Donald Trump had to be held back from joining his enraged, rioting supporters — even after the president was told they were armed — in their assault on the U.S. Capitol, according to astonishing testimony to the Jan. 6 committee Tuesday from a former top White House aide.
Trump, spewing expletives, was so angry at being told he had to return to the White House that he tried to grab the steering wheel of the presidential limousine away from his driver, the aide said, relating what she was told by the White House deputy chief of staff for operations.
Cassidy Hutchinson, a key staffer to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows at the time of the attack and the sole live witness Tuesday, revealed eye-popping details about the conduct of Trump, Meadows and other White House officials on Jan. 6, 2021.
She also told of an earlier incident in which Trump was so furious with Attorney General Bill Barr that, Hutchinson was told, Trump threw his lunch at the wall — she asked what had happened when she saw “ketchup dripping down the wall” in the Oval Office dining room.
At the Ellipse
Hutchinson was with Trump and a handful of staffers and family members offstage before the president’s speech at the White House Ellipse on Jan. 6.
She told the committee Tuesday she overheard Trump complaining about the crowd looking too small on TV, due to the presence of magnetometers, known as “mags” for short, screening attendees for weapons.
“I don’t effing care that they have weapons,” Trump said, according to Hutchinson, speaking of his supporters. “They’re not here to hurt me. Take the effing mags away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.”
Despite pleading from the staffers in the White House Counsel’s Office, Trump wanted to join his backers at the Capitol, and told them during the speech he would be with them.
White House Counsel Pat Cipollone told Hutchinson to keep Trump from the Capitol, saying, “We’re going to be charged with every crime imaginable” if Trump made the trip.
Ahead of the speech, Cipollone’s office and White House Senior Advisor Eric Herschmann advised Trump speechwriters to be careful with the Ellipse address, Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson testified that Herschmann told her he’d advised Trump it would be foolish to have lines the president wanted in the speech, including different versions of “fight for Trump,” a promise he’d be at the Capitol and an implication Vice President Mike Pence could have a role in overturning the election.
“Mr. Herschmann and (the) White House Counsel’s Office were urging the speechwriters to not include that language for legal concerns,” Hutchinson said. “And also for the optics of what it could portray the president wanting to do that day.”
But Trump included all that language in his speech anyway.
Trump grabs for steering wheel
After his speech, Trump still demanded to be taken to the Capitol, Hutchinson said.
Shortly after Trump and his entourage returned to the White House, Deputy White House Chief of Staff for Operations Tony Ornato called Hutchinson into his office, where Bobby Engel, the head of Trump’s security detail was sitting, Hutchinson said.
Ornato told Hutchinson that when Trump got into the presidential limousine after the speech, the president was under the impression –— based on what Meadows had told Trump immediately before he took the stage — that he could still go to the Capitol.
When Engel told Trump that the Capitol had not been secured for a presidential visit and that they were going back to the White House, Trump was irate.
“The president had a very strong, very angry response to that,” Hutchinson said. “Tony described him as being irate. The president said something to the effect of, ‘I’m the effing president. Take me up to the Capitol now.’”
When Engel denied him again, Trump reached for the steering wheel, but Engel restrained him, Hutchinson said.
Engel did not correct or disagree with any part of Ornato’s account to Hutchinson, she said Tuesday.
Ketchup on the wall
Hutchinson also described an earlier tantrum Trump threw in the White House.
Around the time The Associated Press published an article quoting from an interview with then-Attorney General Barr in which the Justice Department head said the department had found no evidence of widespread fraud in the presidential election, Hutchinson heard noise from the Oval Office dining room.
Trump then called Meadows into the dining room. When that meeting ended a few minutes later, Hutchinson went into the dining room, where she saw an employee cleaning up.
“I first noticed that there was ketchup dripping down the wall and there was a shattered porcelain plate on the floor,” Hutchinson said. “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.”
Barr later met with Trump over the interview and off-handedly offered his resignation, he said in a taped deposition.
Trump pounded the table and said, “Accepted,” Barr recounted in the deposition.
