Former US president Donald Trump rebuffed his own security’s warnings about armed protesters in the January 6 rally crowd and made desperate attempts to join his supporters as they marched to the Capitol, according to testimony before the House committee investigating the 2021 insurrection.
Cassidy Hutchinson, a former White House aide, described an angry, defiant president who was trying that day to let armed protesters avoid security screenings at a rally that morning to protest against his 2020 election defeat and who later grabbed at the steering wheel of the presidential SUV when the secret service refused to let him go to the Capitol.
And when the events at the Capitol spiralled towards violence, with the crowd chanting “Hang Mike Pence”, she testified on Tuesday that Mr Trump declined to intervene.
Mr Trump “doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong”, Ms Hutchinson recalled hearing from her boss, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.
Ms Hutchinson’s explosive, moment-by-moment account of what was happening inside and outside the White House offered a vivid description of a Republican president so unwilling to concede his 2020 election defeat to Democrat Joe Biden that he acted out in rage and refused to stop the siege at the Capitol.
It painted a damning portrait of the chaos at the White House as those around the defeated president splintered into one faction supporting his false claims of voter fraud and another trying unsuccessfully to put an end to the violent attack.
Her testimony, at a surprise hearing announced just 24 hours earlier, was the sole focus at the hearing, the sixth by the committee this month.
The account was particularly powerful because of her proximity to power, with Ms Hutchinson describing what she witnessed first-hand and was told by others in the White House.
Ms Hutchinson said that she was told Mr Trump fought a security official for control of the presidential SUV on January 6 and demanded to be taken to the Capitol as the insurrection began, despite being warned earlier that day that some of his supporters were armed.
The former aide said that she was told of the altercation in the SUV immediately afterwards by a White House security official, and that Bobby Engel, the head of the detail, was in the room and did not dispute the account at the time.
Mr Engel had grabbed Mr Trump’s arm to prevent him from gaining control of the armoured vehicle, she was told, and Mr Trump then used his free hand to lunge at Mr Engel.
But that account was quickly disputed on Tuesday. Mr Engel, the agent who was driving the presidential SUV, and Mr Trump security official Tony Ornato were willing to testify under oath that no agent was assaulted and Mr Trump had not lunged for the steering wheel, a person familiar with the matter said.
As the events of January 6 unfurled, Ms Hutchinson, then a special assistant to Mr Meadows, described chaos in White House offices and hallways.
Mr Trump’s staff — several of whom had been warned of violence beforehand — became increasingly alarmed as rioters at the Capitol overran police and interrupted the certification of Mr Biden’s victory.
Mr Trump was less concerned, she said, even as he heard there were cries in the crowd to “Hang Mike Pence” Ms Hutchinson recalled that Mr Meadows told aides that Mr Trump “thinks Mike deserves it”.
The former president tweeted during the attack that Mr Pence did not have the courage to object to Mr Biden’s win as he presided over the joint session of Congress.
The young ex-aide was matter-of-fact in most of her answers. But she did say that she was “disgusted” at Mr Trump’s tweet about Mr Pence during the siege.
“It was unpatriotic, it was un-American, and you were watching the Capitol building get defaced over a lie,” Ms Hutchinson said, adding that, “I still struggle to work through the emotions of that”.
Mr Trump denied much of what Ms Hutchinson said on his social media platform, Truth Social.
He called her a “total phony” and “bad news”.
Members of the panel praised Ms Hutchinson’s bravery for testifying and said that other witnesses had been intimidated and did not co-operate.