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Hutchinson testimony: Assessing the basis for aide’s explosive claims

Some of her testimony to the Jan. 6 committee, given under oath, was based on firsthand knowledge; other details were relayed secondhand

Cassidy Hutchinson appears June 28 before the House Jan. 6 committee. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)

Testimony on Tuesday by Cassidy Hutchinson, a former top aide to then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, was a thunderbolt placed in the hands of the House select committee investigating the pro-Trump riot on Jan. 6, 2021.

But Hutchinson’s testimony has also come under criticism — from former president Donald Trump himself, from his political allies and, obliquely, from the United States Secret Service, which issued a statement Tuesday evening expressing interest in “responding formally and on the record to the committee regarding new allegations that surfaced in today’s testimony.”

In live testimony and clips of her videotaped deposition, Hutchinson recounted a raft of details from the final days of the Trump administration. According to her testimony, which was given under oath, she was an eyewitness to some of these scenes. Other events and conversations, she said, were relayed to her after the fact. In some instances, there’s corroborating evidence for her recollections. Members of the Jan. 6 committee say the cooperation of additional witnesses, in particular former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, would help fill in key details.

The Washington Post has assessed the basis for some of the most explosive revelations from Hutchinson’s testimony.

1. Trump and his closest associates knew the crowd gathering on Jan. 6 was violent.

This claim has several parts, stretching across numerous days. Hutchinson said she heard mention of the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, two far-right extremist groups, in planning for Jan. 6 that involved Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani. This appears to be based on firsthand knowledge, but the recollection is not specific. A more specific warning from Meadows on Jan. 2 — delivered directly to Hutchinson, in her telling — illustrates his knowledge of possible chaos. “Things might get real, real bad on Jan. 6,” the then-chief of staff reportedly told her that day.

By the morning of Jan. 6, both Trump and Meadows were informed of specific weaponry brought to pro-Trump demonstrations, according to Hutchinson. She personally attended a meeting with Meadows in which Tony Ornato, the White House deputy chief of staff for operations, enumerated dangerous items brought to the pro-Trump rally that day, including firearms, knives and spears. But her account of what Trump knew is secondhand; she testified that Ornato, in that meeting, said he had delivered the same message to the president. “That’s what Mr. Ornato relayed to me,” she said.

Extensive reporting by The Post and others has shown that law enforcement agencies were warning of violence on Jan. 6, but how high the warnings reached has remained unclear.

2. Trump wanted armed supporters to attend his “Stop the Steal” speech before the siege on the Capitol, saying, “They’re not here to hurt me.”

The question of Trump’s knowledge of possible violence — and alleged role in unleashing it — becomes more acute at about noon on Jan. 6, when he appeared at the Ellipse to address supporters at the “Stop the Steal” rally.

Backstage, Trump was fixated on the size of the crowd, according to Hutchinson. “He was furious because he wanted the arena that we had on the Ellipse to be maxed out at capacity for all attendees,” she testified.

Hutchinson traveled to the rally in the presidential motorcade and stayed backstage with the president’s staff and family, she said. Her testimony was bolstered by text messages she exchanged that day with Ornato about the size of the crowd, as well as images displayed at the hearing of Trump looking at television screens backstage that appeared to show the arena audience.

Hutchinson chose her words carefully as she explained what she heard backstage.

“I was part of a conversation — I was in the vicinity of a conversation — where I overheard the president say something to the effect of: ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me.’”

Trump requested that metal detectors be removed so that people with guns could attend the speech, she continued, still quoting him: “Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.”

3. Trump lunged at his security detail and tried to redirect the vehicle in which he was traveling in a bid to join his supporters at the Capitol.

This is the most disputed claim in Hutchinson’s testimony.

Trump wanted to join his supporters marching to the Capitol. That much has been reported by The Post, including in an interview with Trump in April. The Secret Service even scrambled to consider a route for him to the Capitol, The Post reported this month.

But Hutchinson’s testimony went much further. Relaying information she claimed to have been given by Ornato, Hutchinson said Trump “grabbed at” the steering wheel of the Suburban sport utility vehicle in which he was being transported back to the West Wing after his speech at the Ellipse and then lunged toward Robert Engel, the Secret Service special agent in charge on Jan. 6. “When Mr. Ornato had recounted this story to me, he had motioned toward his clavicles,” Hutchinson said, placing her left hand on her neck.

Hutchinson acknowledged not being present for this episode, saying explicitly that it was recounted to her by Ornato. She also said Engel was in the room when Ornato described these events and “did not correct or disagree with any part of the story.”

The Post reported Tuesday that three Secret Service agents who accompanied Trump on Jan. 6 dispute that Trump assaulted or grabbed at the leader of his security detail and that he grabbed for the steering wheel, according to one current and one former law enforcement official familiar with their accounts.

The three agents — Engel, Ornato and the agent driving the Suburban that carried the president away from his speech at the Ellipse — are also willing to testify to the committee, said the two people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive subject.

Hutchinson’s lawyer Jody Hunt tweeted Tuesday night: “Ms. Hutchinson testified, under oath, and recounted what she was told. Those with knowledge of the episode also should testify under oath.” He and another lawyer followed up Wednesday with a fresh statement: “Ms. Hutchinson stands by all of the testimony she provided yesterday, under oath, to the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol.”

