Trump wanted armed supporters allowed into Jan. 6 rally and to lead Capitol charge, aide says
Angered he wasn't able to join rioters, Trump lunged angrily at agent, witness says
Then-President Donald Trump on Jan. 6, 2021, wanted his armed supporters to pack his Ellipse rally that day and grew so angry when the Secret Service would not allow him to lead the mob's charge up Capitol Hill that he tried to grab the steering wheel away from a Secret Service agent before lunging at the neck of his top bodyguard.
Those were among the many bombshell anecdotes Cassidy Hutchinson, a former top aide to then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and a special assistant to Trump, revealed Tuesday during historic and gripping testimony before the House Jan. 6 select committee. The 26-year-old Hutchinson testified that Trump was aware of the threat of violence at the Capitol before taking the stage at his "Stop the Steal" rally and vigorously wanted to be a part of the procession to the legislative complex. What's more, she claimed White House counsel Pat Cipollone and other West Wing legal advisers were extremely worried about potential criminal exposure.
She told the select committee that Meadows, prior to the riot day, was aware violence at the Capitol was possible. He allegedly told Hutchinson “things might get real, real bad on Jan. 6.” Meadows has refused to testify before the select panel.
As the day began on Jan. 6, Cipollone warned Hutchinson outside the executive mansion not to allow Trump to go to the Capitol.
“Please make sure we don’t go up to the Capitol, Cassidy. Keep in touch with me. We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen,” Cipollone said, according to Hutchinson. Cipollone had previously told Hutchinson he was concerned about possibly obstructing justice, defrauding the electoral count or that it would look like the White House was “inciting a riot.” The former top White House lawyer also has refused to testify.
Hutchinson recalled a few days prior to the riot day being “scared” and “nervous” about the prospect of what could happen after she talked with her boss, Meadows, and Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s then-attorney, who made many unfounded election fraud claims. Giuliani told her shortly before the infamous day that Jan. 6 would be a “great day” and that “we’re going to the Capitol,” adding that the television- and optics-obsessed Trump would be there looking “strong” with his supporters and that Meadows knew all about planning for Jan. 6.
After the deadly riot and attempted halting of Congress' Electoral College vote count, Meadows and Giuliani expressed an interest in obtaining presidential pardons, Hutchinson said.
'Take the f---ing mags away'
The White House counsel’s office and White House lawyer Eric Herschmann were concerned about including Trump’s proposed additions to his speech at the Ellipse — language like “fight for Trump” or ones about then-Vice President Mike Pence, who had just announced he would not do Trump's bidding to try sending electoral results back to enough states to allow GOP-run legislatures to overturn Joe Biden's wins in their states.
Herschmann said it would be “foolish” to include those components, which the president included in the speech — along with a call for his supporters, some of whom Hutchinson claimed he knew had weapons like pepper spray and spears, to go to the legislative hall and "fight like hell" or "you won't have a country anymore."
The morning of Jan. 6, when Anthony Ornato, who was the deputy chief of staff for operations at the White House, told Meadows and Trump that members of the crowd were armed.
The committee showed that a group near the Ellipse had flagpoles with spears on the ends, powerful rifles, pistols, bear spray and other weapons, introducing police radio communications as evidence.
Backstage at the rally, Trump was irate that people with weapons were not being let through the magnetometers by Secret Service officers and agents who screen all attendees at any event featuring a sitting president. But Trump wanted the armed individuals to be allowed to attend the rally and complained that the magnetometers were adversely affecting his crowd size, Hutchinson overheard. The latter was a constant theme of his term in office.
“I don’t f---ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me,” Trump said, according to Hutchinson’s recollection. “Take the f---ing mags away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here. Let the people in. Take the f---ing mags away.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was concerned about the presidential motorcade making its way to the Capitol. He phoned Hutchinson, a former GOP legislative aide. She told the panel he asked if they were coming to the Capitol and urged them not to, and she said she would relay the request.
McCarthy’s concern was warranted. Nick Luna, a former assistant to the president, said during a videotaped interview he was “aware of the desire of the president to potentially march to the, or accompany, the rally attendees to the Capitol.”
'I'm the f---ing president'
When Trump’s rally ended, Trump was still under the impression he could join the marchers, but the man in charge of Trump’s security, Robert Engel, said it wasn’t happening when Trump was in "The Beast," the presidential limo.
“I'm the f---ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,” Trump told the Secret Service's presidential detail leader, who said he needed to take Trump to the West Wing to ensure his safety.
In remarkable testimony, Hutchinson said she was told Trump then reached up to the front of the car to grab the steering wheel from the agent behind the wheel but was stopped when Engel grabbed Trump’s arm. That's when the president of the United States, desperate to overturn the will of the voters, lunged with his free hand toward Engel’s clavicle, Hutchinson testified, saying she heard the story from Ornato while Engel was present in a West Wing office after the incident.
Things grew a bit murkier by Tuesday night, however. CNN's Jake Tapper pressed Jan. 6 committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., on whether the panel had corroborated Hutchinson's anecdote about the struggle inside Trump's armored SUV; he said only that he had not seen evidence to contradict it. Later, prominent investigative reporters, citing multiple sources, tweeted denials from Ornato and Engel, and the committee issued a statement saying only that it found Hutchinson's testimony credible. Ornato and Engel have not agreed to appear in public, under oath and subject to punishment for lying, as Hutchinson was Tuesday.
"The Secret Service has been cooperating fully with the select committee since its inception in spring of 2021 and we will continue to do so by responding formally and on the record to the committee regarding new allegations that surfaced in yesterday's testimony," Anthony Guglielmi, chief of communications for the agency, said in a statement.
Moments after the alleged SUV altercation, as the MAGA mob was chanting "Hang Mike Pence!" and barnstorming the Capitol, Cipollone implored Meadows to press Trump into taking action to call off his people.
“You heard it, Pat. He thinks Mike deserves it. He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong,” Hutchinson said Meadows told Cipollone, referring to the vice president who had concluded he had no legal authority to stop the electoral count.
Trump eventually was convinced to put out a video around 4:17 pm that day, several hours after law enforcement declared the scene a riot, which he was reluctant to do, according to Hutchinson. Trump told the rioters to go home but also said “we love you” and told them they were “special.”
At the end of Tuesday's hearing, Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said the committee has evidence some witnesses connected with Trump’s administration or campaign have been contacted by unnamed people who have attempted to influence their testimony.
One witness told the committee in a statement displayed on its large video screen: “They have reminded me a couple of times that Trump does read transcripts and just to keep that in mind” during depositions and interviews with the committee. Cheney said such alleged attempts to influence witnesses to testify untruthfully “presents very serious concerns” that will be considered by the panel in its "next steps."