Trump sought to lead armed mob to Capitol on Jan. 6, aide says

Washington Post photo by Demetrius Freeman
Cassidy Hutchinson, who was an assistant to then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, testifies before the House Jan. 6 committee on June 28, 2022.

WASHINGTON — A former White House official revealed explosive new details Tuesday about President Donald Trump’s actions on Jan. 6, 2021, telling Congress that he knew his supporters were carrying weapons, insisted on personally leading the armed mob to the Capitol, physically assailed the senior Secret Service agent who told him it was not possible, expressed support for the hanging of his own vice president, and mused about pardoning the rioters.

The testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson, who was an assistant to then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, was the most chilling to date in the House select committee’s Jan. 6 investigation. Recounting granular detail and private dialogue, she presented to the public a penetrating account of Trump’s actions and mind-set as the Capitol came under siege from his own supporters, who were determined to stop the counting of electoral votes and impede the certification of Joe Biden’s victory.

Testifying alone, her appearance punctuated by clips from taped depositions given by herself and others, the 25-year-old Hutchinson detailed how Trump and other powerful officials around him alternately encouraged, tolerated and excused the insurrection as it unfolded in front of them.

Informed that his supporters had come to the rally armed with weapons, Trump urged that security precautions at his rally be lifted, Hutchinson testified.

“They’re not here to hurt me,” she recalled him saying.

Even after the day’s violence had ended, Hutchinson said, Trump persisted in his support for the rioters.

“He didn’t think they did anything wrong,” she said, summarizing Trump’s attitude. “The person who did something wrong that day was Mike Pence.”

In addition to her account of Trump’s actions, her revelations included confirming that Meadows and Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer and a key proponent of his false election claims, sought pardons for potential criminal offenses related to Jan. 6. She also recalled hearing discussion of violent far-right groups such as the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys in Giuliani’s presence in the run-up to the riot and confirmed serious discussion in Trump’s Cabinet of removing him from the presidency under the 25th Amendment.

Hutchinson shared her account in the sixth hearing of the House select committee investigating the Capitol attack — one that was scheduled only a day in advance, creating widespread anticipation and speculation about the revelations to come. While prior hearings examined the run-up to the Jan. 6 electoral count — including the effort to spin false theories of election fraud, the plot to persuade Vice President Mike Pence to upend the tally, and a near-coup that unfolded inside the Justice Department — Tuesday’s proceedings focused largely on the searing day of violence itself.

“We are all in her debt,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who questioned Hutchinson on Tuesday. “Our nation is preserved by those who abide by their oath to our Constitution. Our nation is preserved by those who know the fundamental difference between right and wrong. And I want all Americans to know that what Ms. Hutchinson has done today is not easy.”

Trump called Hutchinson a “total phony” on social media Tuesday and suggested she could not be trusted because she had sought a position on his staff in Florida after he left the presidency.

“I personally turned her request down,” he wrote in one of many posts on Truth Social, the social media network he launched after being banned from most major sites. “Why did she want to go with us if she felt we were so terrible? I understand that she was very upset and angry that I didn’t want her to go, or be a member of the team. She is bad news!”

House Judiciary Committee Republicans responded to Hutchinson’s testimony during the hearing, tweeting that it was “literally all hearsay evidence.”

Hutchinson arrived at the hearing Tuesday with impeccable GOP credentials. A former aide to House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, she held various roles in the White House before serving as a close aide to Meadows — a post that gave her frequent close contact with Trump in the weeks before and on the day of the Capitol attack.

The hearing was accelerated, a person familiar with the matter said, because the committee hoped Hutchinson would drive others on the fence to come forward and testify. Another factor, the person said, was that there were extensive security threats against her in recent days. Hutchinson had faced resistance from her previous lawyer about testifying and changed lawyers after he suggested they not publicly cooperate, a second person familiar with the matter said. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record.

