Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to President Donald Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, dropped a series of bombshells Tuesday during an impromptu hearing convened by the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection. She said the former president and his chief of staff knew of the threat of violence in advance and that Trump at one point attempted to hijack his own “limo” and steer it towards the ongoing riot.
Describing warnings from National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien and others about the potential for violence at the Capitol, Hutchinson testified that, despite knowing his supporters had weapons, Trump wanted metal detectors and other security measures removed from his “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded of the attack. While weapons had been discovered on rallygoers who’d submitted to security checks, Vice Chairwoman Liz Cheney said at the hearing that “thousands” of others avoided the checks by observing the rally from a distance.
Hutchinson, who served as Meadow’s principal aide for roughly 10 months after a stint in the White House legislative affairs office, testified under oath that the possibility of violence on Jan. 6 was well known and widely discussed by the most senior members of Trump’s staff in the days before the event; that Secret Service officials had received reports of rallygoers arming themselves the evening before; and that the National Security Advisor had, in the days prior to Jan. 6, warned the White House that members of Congress may be targeted.
In a video deposition played back by the committee, Hutchinson described a meeting ahead of the rally involving Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, in which she recalled mentions of both the OathKeepers militia and the Proud Boys. A grand jury has charged members of both groups with committing seditious conspiracy. Prosecutors alleged that messages show the milita’s leader, Stewart Rhodes, believed that Trump might call the group up to “assist him inside DC.”
Hutchinson went on to testify that on the day of the insurrection, by no later than 10:15 a.m., White House chief of operations Tony Ornato had acknowledged briefing Trump about various weapons found on the rallygoers. Hutchinson said that during a 10 a.m. meeting that morning, she and Ornato attempted to brief Meadows about the threat, describing weapons including “knives, guns — in the form of pistols and rifles — bear spray, body armor, spears, and flags.”
“Then [Ornato] had related to me, something to the effect of, ‘These effin’ people are fastening spears onto the ends of flag poles,’” Hutchinson said.
Seated on a couch in his office, Meadows rarely looked up from his phone, she said. Meadows then asked Ornato if he had briefed the president about the weapons. Hutchinson said Ornato answered in the affirmative.
“Is it your understanding that Mr. Ornato told the president about weapons at the rally on the morning of Jan. 6?” Cheney asked Hutchinson. “That’s what Mr. Ornato relayed to me,” Hutchinson said.
Cheney played audio of police radio transmissions obtained by the committee. A number of officers in the vicinity reported weapons, including firearms, among the crowd. In one clip, an officer is heard warning that armed men had begun climbing trees to attain an elevated position over the rally. Weapons described by the officers included an AR-15 and “Glock-style” pistols.
“AR-15s on 14th and Independence,” Cheney said, echoing one of the officers on the tapes. The intersection is mere blocks from the Capitol.
Thousands of rallygoers refused to submit to security screenings, Cheney said. Those who passed through a metal detected and were checked for weapons were found, she said, with with pepper spray, knives, brass knuckles, tasers, body armor, gas masks, batons, and other blunt weapons.
Cheney displayed photos provided by the National Archives that showed Trump in the off-stage tent prior to his speech. “You were in some of the photos, as well,” she said. “I just want to confirm that that is what you heard the president say: the people with weapons weren’t there to hurt him and that he wanted the Secret Service to remove the magnetometers (metal detectors)?”
“That’s correct,” said Hutchinson, saying the conversations took place moments before Trump took the stage around noon.
Cheney asked the room to reflect on Trump’s own words, while keeping Hutchinson’s testimony in mind. “President Trump was aware that a number of individuals in the crowd had weapons and were wearing body armor, and here’s what President Trump instructed the crowd to do.” Video of the president’s speech then played. “We’re going to walk down, and I’ll be there with you,” Trump says, “We’re going to walk down to the Capitol.”
Hutchinson went on to testify that Ornato had relayed to her his account of what happened in Trump’s ride after the rally, when Trump’s security detail informed him he would not be permitted to join the crowd at the Capitol. (Though the word “limo” was used at the hearing, the Washington Post reports video shows Trump left the rally in a Secret Service SUV.)
According to Hutchinson, Ornato claimed Trump lunged for the steering wheel, yelling “I’m the [fucking] president. Take me up to the Capitol now.” Hutchinson said that according to Ornato, Trump’s head-of-detail, Robert Engel, grabbed the president by the arm, telling him the West Wing was his only destination.
In a series of posts on his social media platform, Truth Social, Trump lambasted Hutchinson as a “leaker” and a “total phony.” “There is no cross examination of this so-called witness,” the ex-president said, calling the proceeding “a Kangaroo Court!” As the hearing came to a close, Trump’s political action committee blasted an email out to millions of supporters saying they needed to “act NOW” — by buying a signed photograph of Trump for $75.