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Ex-White House aide says Donald Trump knew Capitol rioters were armed in explosive testimony

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By AP with Euronews
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Violent insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump stand outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.
Violent insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump stand outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.   -   Copyright  Jose Luis Magana/AP

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 dramatic new testimony Tuesday before the House committee investigating the 2021 insurrection.

Cassidy Hutchinson, a little-known former White House aide, described an angry, defiant president that day who was trying to let armed protesters avoid security screenings at a rally that morning to protest 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 spiraled toward violence, with the crowd chanting to “Hang Mike Pence,” she testified that Trump declined to intervene.

Trump “doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong,” Hutchinson recalled hearing from her boss, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

Hutchinson’s explosive, moment-by-moment account of what was happening inside and outside the White House offered a vivid description of a president so unwilling to concede his 2020 election defeat to 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.

The account was particularly powerful because of her proximity to power, with Hutchinson describing what she witnessed first-hand and was told by others in the White House.

Hutchinson said that she was told by a White House security official that Trump had fought a security official for control of the presidential SUV on Jan. 6 and demanded to be taken the Capitol as the insurrection began, despite being warned earlier that day that some of his supporters were armed.

That account was quickly disputed. Bobby Engel, the agent who was driving the presidential SUV, and Trump security official Tony Ornato are willing to testify under oath that no agent was assaulted and Trump never lunged for the steering wheel, a person familiar with the matter told AP on condition of anonymity.

As the events of Jan. 6 unfurled, Hutchinson, then a special assistant to Meadows, described chaos in White House offices and hallways. 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 Biden’s victory.

Trump was less concerned, she said, even as he heard there were cries in the crowd to “Hang Mike Pence!” Hutchinson recalled that Meadows told aides that Trump “thinks Mike deserves it." The president tweeted during the attack that Pence didn’t have the courage to object to 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 Trump's tweet about Pence during the siege.

“It was unpatriotic, it was un-American, and you were watching the Capitol building get defaced over a lie," Hutchinson said, adding that, “I still struggle to work through the emotions of that.”

Trump denied much of what Hutchinson said on his social media platform, Truth Social. He called her a “total phony” and “bad news.”

Members of the panel praised Hutchinson’s bravery for testifying and said that other witnesses had been intimidated and did not cooperate.

“I want all Americans to know that what Ms. Hutchinson has done today is not easy,” said Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, a Republican who led questioning.

Some of Hutchinson’s former colleagues, too, defended her account. Mick Mulvaney, who preceded Meadows as Trump’s chief of staff, tweeted that he knows Hutchinson and “I don’t think she is lying.” Sarah Matthews, a former Trump press aide who has also cooperated with the committee, called the testimony “damning.”

As she described the scene in the White House after the election, Hutchinson depicted a president flailing in anger and prone to violent outbursts. Some aides sought to rein in his impulses. Some did not.

Hutchinson told the panel that Trump had been informed early in the day that some of the protesters outside the White House had weapons. But he responded that the protesters were “not here to hurt me,” Hutchinson said.

She quoted Trump as directing his staff, in profane terms, to take away the metal-detecting magnetometers that he thought would slow down supporters who were gathering for his speech on the Ellipse, in back of the White House. 

In a clip of an earlier interview with the committee, she recalled the president saying words to the effect of: “I don’t f-in' care that they have weapons.”

Hutchinson told stories of a raging president who was unable to acknowledge his defeat. At the beginning of December, she said, she heard noise inside the White House, and entered a room to find ketchup dripping down a wall and broken porcelain. The president, it turned out, had thrown his lunch at the wall in disgust over the article. Trump denied it in his social media posts.