WASHINGTON — Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson told U.S. lawmakers Tuesday that then-President Donald Trump became increasingly angry and volatile about his 2020 reelection loss, testifying that he agreed with rioters at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 last year when they called for the hanging of then-Vice President Mike Pence for refusing to block the election outcome.
Hutchinson said that as some of the thousands of Trump supporters at the Capitol chanted "Hang Mike Pence!" Trump told her boss, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, "Mike deserves it."
She quoted Meadows as saying that Trump "doesn't think (the anti-Pence protesters were) doing anything wrong."
Trump supporters had erected a gallows on the National Mall within eyesight of the Capitol, although Pence's security detail rushed him to safety as the mayhem raged. Some rioters came within about 12 meters of reaching him.
Later, Trump tweeted that "Mike Pence didn't have the courage" to block Congress from certifying that Democrat Joe Biden had defeated Trump in the 2020 election. But it was not until more than an hour later that Trump finally told his supporters in a video message to leave the Capitol, after earlier ignoring pleas from family members, including his daughter Ivanka, a White House aide, and other advisers to publicly call off the riot.
The Secret Service is denying the incident in Trump’s limo occurred and offering to testify before the panel to that effect. And Trump is denying on social media feed many of the other accusations.
Hutchinson, who worked in an office just steps from Trump's Oval Office, said she learned from Anthony Ornato, a Meadows aide responsible for coordinating Trump's security detail, that the then-president, after a rally near the White House before the mayhem at the Capitol, attempted to grab the wheel of his limousine from a Secret Service agent and demanded to go to the Capitol to join his supporters.
Trump had told thousands of supporters at the rally that he would join them in walking to the Capitol, but his security detail had determined it was too dangerous and instead drove him back to the White House.
Hutchinson said she was told by Ornato that, once in the limousine, Trump was "under the impression … he thought they were going to the Capitol" and was "very, very angry" when he realized they were not.
"I'm the 'effing' president, take me to the Capitol," Trump demanded, according to Ornato's recounting of the incident to Hutchinson.
She testified that Ornato told her Trump grabbed the steering wheel but was pushed away by his chief security agent, Bobby Engel.
"Sir, you need to take your hand off of the steering wheel, we're going back to the West Wing, we're not going to the Capitol," Hutchinson said, quoting Ornato's retelling of what Engel told Trump.
"Mr. Trump then used his free hand to lunge toward Engel and when Mr. Ornato recounted the story to me, he motioned to his clavicles," Hutchinson testified.
Earlier that day, according to Hutchinson, Trump had been informed that many of the supporters whom he was urging to march to the Capitol were armed and equipped with body armor. Hutchinson said the president was angered that the Secret Service was using magnetometers to check for weapons at the entrance to the rally and confiscating those it found. Trump reportedly said he wasn't in any danger and complained that keeping people out of the rally made the crowd look smaller.
More than a month before, on Dec. 1, 2020, then Attorney General William Barr, the country's top law enforcement official, had told the Associated Press that Justice Department investigators had not found evidence of election fraud sufficient to overturn Biden's victory. Trump lost more than five dozen election lawsuits claiming fraud.
Hutchinson said Trump was furious when told of Barr's remark to the AP reporter. She learned of his anger when she encountered a White House valet cleaning Trump's private dining room next to the Oval Office.
Trump, she said, had thrown his lunch against a wall, shattering a plate and splattering ketchup on the wall.
Hutchinson said that both Meadows and a Trump attorney, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, sought pardons for their roles in trying to keep Trump in power.
But Trump, while pardoning other aides for their possible crimes before leaving office, did not act on the requests from Meadows or Giuliani, nor on similar demands from a half-dozen Republican congressmen Hutchinson said had requested pardons.
Hutchinson's testimony came in the House of Representatives committee's sixth hearing this month, with two more set for mid-July.
One of those hearings is set to detail the involvement of right-wing extremists in the insurrection at the Capitol and the other to explore what Trump was doing at the White House as he watched the riot unfold on television for more than three hours, ignoring all entreaties to tell the rioters to leave the Capitol.
Previously, an array of witnesses, in taped testimony and in person before the panel, have described how Trump and his allies sought to pressure Pence, the Justice Department and state officials to upend the congressional certification of the election results on January 6, 2021.
At the rally before the insurrection at the Capitol, Trump urged his supporters to "fight like hell" to block congressional approval of Biden's victory.
About 2,000 of Trump's supporters stormed past law enforcement officials into the Capitol, ransacking congressional offices, vandalizing the building and scuffling with police. More than 800 have subsequently been charged with offenses and more than 300 have pleaded guilty or been convicted in trials. Sentences have ranged from a few weeks in prison to more than four years.
In the United States, presidents are effectively chosen in separate elections in each of the 50 states, not through the national popular vote. Each state's number of electoral votes is dependent on its population, with the biggest states holding the most sway. The rioters who stormed the Capitol tried to keep lawmakers from certifying Biden's eventual 306-232 victory in the Electoral College.
At the heart of Trump's effort to stay in power was an audacious plan espoused by Giuliani and conservative lawyer John Eastman to get legislatures in states Trump narrowly lost to appoint new electors supporting him to replace the official ones favoring Biden.
While the House committee cannot bring criminal charges, the Department of Justice is closely monitoring the hearings to determine whether anyone, Trump included, should be charged with illegally trying to reverse the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
FILE - Jeffrey Clark, then-Assistant Attorney General, speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, Sept. 14, 2020.
Last week, FBI agents raided the Washington-area home of a former assistant attorney general, Jeffrey Clark, who wanted Trump to name him attorney general in the last month of his presidency so he could advance Trump's erroneous claims of vote fraud, which were at odds with Barr's conclusion.
Trump appeared willing to make the Clark appointment but backed off when top Justice Department officials said Clark, an environmental lawyer, was not qualified to be the country's top law enforcement official and threatened to quit en masse if he were named.
In addition, FBI agents, in a separate encounter in the southwestern state of New Mexico, seized the cell phone of Eastman.
A prosecutor in Atlanta, the capital of the state of Georgia, has convened a grand jury to probe Trump's effort to overturn the vote in that state. Trump asked the state's top election official, Brad Raffensperger, to find him 11,780 votes — one more than Biden defeated him by — out of 5 million ballots.
The investigative panel has heard testimony that key Trump aides told him he had lost the election and that there were minimal voting irregularities, not enough to overturn Biden's Electoral College victory.
In addition, Trump was told it would be illegal for Pence to unilaterally block Biden's victory as Pence presided over the congressional Electoral College vote count. Trump privately and publicly demanded the vice president block certification of Biden's victory and to this day contends he was cheated out of another White House term.