Cassidy Hutchinson was about to turn 24, already a key official at the White House after a meteoric ascent from obscurity, when she heard a startling noise. It was early December 2020, and President Donald Trump was livid because his attorney general said the election had not been stolen.
It was a turning point in an extraordinary effort to subvert the transfer of presidential power, as Hutchinson recalled it in dramatic testimony Tuesday before the House Jan. 6 committee. In a riveting two hours, Hutchinson added layers of stunning detail from her one-of-a-kind vantage as principal assistant to Mark Meadows, then White House chief of staff, which put her steps from the Oval Office.
She said the White House counsel revealed his concerns that Trump’s plans were illegal. She told how she tried to get Meadows to “snap out of it” and stop scrolling on his phone as rioters prepared to storm the Capitol. She revealed how Trump initially rebuffed efforts to speak out against the attack.
On paper, Hutchinson had been one of the youngest and least experienced members of the White House staff. Yet on Tuesday, there she was: Now 25, in a bold white jacket, confidently and calmly testifying that the most powerful man in the country, Trump, had been out of control and stoking an armed insurrection.
“She has been an unvarnished truth teller, and I find her to be an encouraging and inspiring figure because she is so young and she has not allowed her idealism and belief in government to be jaded and poisoned by the people around her,” said Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), calling Hutchinson one of the committee’s most important witnesses.
In Trump’s White House, Hutchinson had extraordinary access and in the eyes of many White House staffers, she had inordinate power. Some derisively called her “Chief Cassidy,” and even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s staff asked White House aides why she was in on legislative meetings. The first in her family to go to college, she loved her job. “It was her dream,” one former White House official said. “She saw the magnitude of what she was doing.”
On Tuesday, she used that unusual perch toward a task of even greater magnitude: Testifying against the same officials who had elevated her. As she described Trump lashing out and refusing to rein in rioters, she did so in a quiet, deliberate cadence that seemed destined to echo loudly across the nation’s history.
She remembered how White House officials had repeatedly tried to warn the president about what could happen on Jan. 6, and how she had personally warned Meadows. “I remember feeling frustrated, disappointed, and really it felt personal,” Hutchinson said. “I was really saddened as an American. I was disgusted. It was unpatriotic. It was un-American. We were watching the Capitol get defaced over a lie.”
Until the moment that Hutchinson testified, she was a relatively little-known figure aside from snippets of video of her presented at earlier hearings. Her appearance was not announced until just hours before Tuesday’s session, which had only been scheduled the day before without naming a witness. The suddenness of it all, which some congressional officials attributed to security concerns, had led to hours of speculation about who would testify, with Hutchinson not initially deemed a likely candidate. Hutchinson told others that she had received threats.
But two of the witnesses most sought for testimony — Meadows and White House counsel Pat Cipollone — have refused to appear.
Unlike some who have refused to testify, Hutchinson did not take the Fifth Amendment or have such allegiance to Trump to hold back. Her testimony was met with a barrage of personal attacks from Trump on Truth Social, claiming not to know her well and accusing her of lying.
Former White House officials who worked with her said she had a combination of qualities that made her a star witness: extraordinary access and uncommon courage.
“It’s pretty damning that you have a 25-year-old coming forward and publicly testifying, and there are folks twice her age who are refusing to do the same,” said Sarah Matthews, a former spokeswoman in the Trump White House, in an interview with The Washington Post. “I think her coming forward despite an immense amount of pressure and credible security threats, that’s just a profile in courage.”
Several former Trump advisers said they were stunned by Hutchinson’s account on Tuesday. In the White House, four people said, she was fiercely loyal to Meadows and would defend him no matter what, and never showed trepidation at Trump’s conduct.
“She would have been the last person I would have ever expected to do this,” one former White House official said. “She was totally enthusiastic about Trump and working in that White House.”
Hutchinson had a sudden rise to find herself as the center of power. Raised in Pennington, N.J., she attended Christopher Newport University in Virginia, where she studied political science. In an October 2018 article published on the school’s website, she is described as having already interned for Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) when she applied for a White House internship.
“I was brought to tears when I received the email that I had been selected to participate,” she told CNU. She was assigned to work in the Office of Legislative Affairs, her “small contribution to the quest to maintain American prosperity and excellence.” She said she hoped to return to Washington, and after graduation she was hired for the same White House office where she had interned.
During the first impeachment trial, Hutchinson grew close to Meadows as a legislative affairs staffer in the White House, former advisers said. Once he was named chief of staff in March 2020, he immediately elevated her, a former adviser said, and she eventually became his principal assistant. She was given an office next to his, which in turn put her a few doors away from the Oval Office.
