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Hutchinson's bombshell Jan. 6 testimony sways legal experts and conservative media

Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, testified during the sixth hearing by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack.
Brandon Bell
/
Getty Images
Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, testified during the sixth hearing by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack.

Explosive testimony at an unexpected hearing from the Jan. 6 committee on Tuesday brought into sharper focus the actions former President Trump took on the day of the violent Capitol attack.

Cassidy Hutchinson, who served as an aide to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, testified that Trump had wanted the Ellipse to be fully packed with supporters for his speech on Jan. 6, which was hampered by some of them watching from a distance in order to avoid going through metal detectors and surrendering their weapons.

"I don't effing care that they have weapons — they're not here to hurt me," Trump said, according to Hutchinson. "Take the effing [magnetometers] away and let my people in."

The bombshell testimony indicates Trump knew the crowd was armed when he instructed his supporters to march to the Capitol to "fight like hell" against certifying the 2020 election results.

Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor, told NPR's Rachel Martin that Hutchinson's testimony about Trump requesting the magnetometers be removed builds a "prosecutable case against Donald Trump."

"He knew right before he took that stage that that crowd was armed. He knew they were headed to the Capitol and he was so confident that they were not going to do anything to him, they were there for him, that he was willing to risk his own security by telling people that he wanted those mags taken down," Honig said. "To me, that could lend itself to a conspiracy charge, to an obstruction charge, even to a seditious conspiracy charge, which requires a showing that force was part of the plan."

Hutchinson also quoted her former boss saying that Trump "doesn't want to do anything" about calls for violence against then-Vice President Mike Pence.

"He thinks Mike deserves it," she recalled Meadows saying.

David French, an editor with the conservative publication The Dispatch, praised Hutchinson for "the most extraordinary congressional testimony I've ever seen," and said her appearance before the committee shifted his skepticism about it producing evidence that Trump was criminally responsible for the Capitol attack.

"Hutchinson's sworn testimony closes a gap in the criminal case against Trump, and Trump is closer to a credible prosecution than ever before," he wrote.

The right-leaning Washington Examiner said Hutchinson's testimony "ought to ring the death knell for former President Donald Trump's political career" and that "Trump is unfit to be anywhere near power ever again."

The hearings, which have been extended due to new evidence, are likely to include additional testimony from Hutchinson.

Former Attorney General William Barr told The New York Times that the hearing "definitely gave investigators a lot to chew on."

Trump pushes back on Hutchinson's testimony

Trump appeared to distance himself from Hutchinson after her testimony before the committee, writing he "hardly know[s]" her, "other than I hear very negative things about her (a total phony and 'leaker')."

Trump added in posts on Truth Social, a social media platform he controls, that he "didn't want or request that we make room for people with guns to watch my speech" and called her testimony "fake" and "sick."

What happened in Trump's limousine on Jan. 6?

In her testimony, Hutchinson said Trump fully intended to go to the Capitol on Jan. 6, and became "irate" when he was told it wouldn't happen.

Hutchinson said Trump was under the impression that he would be taken to the Capitol after his remarks at the Ellipse that day. She testified that Tony Ornato, then-White House deputy chief of staff for operations, relayed to her later that day that Trump became enraged when Secret Service refused to take him to the Capitol and instead insisted that they return to the White House.

"I'm the effing president," she said Ornato quoted the president as saying. Hutchinson added that Ornato told her that Trump had attempted to grab the wheel of the vehicle and then to grab the agent himself.

"When Mr. Ornato had recounted this story to me, he had motioned toward his clavicles," she said.

Under questioning, Hutchinson testified that the agent, Bobby Engel, the head of Trump's Secret Service detail, was present when Ornato told her the story and did not dispute the account.

Several news outlets reported that Ornato denied telling Hutchinson about the incident and that he and Engel were prepared to testify that it didn't happen.

The Secret Service in a statement said that the agency has cooperated with the committee and would respond to Tuesday's allegations on the record.

Honig told NPR the reports that question the anecdote about what took place in Trump's vehicle are potentially damaging.

"This is what we call a credibility contest, and people would have to decide who they believe," Honig said.

"I think it's really important to note that another White House staffer Alyssa Farah...has said publicly that she testified to the committee about something that Tony Ornato said to her that was damning to the president and Ornato, she said, falsely denied that as well," Honig said. "If I have to decide between Cassidy Hutchinson and Alyssa Farah...and Tony Ornato, I'm coming out on Hutchinson and Farah's side."

"She came across to me, using my former prosecutor lens, as very credible," Honig added. "She was careful, she's corroborated, she's backed up by other evidence. And she has nothing to gain by doing this."

Hutchinson's lawyers in a statement Wednesday said "Ms. Hutchinson stands by all of the testimony she provided yesterday, under oath, to the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol."

Speaking to NPR's A Martinez on Wednesday, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., who sits on the Jan. 6 committee, said Hutchinson had "no reason to make that story up" and that he considers her a credible witness. He added that if there are others with evidence, he invites them to come forward under oath.

"We are all yours," he said.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.