Donald Trump’s Fractured Inner Circle on January 6
Cassidy Hutchinson’s Testimony to the January 6 House committee drops new bombshell allegations about Trump and his closest advisers.
Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony at Tuesday’s hearing of the House select committee investigating January 6 was rife with damning new allegations surrounding the goings-on in the White House before, during, and after the attack on the Capitol on January 6.
Hutchinson, a 26-year-old who rapidly rose through the ranks of Republican politics in Washington to become the top aide to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, had an office just steps away from the Oval Office.
Her congressional testimony, if true, offered some of the clearest evidence yet that President Donald Trump knew many in the mob that attacked the Capitol on January 6 were armed and dangerous before he encouraged them to march on the Capitol, and that he wanted to go with them. Other scenes that Hutchinson painted portray Trump unhinged: She said in December 2020 she helped a White House valet clean up the White House dining room “where I first noticed there’s ketchup dripping down the wall, and there’s a shattered porcelain plate on the floor.” Trump, in a rage, had thrown his meal against a wall after former Attorney General Bill Barr denied widespread election fraud in an interview to the Associated Press, she said.
But while Trump was the focus of the testimony Tuesday, it also backs up other hearings’ evidence in revealing the divisions in Trump’s inner-circle: some egging the president on in his stolen election crusade, a passive and disengaged chief of staff, and a host of administration officials whose efforts to contain Trump’s attempts to overturn the election were only sporadically successful.
By the time January 6, 2021, arrived, administration officials had already been discussing the possibility of violence, Hutchinson testified Tuesday. At 10 a.m. on January 6, before the rally at the Ellipse, Hutchinson says she met with Meadows and Deputy Chief of Staff Tony Ornato, who reported that rally-goers had knives, guns, rifles, and spears, among other weapons. Hutchinson testified that she distinctly remembered Meadows “not looking up from his phone” during that conversation.
Eventually, Meadows asked if Ornato had spoken to the president. Hutchinson testified that she took Ornato’s affirmative response to mean he had indeed told the president about the weapons at the rally.
Later, however, Trump was “furious” that the official rally area at the Ellipse wasn’t completely full, according to a text exchange shown Tuesday between Hutchinson and Ornato. Some Trump supporters in the area had chosen to stay outside the perimeter of magnetometers to avoid giving up their weapons.
Hutchinson in video testimony recounted being “in the vicinity of a conversation where I overheard the president say something to the effect of, you know, ‘I don’t effing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the effing mags [magnetometers] away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here. Let the people in. Take the effing mags away.’”
Before he took the podium to speak, not only did Trump know there were weapons in the crowd—which, if true, could raise new legal questions for the former president—he was also under the impression that he would be going to the Capitol after he finished speaking, according to Hutchinson’s testimony. Some advisers may have wanted him to go to the Capitol with the protesters, while others fought against the notion.
Trump had been pushing for a post-rally presidential movement to the Capitol for days—and Hutchinson said Meadows had had conversations with Rep. Scott Perry and Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani about what such a movement might look like—but White House Counsel Pat Cipollone was adamantly opposed, concerned about the legality of disrupting the certification of the electoral votes as well as the optics of appearing to incite a riot. Hutchinson said Cipollone spoke to her on January 3 and then again on January 6 telling her to make sure Trump didn’t make the trip. On January 3, she said, “He then urged me to continue relaying that to Mr. Meadows, because it’s my understanding that Mr. Cipollone thought that Mr. Meadows was indeed pushing this, along with the president.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy opposed the move. Hutchinson testified that when Trump said in his rally speech that he would be going with his supporters to the Capitol, McCarthy called her.
“He sounded rushed, but also frustrated and angry at me,” she said. She couldn’t hear what the president was saying.“‘The president just said he’s marching to the Capitol,’” Hutchinson testified McCarthy told her. “‘You told me this whole week you aren’t coming up here. Why would you lie to me?’ I said, ‘I’m not lying. I wasn’t lying to you, sir. I—we’re not going to the Capitol.’ And he said, ‘Well, he just said it on stage, Cassidy. Figure it out. Don’t come up here.’”
While Cipollone and McCarthy had implored Hutchinson to work against Trump going to the Capitol, her testimony paints a different picture of Meadows. She testified that Ornato also called her during the speech and asked her to tell Meadows that rioters were closing in on the Capitol building and that the Capitol Police were “having trouble stacking bodies”—they didn’t have the manpower to hold the mob back.
When she opened a car door to alert Meadows—who was on the phone at the time—he immediately shut the door. She thought she “would be able to have the conversation with him a few moments later.” But it was 20 to 25 minutes later.
“And when you finally were able to give Mr. Meadows the information about the violence at the Capitol, what was his reaction?” committee vice chair Rep. Liz Cheney asked Tuesday.
“He almost had a lack of a reaction,” Hutchinson said. “I remember him saying alright, something to the effect of, ‘How much longer does the president have left in this speech?’”