Brendan Buck, a former aide to House speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), said in an interview that Hutchinson “was always by his side … when there were meetings you’d expect to be principal level or very small senior staff level, he would always insist she was in the room.” Buck said she was usually a quiet presence. “She was largely there to take notes,” Buck said. “It’s just unusual to have a relatively junior aide to either be in principal level or senior staff level, but it was his call, so we deferred to him.”
She was viewed throughout the White House as speaking for Meadows when she gave other staff members orders, and regularly said “Mark wants” or “the chief says” — the chief being Meadows.
A former White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions, said that Hutchinson traveled constantly with Meadows, going on Air Force One, answering his calls, and getting texts from members of Congress. Key members of the White House staff who wanted to get a message to Trump or Meadows often went through her.
After Trump lost the election in November 2020 and began insisting that it had been stolen from him, Hutchinson said, she became concerned, a view that crystallized when Trump threw the plate against the wall.
Soon, Hutchinson said, she heard concerns from senior administration officials about plans for a massive rally near the Capitol on Jan. 6. Senior officials told her about reports that people were planning to bring weapons, and that Trump’s plan to go to the Capitol on the day the election was to be certified could be deemed obstruction of justice.
“Please make sure we don’t go up to the Capitol, Cassidy,” Cipollone told Hutchinson at one point, she testified. “We are going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen.”
On the morning of Jan. 6, after Hutchinson said that she and others warned Meadows about the potential for violence, she was behind the stage when Trump appeared at a rally on the Ellipse. The president was furious that the lawn was not filled with more people and blamed security officials who screened the crowd to be sure they weren’t carrying weapons.
Then, after telling the crowd that he would accompany them to the Capitol, Trump got into a presidential vehicle. Hutchinson said that at that moment, even House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called her angrily, leaning on her to block the presidential movement. Although Meadows wrote in his memoir that Trump was speaking metaphorically about joining the crowd in going to the Capitol, Hutchinson said she was told by a security official that Trump tried to wrest control of the vehicle.
“Take me to the Capitol now!” Trump had demanded, Hutchinson described, sweeping her hand toward her clavicle as she verbally and visually recounted how Trump had lunged at a person in the car and tried to control the steering wheel.
She said she learned about the incident upon her return to the White House, and that the person Trump lunged at did not dispute the account to her. (Her accounts of his interactions with the Secret Service have not been independently corroborated.)
A person familiar with the matter said some on the committee were unsure Hutchinson would testify publicly, saying she had at times seemed skittish and wanted to avoid the spotlight. Earlier this year, she cut ties with a former lawyer after the lawyer suggested that she could limit her cooperation with the committee going forward, according to an account she gave others. By Wednesday, she’d already spent more than two dozen hours with the committee over four sessions.
Hutchinson’s lawyers, Jody Hunt and William Jordan, said in a statement that “she believes that it was her duty and responsibility to provide the Committee with her truthful and candid observations of the events surrounding January 6. Ms. Hutchinson believes that Jan. 6 was a horrific day for the country, and it is vital to the future of our democracy that it not be repeated.”
That horror, Hutchinson testified, intensified as she saw Cipollone, the White House counsel, coming down the hallway after seeing footage of a pro-Trump mob breaking into the Capitol. She overheard as Cipollone told Meadows: “The rioters have gotten into the Capitol, Mark. We need to go down and see the president now.’”
Meadows looked up from his phone and said Trump “doesn’t want to do anything, Pat.” Cipollone told Meadows that if they didn’t act, “people are going to die, and blood is going to be on your f-ing hands. This is getting out of control. I’m going down there.”
Meadows stood up, two phones in his hands, Hutchison said, and walked down the hall with Cipollone to meet with the president.
Hutchinson originally told colleagues in the White House that she was planning to go with Trump to Mar-a-Lago to work for him post-presidency, and she was involved in helping plan his exit from the White House. But that changed at the last minute, two former advisers to Trump said.
Meadows did not respond to a request for comment and has been silent on his former aide’s testimony.
Alice Crites contributed to this report.
The Jan. 6 insurrection
Congressional hearings: The House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol held a series of high-profile hearings to share its findings with the U.S. public. What was likely to be the panel’s final public hearing has been postponed because of Hurricane Ian. Here’s a guide to the biggest hearing moments so far.
Will there be charges? The committee could make criminal referrals of former president Donald Trump over his role in the attack, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said in an interview.
The riot: On Jan. 6, 2021, a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 election results. Five people died on that day or in the immediate aftermath, and 140 police officers were assaulted.
Inside the siege: During the rampage, rioters came perilously close to penetrating the inner sanctums of the building while lawmakers were still there, including former vice president Mike Pence. The Washington Post examined text messages, photos and videos to create a video timeline of what happened on Jan. 6.