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The disputes over Jan. 6 committee evidence, parsed

Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified on June 28 about President Donald Trump’s actions surrounding the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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The Jan. 6 committee has in recent days and weeks set out increasingly explosive revelations.

First, it laid out evidence that Donald Trump and Co. were told both that their voter-fraud claims were roundly false and that their plot to overturn the election was illegal. Then came testimony that many of those involved inquired about presidential pardons. And now comes former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony indicating Trump directed his supporters to the Capitol even after being informed some of them had weapons.

Through it all, the committee’s critics haven’t had much of a retort, except calling the proceedings a witch hunt. But as the evidence has mounted, some people have been drawn into disputing specific details.

Not all denials are the same. Let’s parse some of the big disputes.

Trump and the Secret Service

The claim: Hutchinson, who was a top aide to Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, testified Tuesday about a supposed altercation between Trump and Secret Service agents in a presidential vehicle on Jan. 6. She said Deputy Chief of Staff Anthony M. Ornato told her that Trump was “irate” that he wasn’t allowed to go to the Capitol with his supporters after his speech on the Ellipse. She summarized Ornato’s account like this: “The President reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel. [The head of Trump’s Secret Service detail Bobby] 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 used his free hand to lunge towards Bobby Engel. And when Mr. Ornato had recounted this story to me, he had motioned towards his clavicles.” She said Engel never disputed what Ornato had said.

Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified on June 28 that former president Donald Trump lunged at a secret service agent on Jan. 6. (Video: Reuters)

The dispute: Anonymous sources have disputed that actually happened. Trump and others also said it would have been nearly impossible for Trump to reach the steering wheel, with some noting the presidential limousine known as “the Beast” was designed in a way that would make it very difficult.

The parse: The Washington Post has noted Trump was in an SUV rather than the Beast limousine. The initial denials also didn’t dispute that Hutchinson was told this — merely that it had actually happened. (She never claimed direct knowledge.) Later, an anonymous Secret Service source said Ornato denied telling Hutchinson that Trump touched the wheel or the agent, according to CNN. (Hutchinson testified that Engel told Trump to get his hand off the wheel, but she didn’t say Trump actually grabbed an agent. She also never used the word “assault,” which has cropped up in some reports on the dispute.) Hutchinson’s lawyer Jody Hunt said those with knowledge of the matter should also testify.

The danger to Pence

The claim: This isn’t the first time the Secret Service has called evidence about events on Jan. 6 into question. Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that a top aide to Vice President Mike Pence, Marc Short, had warned Secret Service agent Tim Giebels that Pence could be in danger given Trump’s anger toward him.

The dispute: Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi weighed in on Twitter, saying, “The Secret Service had no knowledge of that conversation according to people with first hand knowledge. At the time, there was never any physical threat of any kind communicated about the Vice President.”

The parse: On June 16, the Jan. 6 committee played video from Short’s deposition, which confirmed the details of the Times’s report. “The concern was for the vice president’s security,” Short said. “And so, I wanted to make sure the head of the vice president’s Secret Service was aware that — that likely, as these disagreements became more public, that the president would lash out in some way.” This is Short’s account, rather than the Secret Service’s, but it’s sworn testimony. And it would be worth delving into if and when agents do testify.

Trump’s Jan. 6 comments on ‘Hang Mike Pence’

The claim: Repeatedly, it has been contended that Trump suggested the insurrectionists who shouted “Hang Mike Pence” were justified — or even that Pence deserved it. Jan. 6 committee vice chairwoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said earlier this month that the committee had evidence Trump said Pence “deserves it.”

The dispute: Trump issued a statement on Cheney’s claim. “I NEVER said, or even thought of saying, ‘Hang Mike Pence,’ ” he said. “This is either a made up story by somebody looking to become a star, or FAKE NEWS!”

The parse: The committee detailed evidence on this Tuesday. Hutchinson said Meadows responded to calls for more action on Jan. 6 by saying “something to the effect of, ‘You heard him, Pat; he thinks Mike deserves that. He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong.’ ” It’s important to note that Hutchinson was referring to Meadows’s apparent paraphrase of Trump’s position, not necessarily a direct Trump quote. But Trump also denied something that wasn’t alleged; he denied personally saying, “Hang Mike Pence,” rather than assert that he never said Pence deserved it.

