The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump supporters raced to debunk Jan. 6 testimony. Then they got confused.

The former president’s backers quickly spun an online conspiracy theory that he couldn’t possibly have lunged for his driver’s steering wheel on Jan. 6, 2021. When evidence suggested otherwise, they changed tack.

Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, at a House Jan. 6 select committee hearing on Capitol Hill on June 28. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)
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Former president Donald Trump’s supporters online sought to undercut stunning testimony Tuesday to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, seeking to belittle Cassidy Hutchinson’s claims that she was told Trump had lunged for the steering wheel of his vehicle and attempted to throttle a member of his security detail when they refused to take him to the Capitol as rioters were besieging the building.

In sworn testimony, Hutchinson said she heard of the physical altercation from Tony Ornato, a Secret Service agent who served as the White House deputy chief of staff for operations. She said he told the story in front of Bobby Engel, the head of Trump’s security detail, at whom Trump reportedly lunged during the altercation. Neither man has testified.

“I’m the f-ing president,” she said Ornato quoted the president shouting as they drove him to the White House and away from the Capitol.

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)

Trump supporters quickly snapped back online that they’d found an obvious sign she was lying: The presidential limousine, known as “the Beast,” is so heavily fortified that they argued it would be “physically impossible” for Trump to cross from the back cabin to the driver’s seat.

But Trump was not riding in the limousine that day; videos show he actually rode in a Secret Service SUV, where the seats are closer together.

Even if he had ridden in the Beast, the rear and front seats have a glass window the president can lower whenever he’d like — a detail noted even in the same infographic that Trump supporters shared as proof that Hutchinson’s story couldn’t be right.

Trump lunged for steering wheel, Secret Service agent in bid to reach Capitol, former aide testifies

Trump made the same argument on Truth Social, the Twitter clone his allies created after he was banned from Twitter following the Jan. 6 attack. “Her Fake story … is ‘sick’ and fraudulent,” he wrote, adding it “wouldn’t even have been possible to do such a ridiculous thing.”

But two Secret Service agents who have worked in the Beast told The Washington Post that such a move from the president might have been tough, given the limo’s interior equipment — but not impossible.

The quibbling followed an aggressive campaign before the testimony by pro-Trump commenters on social networks, blogs and message boards seeking to portray Hutchinson, an aide to Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, as an irrelevant attention seeker.

All the bombshells Cassidy Hutchinson dropped about Trump and Jan. 6

The pro-Trump blog Gateway Pundit called Hutchinson “another grifter … using Tuesday’s show trials to audition for a spot on CNN or MSNBC.” The conservative media firebrand John Cardillo tweeted that she was “a glorified receptionist and coffee fetcher in Meadows’ office … relaying boring office gossip, acting as if she had more access and input than she ever actually did.”

But as she recounted stunning details on Tuesday, including in-the-room and previously unreported accounts of Trump’s and Meadows’s actions before and during the insurrection, Trump defenders tried a different tack, saying she was just a rumormonger — even though much of her testimony was supported by written notes and text messages, and all of it was made under oath.

More than 4,000 accounts liked a tweet from a pro-Trump Twitter account calling her “Amber Heard 2.0” — a reference to the actor who recently lost a defamation lawsuit filed by ex-husband Johnny Depp. By Tuesday night, the phrase “Amber Heard 2.0” was trending on Twitter.

Trump supporters, including Donald Trump Jr., also widely echoed a right-wing meme suggesting Hutchinson was like Jussie Smollett, the actor who falsely reported to police that he had been attacked by men screaming “This is MAGA Country.”

How the Jan. 6 hearing played out on the pro-Trump web

On the pro-Trump message board patriots.win, one poster said, “She sounds like a child gossiping.” Some patriots.win posters said the testimony showed how unfairly Trump had been treated. One poster said the story showed that “the Deep State coup plotters” of the Secret Service had “effectively kidnapped the President of the United States of America against his wishes” as part of a “C.I.A. Military Industrial Complex coup d’etat.”

Some there argued she should be “locked up for lying under oath,” while another poster there suggested her wild testimony was just Washington as usual.

“Even if she’s telling the truth,” the anonymous patriots.win poster said, “where’s the f---ing problem?”

Carol D. Leonnig contributed to this report.

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