real, real, bad on January 6.”
“The potential for violence was learned or known before the onset of the violence, early enough for President Trump to have taken steps to prevent it,” said Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the panel’s GOP vice chair. She added that Trump could have urged his supporters not to march to the Capitol, or condemned the violence more quickly, but didn’t, because he “had something else in mind.”
Trump intended to go the Capitol and pushed to do so until the last minute
The select committee effectively proved as much on Tuesday by featuring a mix of damning witness testimony and White House records that show Trump intended to join his supporters at the Capitol and was pushing to do so just minutes before the violence began to escalate.
It was previously known that Trump wanted to go to the Capitol, but Hutchinson’s testimony established for the first time that people around Trump had advance knowledge of this plan.
The reality of Trump’s intentions became clear to national security officials in real time as they learned the Secret Service was scrambling to find a way for the former President to travel to the Capitol while he was on stage urging his followers to march, according to National Security Council chat logs from that day that were revealed for the first time during Tuesday’s hearing.
The NSC chat logs provide a minute-by-minute accounting of how the situation evolved from the perspective of top White House national security officials on January 6 and, along with witness testimony delivered on Tuesday, contradict an account by Meadows in his book where he says Trump never intended to march to the Capitol.
“MOGUL’s going to the Capital … they are clearing a route now,” a message sent to the chat log at 12:29 p.m. ET on January 6 reads – referring to the former President’s secret service code name.
“MilAide has confirmed that he wants to walk,” a 12:32 p.m. message reads. “They are begging him to reconsider.”
“So this is happening,” a message sent at 12:47 p.m. states.
Hutchinson also testified that some in Trump’s orbit had made clear days before January 6 that Trump wanted to travel to the US Capitol.
She told the committee Tuesday that Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told her on January 2 – four days before the US Capitol was attacked by Trump supporters – that “we’re going to the Capitol” on January 6, and that Trump himself was also planning to be there.
Aide recounts secondhand incident where Trump reached for steering wheel
Hutchinson testified Tuesday that she heard a secondhand account of how Trump was so enraged at his Secret Service detail for blocking him from going to the Capitol on January 6 that he lunged to the front of his presidential limo and tried to turn the wheel.
She said that Tony Ornato, then-White House deputy chief of staff, said that Robert Engel, who was the Secret Service agent in charge on January 6, repeatedly told Trump on their way back to the White House after Trump’s Ellipse speech that it wasn’t safe to go to the Capitol.
According to Hutchinson, Ornato recounted Trump screaming, “I’m the f**king President. Take me up to the Capitol now.” Trump then “reached up toward the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel,” Hutchinson remembered learning. She added that, according to Ornato, Trump used his other hand “lunge” at Engel.
Engel and Ornato have both testified to the committee behind closed doors, but their statements were not used in the hearing Tuesday.
After the testimony, a Secret Service official familiar with the matter told CNN that Ornato denies telling Hutchinson that the former President grabbed the wheel or an agent on his detail.
The Secret Service, through the Department of Homeland Security Office of Legislative Affairs, notified the committee Tuesday afternoon that it will make the agents involved available to testify under oath, the official said. The agents are also prepared to say under oath that the incident itself did not occur.
The lead agent, Engel, previously testified before the committee and described the interactions with Trump on January 6, including the former President’s desire to travel to the Capitol, but he was not asked about an altercation or being assaulted, the official said.
Asked about the Secret Service disputing the testimony, a committee spokesman said, “The committee trusts the creditability of a witness who is willing to testify under oath and in public but is also willing to hear any and all information that others may have that would aid in their investigation.”