In some of her most gripping revelations, Hutchinson described a fierce struggle inside the senior White House ranks in the days leading up to the Jan. 6 electoral vote count over Trump’s desire to personally travel to the Capitol that day. What Trump would actually do there was unclear, she said. Some aides discussed him giving another speech on the Capitol grounds, and some discussed having Trump enter the House chamber itself, where Congress was set to gather to count the electoral votes.

As early as Jan. 3, Hutchinson testified, White House counsel Pat Cipollone made clear he was dead set against Trump making any sort of journey to the Capitol, and he enlisted Hutchinson to help persuade Meadows to oppose it, as well: “He said to me, ‘We need to make sure that this doesn’t happen.'”

Cipollone raised the issue with Hutchinson again on the morning of Jan. 6, she said, this time in stark terms. “We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen,” she recalled him saying, enumerating crimes that could include obstruction of justice, defrauding the election and inciting a riot.

As early as 10 a.m. on Jan. 6, top White House officials were aware that many of those who had gathered in Washington were armed. Hutchinson testified that she was present when Tony Ornato, the deputy White House chief of staff for operations, shared reports with Meadows that marchers had been spotted with guns, knives, bear spray, body armor and even spears. Meadows, she said, “looked up and said, ‘Have you talked to the president?’ And Tony said: ‘Yes, sir, he’s aware, too.’ He said: ‘All right, good.'”

While Hutchinson’s testimony about Trump’s actions in that case, and some others, was secondhand, she described directly overhearing the former president backstage at the Jan. 6 Ellipse rally, where he exhorted his followers to march to the Capitol.

Before he took the stage, Hutchinson said, Trump was angry that the area that had been set aside for the rally just south of the White House was not full. The issue wasn’t that people were having trouble getting in, she said, but rather that thousands of marchers were unwilling to pass through Secret Service magnetometers at the event’s perimeter and risk having their weapons confiscated. Many were happy to stay across Constitution Avenue, where they could hear the rally but not be subject to search.

“He was angry that we weren’t letting people through the mags with weapons,” she said, adding, “I overheard the president say something to the effect of, you know, I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the f-ing mags away. Let my people in.”

But she said Trump’s anger had yet to peak. After leaving the stage, Trump returned to his motorcade under the apparent belief that he would then be taken to the Capitol – a belief that Meadows, despite the warnings from Cipollone and others, had done nothing to undercut. Hutchinson described being told by Ornato what had happened next: Trump got into an armored presidential vehicle with Robert Engel, the chief of his Secret Service security detail.

Engel, according to Hutchinson’s account, then told Trump he could not travel to the Capitol. It was not secure, and Trump would have to return to the White House.

“The president had a very strong, a very angry response to that,” Hutchinson said, relaying Ornato’s account. “The president said something to the effect of, ‘I’m the f—ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’ to which [Engel] responded, ‘Sir, we have to go back to the West Wing.'”

Trump, at that point, “reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel,” Hutchinson said. “Mr. Engel grabbed his arm and 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.”

Hutchinson said that Engel was present when Ornato relayed the account and that neither man cast doubt on the story then or since.

The Secret Service released a statement Tuesday that did not directly address the substance of Hutchinson’s testimony but said the agency “has been cooperating with the Select Committee since its inception in spring 2021.”

Three Secret Service agents who accompanied Trump on Jan. 6 disputed that Trump assaulted or grabbed at the leader of his security detail and that he grabbed for the steering wheel of the Suburban sport utility vehicle in which he was traveling to try to steer it to the Capitol, 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 under oath to the committee about their recollection of events on Jan. 6 in the Secret Service vehicle, said the two people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive subject.

The three agents do not dispute Hutchinson’s account that Trump was furious upon learning they were not taking him to the Capitol and exchanged tense words with Engel when the detail leaders told him it would be unsafe and impossible to go the Capitol alongside Trump’s supporters.

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.”

