Five key takeaways from sixth January 6 US Capitol riot hearing
Former aide Cassidy Hutchinson shared observations from inside Donald Trump’s White House in the days around the riots.
Unlike previous hearings, Tuesday’s public session of the US congressional committee investigation of the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol did not have a pre-announced theme. The name of its sole witness was not officially made public ahead of time, and even its date was not released until Monday.
But former President Donald Trump and his efforts to overturn the 2020 election remained a constant focus of the panel during the sixth hearing this month.
The surprise hearing, which promised “recently obtained evidence”, leaned heavily on the live testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who told “firsthand” stories of Trump’s behaviour on and around January 6, 2021.
Here is a look at five key takeaways from the hearing:
‘They’re not here to hurt me’: Trump knew protesters were armed
Hutchinson told the panel that Trump was “furious” ahead of his speech at the Ellipse near the White House before the January 6 riots, because the area was not full of people, asking his staff to allow protesters who may be armed into the rally.
Trump asked for the magnetic weapons detectors (mags) to be removed so more people could get into the area.
Trump said he did not care if the crowd was armed. “Take the effing mags away; they’re not here to hurt me. Let them in; let my people in,” Hutchinson quoted Trump as saying. “They can march to the Capitol after the rally is over. They can march from the Ellipse. Take the effing mags away, then they can march to the Capitol.”
Trump wanted to join his supporters at the Capitol
The committee featured on Tuesday testimonies from Hutchinson and other White House officials saying that Trump wanted to head to the Capitol on January 6, against the advice of his legal and security assistants.
The panel also featured a written chat between National Security Council staff members discussing the president’s possible route to the Capitol building.
Hutchinson told the committee that White House counsel Pat Cipollone warned of severe legal repercussions if Trump were to go to the Capitol.
“Mr Cipollone said something to the effect of, ‘Please make sure that 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’,” Hutchinson told the committee.
Hutchinson also described a “very angry” Trump who got physical with staff when he learned that he could not go to the Capitol after his speech at the Ellipse.
“I am the effing president. Take me to the Capitol now,” Trump told aides in the presidential vehicle, according to Hutchinson, who relayed the information from then-White House Deputy Chief of Staff Tony Ornato who was in the car.
Hutchinson cited Ornato as saying that Trump was “irate”. She said Trump tried to grab the steering wheel, but Secret Service official Bobby Engel stopped him.
“Mr Trump then used his free hand to lunge towards Bobby Engel,” Hutchinson said. “When Mr Ornato had recounted this story to me, he motioned towards his clavicles.”
Hutchinson says there were three camps in the White House
Hutchinson told the panel that White House aides and advisers fell into three camps on January 6.
“There was a group of individuals that were strongly urging him to take immediate and swift action” to stop the riots, Hutchinson told the panel.
That group included Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and then-White House lawyer Eric Herschmann, she said.
Hutchinson added that other advisors wanted to be more neutral – they knew something needed to be done, but they tried to “toe the line knowing that Trump did not necessarily want to take immediate action and condemn riots”.
“And then there’s the last group, which was deflecting blame – ‘Let’s blame Antifa; these aren’t our people’,” Hutchinson said. “It’s my understanding that Mr Meadows was in the deflecting-blame category, but he ended up taking a more neutral route, knowing that there were several advisors in the president’s circle urging him to take more action.”
Despite calls for action, Trump reluctant to call for end to Capitol attack
Trump’s children and confidantes urged him to tell his supporters to leave the Capitol on January 6, the panel said on Tuesday, showing text messages and testimonies to that effect.
Hutchinson said she remembers Ivanka Trump saying at various points that “she wanted her dad to send them home”.
The committee showed text exchanges between Donald Trump Jr and Meadows, where Trump’s son calls on the then-president to condemn the attack as soon as possible.
Conservative show host Laura Ingraham also texted Meadows, according to the committee, warning that Trump is “destroying his legacy and playing into every stereotype” by failing to call for an end to the riots at the Capitol.
Trump eventually urged his supporters to go home “in peace” telling them “we love you” early in the evening on January 6, hours after these calls.
Hutchinson also recalled that White House counsel Cipollone approached Meadows in his office as the rioters came close to the Capitol, but the then-White House chief of staff appeared to dismiss the urgency of the situation.
“I remember Pat saying to him something to the effect of ‘the rioters have gotten to the Capitol, Mark; we need to go down and see the president now’. And Mark looked up at him and said: ‘He doesn’t want to do anything’,” Hutchinson said.
She added that Cipollone told Meadows: “Something needs to be done or people are going to die, and the blood is going to be on your effing hands.”
Cabinet secretaries discussed invoking 25th Amendments
Hutchinson said then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reached out to Meadows after January 6 to alert him that cabinet secretaries were discussing invoking the 25th Amendment to strip Trump of his presidential powers.
“From what I understand, it was more of this is what I’m hearing, I want you to be aware of it,” she told the panel.
The constitutional provision allows for a transition of power if the president is unable or unfit to serve.
Cheney also said that the committee “has learned” that the 25th Amendment was floated by cabinet secretaries after the January 6 attack.
Throughout her testimony, Hutchinson described an increasingly erratic post-election Trump even before January 6, 2021.
She said early in December 2020, Trump threw his lunch against the wall after he learned that then-Attorney General William Barr had told The Associated Press news agency that there was no evidence of election fraud.
“The [White House] valet had articulated that the president was extremely angry at the attorney general’s AP interview and had thrown his lunch against the wall which was causing them to have to clean up,” Hutchinson said.
“So I grabbed a towel and started wiping the ketchup off the wall. I helped the valet out. He said something to the effect of, ‘He [Trump] is really ticked off about this’.”