One aspect of Hutchinson’s testimony raised big questions Tuesday about how Trump interacted with members of his security detail—but also about the veracity of her testimony.
After the January 6 speech, Hutchinson returned to the White House in the presidential motorcade. When she got back, she testified that she went into Ornato’s office and that Bobby Engel, the head of the president’s security detail, was also present.
Hutchinson says Ornato said that when Trump got into “the Beast” (the armored limousine presidents often travel in), he still wanted to go to the Capitol. Engel told him the Secret Service couldn’t execute the logistics of such a trip, though.
“The president said something to the effect of, ‘I'm the effing president, take me up to the Capitol now’—to which Bobby responded, ‘Sir, we have to go back to the West Wing,’” Hutchinson testified Tuesday. “The president reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel. 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 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.”
But Hutchinson didn’t witness the episode herself—she testified that the story came from Ornato and Engel did not correct or disagree with it.
After the hearing, NBC News reporter Peter Alexander tweeted that “[a] source close to the Secret Service tells me both Bobby Engel, the lead agent, and the presidential limousine/SUV driver are prepared to testify under oath that neither man was assaulted and that Mr. Trump never lunged for the steering wheel.”
Hutchinson was also wrong about the vehicle the alleged episode took place in—video shows Trump getting into an SUV to leave the January 6 rally, not the Beast. That mistake, along with the possibility of witnesses who would refute the steering wheel story, caused some commentators to doubt at least some aspects of Hutchinson’s credibility Tuesday. It also draws attention to the fact that the January 6 committee’s hearings include no cross-examination of witnesses and no realtime pushback against their allegations.
Still, even the Secret Service officers who dispute Hutchinson's account of the vehicle altercation “do not dispute that Trump was irate or that he demanded to be taken to the Capitol,” according to a report from CBS News. Hutchinson contended that Trump was upset throughout the day. “After we had all arrived back at the White House later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark [Meadows] that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books,” she said in video testimony.
Meadows, meanwhile, seemed withdrawn. In video testimony, Hutchinson said she went into her boss’s office between 2 and 2:05 p.m. on January 6 and found him on his phone, sitting on the couch with the TV on in the background.
“I said, ‘You watching the TV, chief?’ He was like, yeah. I said, ‘The rioters are getting really close. Have you talked to the president?’ And he said, ‘No, he wants to be alone right now,’ still looking at his phone. So I start to get frustrated because, you know, I sort of felt like I was watching a—this is not a great comparison, but a bad car accident that was about to happen where you can’t stop it, but you want to be able to do something. … I remember thinking in that moment, Mark needs to snap out of this and I don’t know how to snap him out of this, but he needs to care.”
Meadows was still on his phone when former White House Counsel Pat Cippollone entered his office about 90 seconds later. “And I remember Pat saying to him something to the effect of, ‘The rioters have gotten to the Capitol, Mark. We need to go down and see the president now.’ And Mark looked up at him and said, ‘He doesn’t want to do anything, Pat.’ And Pat said something to the effect of—and very clearly had said this to Mark—something to the effect of, ‘Mark, something needs to be done or people are going to die and the blood is going to be on your effing hands.”
As January 6 grew more violent, Trump’s advisers grew more divided, according to Hutchinson. After Trump’s 2:24 p.m. tweet castigating Vice President Mike Pence for not having “the courage to do what should have been done,” Hutchinson said those in the White House split into three rough schools of thought about what would come next. The first, including the White House Counsel’s Office, Eric Herschmann, and Ivanka Trump, wanted immediate action. The second group was neutral, and the third wanted to deflect and blame Antifa.
“It’s my understanding that Mr. Meadows was in the deflect and blame category, but he did end up taking a more neutral route, knowing that there were several advisers in the president’s circle urging him to take more action,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said that Meadows sought a presidential pardon.
The House select committee has subpoenaed Meadows to testify, but the former White House chief of staff has refused to comply. Some wondered Tuesday whether Hutchinson’s testimony becoming public would compel him to testify or if the Justice Department would reconsider filing contempt of Congress charges against him.
Hutchinson’s testimony elicited a range of reactions.
On Truth Social, Trump sent out a flurry of posts attacking Hutchinson and denying her allegations as well as repeating his false claims of election fraud.
Meanwhile, Meadows’ immediate predecessor as Trump’s White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, took to Twitter to defend Hutchinson, saying “I know her. I don’t think she is lying.”
Cheney also commended Hutchinson. “I want all Americans to know that what Ms. Hutchinson has done today is not easy,” she said in her closing statement. “The easy course is to hide from the spotlight, to refuse to come forward, to attempt to downplay or deny what happened.”
Then she dropped another bombshell allegation to cap a day full of them: She accused Trump associates of “attempting to influence witnesses to testify untruthfully.”
“We will be discussing these issues as a committee, carefully considering our next steps,” Cheney said.