The Secret Service incident was not the only fit of presidential rage Hutchinson described. A month prior, she said, she had been summoned to the Oval Office dining room in the moments after the Associated Press published an interview with Attorney General William P. Barr, who said that the Justice Department had “not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.”

“There’s ketchup dripping down the wall and there’s a shattered porcelain plate on the floor,” she recalled. “The valet had articulated that the president was extremely angry at the attorney general’s AP interview and had thrown his lunch against the wall.”

Hutchinson said it was one of “several times throughout my tenure with the chief of staff that I was aware of him either throwing dishes or flipping the tablecloth to let all the contents of the table go onto the floor.”

Hutchinson’s testimony painted a consistent and unflattering portrait of Meadows, the former congressman turned Trump acolyte who left the House to become chief of staff. She frequently described him as staring at his phone and detached from events unfolding around him. Hutchinson has not spoken to Meadows since early 2021, and has lost touch with most of the other figures in the Trump and Meadows orbit, people familiar with the matter said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly.

At one point, Hutchinson recalled informing Meadows of a rising threat of violence at the Capitol: “He almost had a lack of reaction. I remember him saying, all right, something to the effect of ‘How much longer does the president have left in this speech?'”

Later, as the rioters moved closer and closer to the Capitol, she recalled trying again to rouse Meadows to action. Again, she said, she found him glued to his phone: “He was just kind of scrolling and typing. I said, ‘Hey, are you watching the TV, chief?'” she recalled, asking him if he had spoken to Trump about the threat: “He said, ‘No, he wants to be alone right now,’ still looking at his phone.”

It was only when she raised the personal safety of Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a political ally and personal friend, that Meadows appeared to react: “You might want to check in with him, Mark,” she recalled saying. “And he looked at me and said something to the effect of, ‘All right, I’ll give him a call.'”

Moments later, Hutchinson said, Cipollone rushed into Meadows’s office and urged him to confront Trump about the violence occurring 16 blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue. “Mark looked up and said, ‘He doesn’t want to do anything, Pat,'” she recalled, before summarizing Cipollone’s response: “Mark, something needs to be done or people are going to die and blood is going to be on your f—ing hands. This is getting out of control. I’m going down there.”

Both men at that point went to the Oval Office dining room, where Trump sequestered himself as the riot unfolded. Hutchinson described heading there later and briefly overhearing conversations about the chants ringing around the mob: “Hang Mike Pence.”

A few minutes later, Meadows and Cipollone returned from the dining room to Meadows’s office — with Cipollone continuing to push for further action to quell the mob: “They’re literally calling for the vice president to be hung,” Hutchinson recalled him saying there. She said Meadows replied, “‘You heard him, Pat. He thinks Mike deserves it. He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong.'”

Around that time, Trump sent a tweet rebuking Pence for not having the “courage to do what needs to be done.”

“In my judgment, Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony today would not withstand a basic cross examination,” said Meadows lawyer George Terwilliger.

Hutchinson declined to comment Tuesday after the hearing.

“Ms. Hutchinson is justifiably proud of her service to the country as a Special Assistant to the President,” her lawyers said in a statement. “While she did not seek out the attention accompanying her testimony today, she believes that it was her duty and responsibility to provide the Committee with her truthful and candid observations of the events surrounding January 6. Ms. Hutchinson believes that January 6 was a horrific day for the country, and it is vital to the future of our democracy that it not be repeated.”

Closing the hearing Tuesday, Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., praised Hutchinson’s courage and made an appeal to the witnesses who have at least partially stonewalled the committee — who include Meadows, former Trump strategist Steve Bannon and economic adviser Peter Navarro — as well as others who might have cooperated only partially.

“Your attempt to hide the truth from the American people will fail,” he said. “If you’ve heard this testimony today and suddenly you remember things you couldn’t previously recall or there are some details you’d like to clarify or you discovered some courage you had hidden away somewhere, our doors remain open.”