4. Trump approved of chants calling for his vice president to be hanged.

The peril facing Vice President Mike Pence has been a key theme for the committee, whose vice chairwoman, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), had previously said Trump affirmed that his vice president deserved to be hanged. But Hutchinson’s testimony was the first from a witness to address the president’s purported view. Hutchinson did not testify that she heard Trump himself endorse chants of “Hang Mike Pence.” Rather, she said she overheard a conversation between Meadows and Cipollone after the two senior officials met with Trump on the afternoon of Jan. 6 — part of an effort, especially by Cipollone, to get the president to call off his supporters.

When Cipollone told Meadows, “We need to do something more,” as Hutchinson recalled, Meadows replied that any further efforts would be futile. “And Mark had responded something to the effect of, ‘You heard him, Pat. He thinks Mike deserves it. He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong,’” Hutchinson said.

This testimony is based on Hutchinson’s recollections of comments made by Meadows summarizing Trump’s thinking. She did say she personally overheard discussion of the chant about Pence as she handed Meadows a phone in the doorway of the Oval Office dining room, buttressing her account of the theme of the conversation, though not of the president’s specific remarks. On Truth Social, the social media platform developed by Trump and his allies after he was banned from Twitter, the former president specifically disputed saying “Mike Pence deserves it.”

5. White House lawyers cautioned against including incendiary language sought by Trump in Jan. 6 remarks.

Hutchinson testified that White House attorneys, including Eric Herschmann, had “legal concerns” about some of the language included “at the president’s request” in his speech to supporters Jan. 6. This language included references to Pence and instructions to “fight for Trump,” she said.

Hutchinson was not specific about how the attorneys relayed their concerns to her. For example, she said, “In my conversations with Mr. Herschmann, he had relayed that we would be foolish to include language that had been included at the president’s request.” She did recount numerous specific conversations with Cipollone, including Jan. 3 and the morning of Jan. 6, in which he is said to have expressed grave concern about the president accompanying his supporters to the Capitol.

Hutchinson also described attempts to get Trump to call off his supporters later that day. The committee displayed a handwritten note that Hutchinson said she wrote Jan. 6 “at the direction” of Meadows. She said Meadows dictated the note to her following a meeting with Herschmann and a possibly another lawyer on the afternoon of Jan. 6. The note included the phrases “illegally” and “without legal authority” — language apparently under consideration for a presidential address. Later, she said, Meadows put the note on her desk with the word “illegally” crossed out and also indicated that the statement would not be used.

There was confusion later Tuesday about the note. A spokesperson for Herschmann said he had written the note, while Cheney took pains to confirm with Hutchinson that it was her handwriting. “That’s my handwriting,” she said.

6. Trump wanted to add language to a Jan. 7, 2021, speech about pardoning rioters

When Cheney asked Hutchinson whether she had heard that Trump “at one point wanted to add language about pardoning those who took part in the January 6 riot,” she answered in the affirmative. She also said she understood that Meadows was “encouraging that language as well.”

In a clip from her videotaped deposition, Hutchinson said the White House Counsel’s Office disapproved of such language.

Neither in her live testimony nor in clips from her videotaped deposition did Hutchinson explain the basis for her knowledge of the Jan. 7 consideration of pardons — whether she witnessed these conversations or heard about them secondhand. She also did not go into detail about what the proposed language would have said.

7. Giuliani and Meadows sought pardons.

Hutchinson replied in the affirmative when asked whether Giuliani ever suggested he was interested in receiving a pardon. When asked the same about Meadows, she said, “Mr. Meadows did seek that pardon.”

She was not asked to elaborate and gave no other details about when or how she learned of these requests. Giuliani disputed her account, claiming Tuesday in a now-deleted tweet that Hutchinson was “never present when I asked for a pardon. Actually, I told the president I did not want or need one.”

An attorney for Meadows, George Terwilliger, said in a statement that Hutchinson’s testimony “would not withstand a basic cross examination and, if that is correct, it is unlikely to stand the test of time either.”

8. Trump threw dishes across the room when publicly fact-checked by his attorney general about voter fraud.

In perhaps the most vivid scene recounted by Hutchinson, Trump is said to have flown into a rage when he saw that his attorney general at the time, William P. Barr, had given an interview Dec. 1, 2020, saying the Justice Department had seen no evidence of systematic voter fraud.

Hutchinson claimed to have some firsthand knowledge of these events. She recalled “hearing noise coming from down the hallway” and poked her head into the hallway. At that point, she said, she saw the valet, who informed her that Trump wanted to see Meadows. After the chief of staff’s visit with Trump in the dining room, she recalled, she walked into the dining room, where the valet was changing the tablecloth. The valet motioned for her to come in, she said, and motioned toward the front of the room, where she saw “ketchup dripping down the wall” and a “shattered porcelain plate on the floor.”

She said the valet told her that the president was “extremely angry … and had thrown his lunch against the wall.”

Hutchinson did not testify to having personally seen the president’s conduct but, in her telling, witnessed its aftermath and learned of his rage from the valet. It’s not clear if the valet has been interviewed by the Jan. 6 committee.

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.

What we know about what Trump did on Jan. 6: New details emerged when Hutchinson testified before the committee and shared what she saw and heard on Jan. 6.

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.