Cassidy Hutchinson: ex-aide testifies that Trump tried to join January 6 rioters

Hutchinson tells House committee that former senior White House official said 'things might get real, real, real bad on January 6'

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Former president Donald Trump lunged at his security detail when they refused to take him to the US Capitol building on January 6, 2021, a top White House aide said in a surprise public hearing before a House committee on Tuesday.

Cassidy Hutchinson, a former top aide to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, said Mr Trump grew "irate" and tried to grab the presidential limousine's steering wheel when he learned he was going back to the White House after speaking at a rally just ahead of the insurrection.

"I'm the [expletive] president. Take me up to the Capitol now," she recalled Mr Trump telling a Secret Service agent in the bulletproof Cadillac, nicknamed "The Beast".

Ms Hutchinson said his security officer, Robert Engel, told him to sit back.

"The president reached up to the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel," she said.

"Mr Engel grabbed his arm, said, 'Sir, you need to take your hand off the steering wheel. We're going back to the West Wing. We're not going to the Capitol'."

Mr Trump then lunged at Mr Engel, Ms Hutchinson said.

She said former White House chief of operations Anthony Ornato did not dispute the claim, pointing to his clavicle.

In some of the most explosive testimony from the hearings so far, Ms Hutchinson said Mr Trump and some of his top aides were aware of the possibility of violence ahead of the attack -- contradicting claims that the assault was spontaneous and had nothing to do with the administration.

Ms Hutchinson testified that she was "scared and nervous" in the days leading up to January 6, quoting a conversation she had with Mr Meadows and Rudy Giuliani, Mr Trump's lawyer.

"Things might get real, real, real bad on January 6," she recalled Mr Meadows saying on January 2.

Mr Giuliani predicted that January 6 would be a "great day" and spoke of "going to the Capitol", she said.

Ms Hutchinson also recalled White House counsel Pat Cipollone telling her to try stopping the defeated president from going to the US Capitol with his armed supporters.

"Please make sure we don't go up to the Capitol, Cassidy," she said Mr Cipollone told her. "Keep in touch with me.

"We're going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen."

Ms Hutchinson said the crimes Mr Cipollone was suggesting included obstruction of justice and interference with the election count.

Mr Trump also demanded that his supporters enter the space where his rally was being held that morning without metal detectors, although several were carrying weapons.

"They're not here to hurt me," Ms Hutchinson recalled him saying. "Take the [expletive] Mags [security screeners] away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here."

She repeated several times that her boss Mr Meadows said that Mr Trump believed the people involved in the Capitol attack were not doing anything wrong.

Ms Hutchinson said Mr Trump criticised vice president Mike Pence for "not standing with him" in certifying the 2020 election results for opponent Joe Biden.

She previously appeared before the committee in closed-door settings.

Because of “safety concerns” and her first-hand account of the day, the committee found it necessary to quickly hold a public hearing for Ms Hutchinson's evidence, Punchbowl News first reported.

Committee chairman Bennie Thompson praised Ms Hutchinson for her courage to appear before the panel. He said the House committee called the public hearing in light of information it received.

"As an American, I was disgusted" she said of the insurrection. "It was unpatriotic, it was un-American. We were watching the Capitol building get defaced over a lie."

Republican committee member Liz Cheney shared at the end of the hearing text messages witnesses received from people close to Mr Trump trying to influence them, suggesting witness tampering in depositions.

Ms Hutchinson described a president who smashed lunch dishes against the wall when his attorney general wouldn’t back election-fraud claims, ignored requests from his own lawyers to tone down his speech at the January 6 rally that preceded the riot, and ultimately turned callous when his vice president was under threat, suggesting he agreed with the rioters’ cries to hang Mike Pence.

Ms Hutchison's recorded evidence made appearances in previous hearings, in which she named the Republican members of Congress who sought pardons from Mr Trump after the assault on the US Capitol.

She also previously said she had seen Mr Meadows burn papers in his office after a meeting with Scott Perry, a Republican representative who sought to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, US media reported.

Mr Perry helped to push for the appointment of Jeffrey Clark to lead the Justice Department in assisting the president in his debunked claims of electoral fraud.

Mr Meadows has refused to give evidence before the House panel.

Thousands of text messages he provided before he stopped co-operating with the panel showed how White House officials and supporters pressed him to stop the attack on the Capitol.

Ms Hutchinson also testified on Tuesday that Mr Meadows wanted a presidential pardon.

The Justice Department said it would not pursue a criminal indictment against him.

Meanwhile, the FBI seized the phone of Mr Trump's former lawyer John Eastman, who supported the former president's efforts to overturn the election.

Mr Eastman said in a court filing on Monday that FBI agents took his phone last week.

He said the phone contained emails that the House investigatory panel had requested but that he had refused to hand over.

Updated: June 29, 2022, 5:46 AM
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