Later, as Hutchinson saw on television rioters approach and eventually breach the Capitol, she became increasingly alarmed at the lack of urgency from Meadows, a former North Carolina congressman, and Trump.
Meadows had been alone in his office for most of the afternoon when Hutchinson entered just after 2 p.m., where she saw him seated on the couch, scrolling on his phone, she said.
Hutchinson asked if Meadows had seen the television coverage of the rioters approaching the Capitol and if he had talked to Trump, she said in a taped deposition played Tuesday.
Without looking up from his phone, Meadows brushed off his aide, saying that Trump wanted “to be alone right now,” Hutchinson said.
“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,’” Hutchinson said.
Minutes later, after rioters got inside the Capitol, she saw Cipollone “barreling down the hallway” to Meadows’ office and rushing in, leaving the door open to the anteroom where Hutchinson worked.
Cipollone urged Meadows to get Trump to intervene, Hutchinson said.
“Mark looked up at him and said, ‘He doesn’t want to do anything, Pat,’” she said.
Cipollone responded that “something needs to be done or people are going to die and the blood’s going to be on your effing hands,” Hutchinson said.
That got Meadows to accompany Cipollone to see Trump, who was a few paces away, she said.
‘Mike deserves it’
After the meeting, Hutchinson overheard another conversation between Meadows and Cipollone.
The White House counsel was urging Meadows to do more, noting that the rioters were chanting to hang Vice President Mike Pence.
“You heard him, Pat. He thinks Mike deserves it,” Meadows told Cipollone, apparently referring to Trump, according to Hutchinson. “He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong.”
Rather than quell the riot, Trump inflamed it, tweeting at 2:24 p.m. that “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done.”
Trump had pressured Pence for days to use his ceremonial position certifying the election results to reject legitimate results. Pence viewed that plan as outside the vice president’s legal authority and wrong morally and refused to participate.
“President Trump’s view that the rioters were not doing anything wrong and that ‘Mike deserved it’ helps us to understand why the president did not ask the rioters to leave the Capitol for multiple hours,” committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, said.
A future hearing “in the weeks ahead” will detail Trump’s inaction as his supporters besieged the Capitol, Chairman Bennie G. Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat said.
Trump disputed much of Hutchinson’s testimony Tuesday on Truth Social, the social media platform he founded after being removed from Twitter in the days following Jan. 6. Trump denied that he said that Pence deserved to be hanged, the comments on magnetometers, grabbing the steering wheel and throwing his lunch.
Hutchinson’s testimony and other information presented Tuesday reinforced the message the committee has sent throughout its series of hearings about how Trump gravitated to the most extreme advisers in his orbit pushing to overturn the election.
Asked in a taped deposition played at Tuesday’s hearing if he believed in the peaceful transition of power in the United States, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, whom Trump had already pardoned for his role in another controversy involving the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia, invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Trump resisted advice from White House lawyers and other advisers to make a speech on Jan. 7 condemning the riot, Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson drafted a speech that called for prosecuting rioters and calling them violent, lines that didn’t make it into the final speech.
Trump did ultimately deliver a speech on Jan. 7 in which he ad-libbed very little, Cheney said, noting that was unusual for the former president. In the Jan. 7 address, his only change to the written version to skip a line that “this election is now over,” Cheney said.
As the speech was being drafted, Trump advocated for language about pardoning rioters, Hutchinson said, adding Meadows encouraged such a line.
Hutchinson — who previously testified that at least five Republican House members sought Jan. 6-related pardons — said Tuesday that Meadows and Trump outside lawyer Rudy Giuliani also wanted Trump to pardon them.
‘Trump does read transcripts’
In the closing minutes of the hearing, Cheney said some witnesses the committee has interviewed behind closed doors have told the panel that people close to Trump have pressured them not to be truthful.
“What they said to me is, as long as I continue to be a team player, they know I’m on the right team, I’m doing the right thing, I’m protecting who I need to protect, you know, I’ll continue to stay in good graces in Trump world,” one witness said, according to Cheney.
“And they reminded me a couple of times that Trump does read transcripts and just keep that in mind as I proceed through my interviews with the committee.”
–Jacob Fischler, Florida Phoenix