Trump knew Jan. 6 rallygoers had weapons but said they were 'not here to hurt me,' key aide testifies
Says Trump got angry when prevented from accompanying rioters, tried to grab limo steering wheel
Former U.S. president Donald Trump dismissed the presence of armed protesters headed to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and even endorsed their calls to "hang Mike Pence," a key former White House aide told House investigators Tuesday, describing chaotic scenes inside and outside the executive mansion as Trump argued to accompany his supporters.
Trump was informed that some of the protesters in the crowd outside the White House had weapons, but he told officials to "let my people in" and march to the Capitol, testified Cassidy Hutchinson, who was a special assistant to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.
Hutchinson depicted a president flailing in anger and prone to violent outbursts as the window to overturn his election loss closed and as aides sought to rein in his impulses. Told by security officials that it wasn't safe to go to the Capitol after he addressed his supporters, he lunged toward the steering wheel of the presidential SUV, she said.
Hutchinson said she was told of the altercation in the armoured vehicle by Meadows' deputy shortly after it happened.
She said she wasn't sure what he would have done at the Capitol as a violent mob of his supporters was breaking in. There were conversations about him "going into the House chamber at one point," Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson quoted Trump as directing his staff, in profane terms, to take away the metal detectors, known as magnetometers or mags, that he thought would slow down supporters who'd gathered in Washington. In videotaped testimony played before the committee, she said the former president said words to the effect of: "'I don't f-in' care that they have weapons,'" Hutchinson recalled Trump saying.
"'They're not here to hurt me. Take the f-in' mags away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.'"
As his supporters laid siege to Congress, both Trump and Meadows appeared unconcerned about cries in the crowd to "hang Mike Pence!" The president tweeted during the attack that Pence didn't have the "courage" to object to Joe Biden's victory as he presided over the joint session of Congress that day.
Hutchinson quoted Meadows as saying that Trump "thinks Mike deserves it."
And as for the rioters, Meadows said: "[Trump] doesn't think they're doing anything wrong."
Lunged at security
As Trump spoke to thousands of supporters on the Ellipse behind the White House — and more gathered on the Washington Monument grounds, Hutchinson said, she received an angry call from Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who had just heard the president say he was coming to the Capitol. "'Don't come up here,'" she said McCarthy told her, before hanging up.
Hutchinson testified that she was told that when Trump got into the limo after his speech, he was told they would not be going to the Capitol.
A Secret Service agent had to physically restrain Trump, who was sitting in the back seat and used his free hand to lunge toward the neck of Secret Service agent Robert Engel, Hutchinson testified.
Trump denied her account in a social media post. He said he never tried to grab the steering wheel.
"Her Fake story that I tried to grab the steering wheel of the White House Limousine in order to steer it to the Capitol Building is 'sick' and fraudulent," he wrote on his Truth Social account.
Threw food against the wall
In the days before the attack, Hutchinson said that she was "scared, and nervous for what could happen" ahead of the riot after conversations with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Meadows and others.
Hutchinson said Meadows told her that "'things might get real, real bad,'" she said. Giuliani told her it was going to be "'a great day'" and "'we're going to the Capitol,'" she recalled. She also testified that both Giuliani and Meadows sought pardons for their roles in the riots.
A month earlier, Hutchinson said, she heard noise inside the White House around the time an article by The Associated Press was published, in which then U.S. attorney general William Barr said the Justice Department had not found evidence of voter fraud that could have affected the election outcome.
She said she entered a room and noticed ketchup dripping down a wall and broken porcelain. Trump, it turned out, had thrown his lunch across the wall in disgust over the article and she was urged to steer clear of him, she said.
Trump also denied Hutchinson's testimony that he threw food and plates.
Potential witness intimidation
Hutchinson's explosive testimony — featured in a surprise hearing announced just 24 hours earlier — came as the House committee investigating the Capitol insurrection holds a series of hearings to inform the public about what happened as Trump's supporters beat police, broke in through windows and doors and interrupted the certification of Biden's victory.
"As an American I was disgusted," Hutchinson told the committee, reacting to Trump's tweet about Pence. "It was unpatriotic, it was un-American, and you were watching the Capitol building get defaced over a lie."
"I still struggle to work through the emotions of that."
- Trump hounded Justice Department officials 'virtually every day' to overthrow election, Jan. 6 panel hears
In thanking Hutchinson for her testimony later, Cheney said that some other witnesses have received messages from Trump allies that could be seen as intimidating.
"He wants me to let you know he's thinking about you," one message said. "He knows you're loyal."
Trove of information
Hutchinson has already provided a trove of information to congressional investigators and has sat for multiple interviews behind closed doors. But the committee called the hearing this week to hear her public testimony, raising expectations for new revelations in the nearly yearlong investigation.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, the committee's chairman, said the panel called the hearing in light of "specific detailed information about what the former president and his aides were doing and saying in those critical hours."
Thompson praised Hutchinson for her courage as he opened the hearing.
The unexpected hearing was announced with 24 hours notice while lawmakers are away from Washington on a two-week recess. The committee had said last week that there would be no more hearings until July.
The committee's investigation has been ongoing during the hearings, as the nine-member panel has continued to probe the attack by supporters of Trump.
In brief excerpts of testimony revealed in court filings, Hutchinson told the committee she was in the room for White House meetings where challenges to the election were debated and discussed, including with several Republican lawmakers. In one instance, Hutchinson described seeing Meadows incinerate documents after a meeting in his office with Republican Rep. Scott Perry, Politico reported in May.
She also revealed that the White House counsel's office cautioned against plans to enlist fake electors in swing states, including in meetings involving Meadows and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Attorneys for the president advised that the plan was not "legally sound," Cassidy said.
The committee has used the hearings to detail the pressure from Trump and his allies to deny an election win for Joe Biden. The panel has heard testimony about the pressure put on then vice-president Mike Pence, on the states that were certifying Biden's win and on the Justice Department.
The panel is expected to produce a report by year's end. Two former Trump administration figures, Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro, are facing criminal proceedings for refusing to co-operate with subpoenas from the committee.
The seven Democrats and two Republicans on the panel have argued the threat to elections persists. Millions of Americans still incorrectly believe Trump won, according to polls, while a Tuesday night primary in Colorado's secretary of state race is among many state and local elections featuring candidates who believe the 2020 election was not fairly decided.
Dozens of cases were brought before the U.S. courts and rejected. The Trump administration's own Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency characterized the election in a statement as "the most secure in American history."
With files from Reuters