White House Aide Testifies Trump Sent Armed Mob to Capitol

Insurrectionists loyal to Donald Trump rioted at the US Capitol on 6 January 2021. Photograph: José Luis Magaña/AP
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by Mike Lillis and Rebecca Beitsch

The  Hill

Former President Trump, well aware his supporters were heavily armed on Jan. 6, was so determined to join them at the Capitol that he lunged at the head of his security detail after his driver refused to transport him there, according to a former high-level White House aide testifying before Congress on Tuesday.

The revelation of a physical confrontation between a frustrated president and his own security detail was just one of many bombshells disclosed by Cassidy Hutchinson, a former top aide to Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, who painted an extraordinary portrait of a White House in chaos as the attack on the Capitol unfolded, aides scrambled to convince the president to intervene and Trump refused to do so.

Donsld Trump

Hutchinson, the first White House employee to testify publicly before the House committee investigating last year’s riot, suggested there was nothing spontaneous about the events of Jan. 6, 2021. She described a series of meetings in early January when members of Trump’s inner circle were planning for the protests and depicted Meadows and Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, as practically complicit in the riot.

Both had suggested ahead of time that they knew the protests of Jan. 6 would turn violent, she testified, and both of them would later request presidential pardons.

“We’re going to the Capitol. It’s going to be great. The president is going to be there, he’s going to look powerful,” Giuliani told Hutchinson on Jan. 2, she testified.

When Hutchinson approached Meadows about it, he said, “There’s a lot going on, Cass, but I don’t know. Things might get real, real bad on Jan. 6.”

Hutchinson, with a West Wing office, had a bird’s eye view of Jan. 6, operating at the intersection of a lame-duck White House, Trump’s desperate efforts to remain in power and the inner workings of the pressure campaign on Mike Pence, Trump’s vice president, to overturn the election results.

“As an American, I was disgusted. It was unpatriotic. It was un-American,” she said of Trump’s encouragement of the violence. “We were watching the Capitol building get defaced over a lie.”

Hutchinson painted a picture of a president unhinged during his Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse and eager to get more protesters closer to the stage — so the event wouldn’t look empty — by removing the metal detectors that are virtually compulsory at all presidential events.

The committee showed evidence, in the form of police call logs, that a number of the protesters that day were carrying weapons, including Glock pistols and AR-15-style semi-automatic rifles. Hutchinson added to that record, saying top White House officials knew, as early as 10 a.m. on Jan. 6, that Trump supporters had knives, guns, bear spray, body armor and spears attached to the ends of flagpoles.

She and Tony Ornato, Trump’s deputy chief of staff, went to inform Meadows of the threat. Meadows, she said, was unmoved.

“I remember distinctly Mark not looking up from his phone. I remember Tony finishing his explanation and it taking a few seconds for Mark to say something. Because I almost said, ‘Mark, did you hear him?’ And then Mark chimed in. It was like, ‘Alright, anything else?’ Still looking down at his phone,” Hutchinson said.

That information did not disturb Trump, who was apparently furious the magnetometers, or mags for short, were evidently limiting his crowd size as many protesters with weapons elected to watch the speech from outside the screened area, so their arms wouldn’t be confiscated.

“He felt the mags were at fault for not letting everybody in. But another leading reason and likely the primary reason is because he wanted it full and he was angry that we weren’t letting people through the mags with weapons,” Hutchinson said.

In an earlier interview with the House investigators, Hutchinson had relayed Trump’s pleas to staff and security at the time: “ ‘They’re not here to hurt me. Take the effing mags away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here. Let the people in. Take the effing mags away,’ ” she said.

But perhaps the most shocking detail of Tuesday’s proceedings came following his Ellipse speech, when Trump insisted on joining his supporters as they marched to the Capitol — something Meadows appeared to be organizing at the last minute.

White House lawyers had warned against making such a journey, with White House counsel Pat Cipollone warning it would look like Trump was seeking to obstruct justice or incite a riot.

“Please make sure we don’t go up to the Capitol, Cassidy,” Hutchinson said, relaying Cipollone’s message to her that morning. “We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) also harbored deep concerns that Trump would, in fact, come to the Capitol. He called Hutchinson and Ornato in the middle of Trump’s Ellipse speech, alarmed that the president had vowed to march down Pennsylvania Ave. with his supporters.

“’You told me this whole week you aren’t coming up here. Why would you lie to me?’” Hutchinson said, relaying McCarthy’s remarks to her.

But a national security chat log indicates they were trying to arrange the trip — despite a 12:57 p.m. warning that Capitol fencing had been breached.

Ultimately it was the Secret Service who would push back against Trump’s demands to be transported to the Capitol, Hutchinson was told by Ornato and Robert Engel, the special agent in charge for Secret Service on Jan. 6.

“I’m the effing president, take me up to the Capitol now,” Trump said when Engel informed him they could not safely make the unscheduled journey.

“The president reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel. Mr. Engel grabbed his arm, said, ‘Sir you need to take your hand off the steering wheel, we’re going back to the West Wing, we’re not going to the Capitol.’”

“Mr. Trump then used his free hand to lunge towards Bobby Engel,” Hutchinson testified.

Trump’s explosive anger was a theme that persisted throughout the day, with Meadows repeatedly being largely uninterested in intervening to push back against Trump’s demands.

Cipollone burst into Meadows office shortly after rioters entered the Capitol determined to get some kind of response from Trump.

“He doesn’t want to do anything, Pat,” Meadows said.

“Mark, something needs to be done or people are going to die and the blood is going to be on your effing hands,” Cipollone responded

Cipollone, whom Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the select committee vice chair, pleaded in a recent hearing to likewise publicly testify, would clash again with Meadows just minutes later after Trump sent a tweet saying Pence “didn’t have the courage” to buck the election results.

The crowd at the Capitol was chanting “Hang Mike Pence.” Cipollone again approached Meadows to say they needed to do something more.

“You heard him, Pat. He thinks Mike deserves it. He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong,” Meadows responded.

The committee and Hutchingson detailed a number of other revelations during the hearing.

It played clips of a videotaped deposition with Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security advisor, pleading the fifth multiple times, including when asked if he believes violence was justified on Jan. 6 and if he believes in the peaceful transition of power.

It alluded to future hearings where they will delve into the connections with extremist groups, with Hutchinson noting that she would hear more about groups like the far-right Oath Keepers and Proud Boys when Giuliani was around.

And Cheney also displayed various intimidating messages sent to those testifying before the committee, including one where a witness was told they would stay in good graces in Trump world if they “protect[ed] who I need to protect” and stayed on the “right team.”

“I think most Americans know that attempting to influence witnesses to testify untruthfully presents very serious concerns,” Cheney said, noting the committee would be considering next steps.

The committee also detailed in the aftermath Jan. 6 White House lawyers were huddling to review a speech Trump was to give on Jan. 7. Hutchinson said Trump was opinionated about the speech and lines about prosecuting rioters were ultimately removed.

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“Unlike many of his other speeches, he did not ad-lib much,” Cheney said of his delivery that day.

“He recited them without significant alteration except one. Even then on Jan. 7 2021, the day after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, the president still could not bring himself to say, ‘But this election is now over.’”

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