Former aide said Trump tried to go to the Capitol on Jan. 6 in latest hearing
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
There was stunning testimony on Capitol Hill today. The House committee investigating the January 6 attack heard from Cassidy Hutchinson. She was the top aide to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, and she was by his side throughout the day on January 6 and in the days leading up to the riots. She gave a firsthand account of former President Trump's participation, saying he planned to lead a crowd to the Capitol knowing they were armed. As people rallied near the White House that day, armed with automatic weapons and body armor, here's how she described Trump's reaction to learning they were being stopped at magnetometers.
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CASSIDY HUTCHINSON: Take the effing mags away. They're not here to hurt me. Let them in. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol after the rally's over. They can march from - they can march from the Ellipse. Take the effing mags away.
SHAPIRO: NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell followed today's hearing. Hi, Kelsey.
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.
SHAPIRO: Let's start with that scene that played out at the rally near the White House before the riots at the Capitol. This was a turning point on January 6. What new information did Hutchinson provide?
SNELL: Yeah, this was a turning point because the violence that moved to the Capitol really started as a rally there. And this was kind of a surprise hearing. This was information that we weren't expecting to hear this week. We didn't know that Hutchinson was going to be testifying until late last night. Now, I should say, she's only just now 25, and she was a senior adviser in the White House. She was very close to former President Trump and very close to his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows. And she described a firsthand account of Trump and Meadows that day. She explained conversations she had with other top Trump advisers who were with the former president that day as well.
You know, one of the most stunning moments to me was her account of what happened when Trump was told he could not go to the Capitol. She recounted a conversation with Tony Ornato, who oversaw all of the security at the White House. He described a scene in the president's limousine, known as the Beast, while the rally at the Ellipse was happening when his Secret Service detail Bobby Engel refused to let him join the crowd at the Capitol.
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HUTCHINSON: The president said something to the effect of, I'm the effing president. Take me up to the Capitol now. To which Bobby responded, sir, we have to go back to the West Wing. 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.
SNELL: She described hearing that he put his hands around Bobby Engel's neck. To be clear, she is describing a physical altercation that the president had with the head of his Secret Service protective detail after being told he couldn't go.
SHAPIRO: Hands around his neck.
SNELL: Yeah, this - she described his hands by his clavicle. This is unheard of. And, you know, she also described another moment where Trump's anger really exploded in the run-up to January 6. This time, it was after Trump learned that former Attorney General William Barr gave an interview where he said there was no election fraud. She described Trump leaving a chaotic room with ketchup splattering the walls and a broken plate after an explosion of anger. And she said it was not the first time Trump had had a similarly violent response.
SHAPIRO: Now, we heard that cut of tape where the president seemed to express a view that people with weapons could go ahead and march to the Capitol. To what extent was he aware of his team's concerns about his participation in this violent scene?
SNELL: Well, according to Hutchinson, he was made aware several times by several different people. She describes Meadows saying that Trump was not interested in hearing their arguments and rebuffed any attempt to redirect Trump. She also described struggling to get Meadows to listen or engage. She talked about him staring at his phone and not paying attention. You know, at one point, she talked about Meadows shutting her out of a secure vehicle for 20 minutes as she tried to get him critical information from security advisers about the situation at the Capitol. She also described a stark warning from Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel.
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HUTCHINSON: Mr. Cipollone said something to the effect of, please make sure we don't go up to the Capitol, Cassidy. Keep in touch with me. We're going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen.
SNELL: He also reportedly told Meadows there will be blood on his hands if he didn't get Trump to stop the riots.
SHAPIRO: What about that chant, hang Mike Pence, that the rioters were chanting at the Capitol? What did we learn about Trump's reaction to that?
SNELL: Well, a reminder that we learned earlier in the testimony at previous hearings that those rioters were only about 40 feet away from Pence at one point. And Trump said that they were right and they weren't doing anything wrong. We heard that Hutchinson testified that Meadows told her that Trump didn't want to do anything to stop the rioters and that he thinks - the quote was "he thinks Mike deserves it."
SHAPIRO: This hearing today raised a lot of new questions and opened a lot of new lines of questioning. So where's it likely to go from here?
SNELL: Well, we have heard that this - they could be continuing to pursue people who sought pardons. Hutchinson testified that both Meadows and Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani asked for pardons. They join a growing list, including Republican lawmakers who have sought pardons before and after the sixth. And she talked about witness intimidation, people trying to push what witnesses said in their depositions looked like intimidation. People spoke of loyalty and warned one witness that Trump reads every transcript.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Kelsey Snell. Thank you very much.
SNELL: Thanks for having me.
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