4 Big Takeaways as White House Aide Testifies on Trump and Capitol Riot

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. 

Cassidy Hutchinson was Tuesday’s key witness. She was the executive assistant to Trump chief-of-staff Mark Meadows and lived in close proximity to Oval Office. Hutchinson stated to the panel that she was present at conversations involving major players. 

The hearing featured video testimony from several former Trump White House officials including Kayleigh McEnany, former press secretary, and Michael Flynn, former national security advisor. 

After initially announcing that it would not resume work until July, the Select Committee to Investigate Jan. 6th Attack on U.S. Capitol made an unexpected announcement about the hearing. Cheney, one the two anti-Trump Republicans who made up the nine-member, Democrat-stacked group, was the one leading the questioning. 

Here are four key 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 for me to hurt them, take the effing magazines 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.”

For those evaluating what happened that day it was a point of contention whether the Capitol rioters were carrying weapons. 

Although many people were charged with having had weapons on the Capitol groundsThis is a prohibited offense, but no one was charged after the building was broken by rioters with having a weapon within it. 

Hutchinson testified that Tony Ornato was the White House deputy chiefs of staff. He told Trump about reports by law enforcement on the scene, that some Ellipse members were carrying weapons including guns and flag poles with spears at their tops. 

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 out deposition excerpts of unnamed witnesses that were projected on the wall. Cheney read the words of a 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. I was reminded a few times by them that Trump can read transcripts. As I complete my interviews with the committee, please keep this in your mind.

She read a separate testimony 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 join 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 claimed that Ornato had told her that Bobby Angle, a Secret Service agent assigned to Trump, was there. Trump insists to Angle that he wants to visit the Capitol by himself when he gets into The Beast 

“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.”

She continued: 

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.’

To grab the steering wheel, the president reached for the front of the car. Mr. Angle grabbed his arm and said, ‘Sir, you need to take your hand off the steering wheel. We are going back the West Wing. We are not going to the Capitol.’

Then, Mr. Trump used his free hand and lunged towards Bobby Angle.

He said Ornato told her that Trump had reached for the Secret Servicc agent’s neck. 

4. Pardon Interest and War Room

Hutchinson stated that Meadows had spoken to Roger Stone, a former Trump campaign operative, and Flynn, who briefly served as national security advisor, the day before. 

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 is a former mayor of New York and has served as Trump’s personal lawyer. Giuliani was one of the speakers at the rally that preceded 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. 

Cheney unsuccessfully questioned Flynn in the edited video clips whether the Capitol riot was moral. She also asked Flynn if he believed peacefully in the transfer of power. 

Hutchinson stated to the committee that Meadows, Giuliani and both of them wanted Trump’s presidential pardons 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.”

The committee had previously noted that John Eastman (a Trump lawyer) sought a pardon in connection with the events of January 6.  Cheney claimed that several Republican members of Congress sought pardons from Trump following the riot during a prime-time hearing.

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