The pardons

The claims: The committee has presented evidence that the following people inquired about receiving presidential pardons: Meadows, Trump attorneys John Eastman and Rudy Giuliani, and Reps. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), Matt Gaetz (R-Pa.), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) and Scott Perry (R-Pa.). Most of the evidence was Hutchinson’s personal recollection, but the committee had emails in the cases of Eastman, Brooks and Gaetz, and multiple pieces of corroborating evidence in Gaetz’s case.

The disputes: The responses have been all over the map. After Cheney alluded to Perry seeking a pardon, he flatly denied it — and has stood by that even after video of Hutchinson’s deposition was played. Biggs said Hutchinson is “mistaken.” Gohmert also denied seeking a pardon for himself, saying he only sought pardons for others and that it was unconnected to Jan. 6. Gaetz and Greene criticized the committee after the evidence was presented but didn’t directly dispute it. Giuliani said, “I specifically told President Trump I did not want or need a pardon.”

The parse: In some of these cases, Hutchinson didn’t directly testify that the individual explicitly asked for a pardon — only that they inquired about one. On Giuliani, she answered affirmatively to whether he indicated he was “interested in receiving a presidential pardon related to January 6.” By contrast, she said explicitly that Meadows “did seek that pardon.” (Giuliani also doesn’t directly say he never inquired about a pardon — only that he told Trump, at some point, that he didn’t want or need one.) She also acknowledged that she had only heard secondhand that Greene “asked White House Counsel’s Office for a pardon from [deputy counsel Patrick] Philbin.” Perhaps the most direct disputes are with Perry and Biggs, given Hutchinson said both made explicit requests to her personally and both have denied it. It also bears mentioning that only one of these witnesses — Giuliani — has testified like Hutchinson did. Eastman appeared in front of the committee but repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment.

Ron Johnson and the fake electors

The claim: The committee released evidence last week showing Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R-Wis.) chief of staff texted with a Pence aide about having Johnson hand Pence a document containing “fake electors” for Trump in Michigan and Wisconsin. This was a key part of the plot to overturn the election, which Pence had said he wouldn’t assist in. Pence’s aide told Johnson’s chief of staff, Sean Riley, “Do not give that to him,” according to texts released by the committee.

The dispute: Johnson initially said he was “basically unaware” of the effort or the contents of the document. “I had no knowledge of this,” he said. “I had no involvement in an alternate slate of electors.”

The parse: Johnson’s denial appeared awkward at the time, since it seemed to suggest that he might have unwittingly participated in something like this on Jan. 6, of all days. And indeed, Johnson soon confirmed that he had connected Riley with a pro-Trump Wisconsin attorney who wanted to get Pence the fake electors. Johnson said he received a message from the lawyer stating, “Need to get a document on ‘Wisconsin electors’ to you and the VP immediately. Is there a staff person I can talk to immediately?”

The handwritten note

The claim: In an exchange Tuesday, Hutchinson testified that she wrote a note dictated by Meadows suggesting a more full-throated White House response to the riot:

HUTCHINSON: That’s a note that I wrote at the direction of the chief of staff on January 6, likely around 3 o’clock.
CHENEY: And it’s written on a chief of staff note card. But that’s your handwriting, Ms. Hutchinson?
HUTCHINSON: That’s my handwriting.
CHENEY: And why did you write this note?
HUTCHINSON: The chief of staff was in a meeting with [White House lawyer] Eric Herschmann, potentially Mr. Philbin, and they had rushed out of the office fairly quickly. Mark had handed me the note card with one of his pens and sort of dictating a statement for the president to potentially put out.

The dispute: Herschmann told ABC News he actually wrote the note. “The handwritten note that Cassidy Hutchinson testified was written by her was in fact written by Eric Herschmann on January 6, 2021,” an anonymous Herschmann spokesperson wrote. “All sources with direct knowledge and law enforcement have and will confirm that it was written by Mr. Herschmann.”

The parse: This might be one of the stranger disputes — since it seems that Hutchinson would be able to recognize her own handwriting. The committee would also seemingly have been aware that Herschmann said he wrote the note; his spokesperson said Herschmann has told the committee that. The committee responded to ABC’s report by saying it found Hutchinson’s testimony credible but suggesting the dispute was beside the point, which is that White House aides recognized Trump’s response to the insurrection was insufficient. It’s certainly a smaller factual point, but all such points reflect on the credibility of witnesses. And both Hutchinson and Herschmann have been vital ones.

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