WASHINGTON — A top aide in Donald Trump’s White House testified Tuesday that Trump’s lawyer and chief of staff understood on Jan. 2, four days prior to the mob attack on the U.S. Capitol to overturn Trump’s election loss, that “things might get real, real bad on Jan. 6.”
During a hearing that portrayed an unhinged president so angry at his election loss that he tried to grab the wheel of his presidential limousine from the back seat, Cassidy Hutchinson, the top assistant to Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, disclosed previously unheard details about the former president on the day his supporters stormed the Capitol at his incitement.
Trump wanted his followers allowed into this rally, even if they were armed. He tried to go with them to the Capitol, and lashed out at his own Secret Service when they took him to the White House instead. He refused top advisers’ pleas to make his followers end their attack.
Indeed, instead of defusing the situation, Trump inflamed it with a tweet attacking his own vice president for not doing as he demanded.
“As an American, I was disgusted,” Hutchinson testified. “It was unpatriotic. It was un-American. We were watching the Capitol building getting defaced based on a lie.”
Tuesday’s hearing, held barely 24 hours after it was first called, demonstrated the committee’s reach into the highest levels of Trump’s White House with Hutchinson’s surprise appearance.
Questioned primarily by committee vice chair and Wyoming Republican Liz Cheney, Hutchinson testified that Rudy Giuliani told her after a meeting at the White House that “we’re going to the Capitol” as part of the plan to keep Trump in power. “It’s going to be great. The president’s going to be there. He’s going to look powerful,” Giuliani said, according to Hutchinson.
When she asked Meadows about that comment, she said he appeared to know all about it. “There’s a lot going on,” Meadows replied, according to Hutchinson. “Things might get real, real bad on Jan. 6.”
Hutchinson said that while she had previously been “apprehensive” about Jan. 6, those conversations heightened her concern. “That evening was the first moment that I remembered feeling scared and nervous about what could happen on Jan. 6,” she told the committee.
Cheney then questioned Hutchinson about the White House’s knowledge of the security threat that day, which began with the Trump rally where he incited his followers.
Cheney played police radio transmissions that described armed protesters on the National Mall. “I got three men walking down the street in fatigues carrying AR-15s,” the voice on the audio said.
“AR-15s at 14th and Independence,” Cheney recapped.
She then led Hutchinson through her previously videotaped testimony where she described how angry Trump was that Secret Service magnetometers set up at his pre-insurrection rally site were keeping out his followers who were armed.
“I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the f-ing mags away,” Trump said, according to Hutchinson. “Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here. Let the people in. Take the f-ing mags away.”
Hutchinson then described Trump’s anger in the presidential limousine ― a vehicle also known as “the Beast” ― when he realized that he would not be taken to the Capitol to join his followers.
“I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,” Trump said, according to Hutchinson’s conversations with a Secret Service agent that afternoon. The agent told her that Trump tried to grab the wheel of the limo, and then tried to strike an aide in the front seat who told him to take his hands off the wheel and that they were going back to the White House.
Hutchinson said Trump’s anger on Jan. 6 was not a surprise to her, as he’d previously thrown his lunch against a West Wing wall after hearing that his attorney general, Bill Barr, had told The Associated Press there was no widespread fraud in the 2020 election.
Hutchinson has previously provided hours of videotaped testimony and is a likely source of facts already alluded to by committee members, including Meadows’ burning of documents in a fireplace and Trump’s view that perhaps his supporters were correct and that his own vice president, Mike Pence, deserved to be hanged for not obeying Trump’s demands.
The committee provided new details on that Tuesday, showing video of Hutchinson explaining that Meadows and then-White House Counsel Pat Cipollone tried to talk Trump into putting out a statement after the Capitol had been breached, asking the rioters to leave.
Trump refused, Hutchinson said. “You heard him, Pat, he thinks Mike deserves it,” Meadows said, according to Hutchinson, adding that Trump instead supported the rioters. “He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong.”
Cheney also brought out new details showing the coordination between the White House and Trump’s outside advisers, including Roger Stone and Mike Flynn, the former Army general turned QAnon conspiracy theorist.
Meadows, Hutchinson said, had wanted to attend a gathering of Trump advisers at a “war room” at the nearby Willard Hotel, but eventually decided to phone in to it instead.
Cheney then showed video of her questioning Flynn, in which she asked him repeatedly whether violence was justified on Jan. 6. He responded each time invoking the Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself: “Take the Fifth.” “Fifth. “The Fifth.”
The committee originally laid out a schedule of seven hearings, all in a two-week period in June, but reserved the possibility of additional ones if warranted. Last week, though, Mississippi Democrat Bennie Thompson, the committee’s chair, said the panel needed to sort through a great deal of new evidence and would take a break coinciding with the congressional July 4 recess, with hearings resuming in mid-July.
That plan was changed suddenly on Monday afternoon, with the emailed announcement of another hearing Tuesday to “present recently obtained evidence” and “receive witness testimony,” but with no other information.
Committee staff did not schedule a conference call to preview the hearing for reporters, as it had for the previous ones, and committee members avoided media interviews. It was not until late Monday night that Hutchinson’s name leaked via the news site Punchbowl News, which reported that the secrecy was in part for her own safety.
Thompson said Tuesday that the hearing was necessitated by new information the panel has received in recent days, including “specific information about what the former president was doing and saying” on Jan. 6 in the White House. “It’s important that the American people hear that information immediately.”
Afterward, Thompson thanked Hutchinson for her courage and her willingness to do her “patriotic duty,” and chastised Trump and his allies who have refused to cooperate with the committee’s investigation. “Your attempt to hide the truth from the American people will fail,” he said.
Over the first four hearings, the committee presented new video of the pro-Trump mob at the Capitol; evidence that Trump had been told by his own staff that he had lost the 2020 election but continued with his lies about “voter fraud” anyway; the pressure Trump applied on Pence to simply declare him the winner during the Jan. 6 certification ceremony; and the attempts to coerce officials in states narrowly won by Joe Biden, especially Georgia, to reverse the election results in favor of Trump.
Last Thursday’s hearing, the fifth since they began on June 9, focused on Trump’s attempt to subvert the Justice Department into falsely backing his claims of a “stolen” election.
Trump, despite losing the election by 7 million votes nationally and 306-232 in the Electoral College, became the first president in more than two centuries of elections to refuse to hand over power peacefully. His incitement of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol — his last-ditch attempt to remain in office — killed five people, including one police officer. It also injured another 140 officers and led to four police suicides.
Nevertheless, Trump remains the dominant figure in the Republican Party and is openly speaking about running for the presidency again in 2024.
In statements on his personal social media platform, Trump has continued to lie about the election and the work of the Jan. 6 committee, calling it a “hoax” similar to previous investigations into his 2016 campaign’s acceptance of Russian assistance and his attempted extortion of Ukraine into helping his 2020 campaign.