Cassidy Hutchinson sped out of Washington in the wee hours of the morning while Googling "Watergate" on her phone, frantically looking for some kind of guidance on how to be a whistleblower.
Until that moment, the former Donald Trump White House aide, who would go on to be the star witness of the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection, had remained “loyal” and “in the family,” as Trumpworld insiders kept reminding her, according to transcripts of her testimony released Thursday.
She didn’t even know who was paying her own lawyer, but he made it clear that her job was to “protect the president.” And he kept dangling job opportunities and promising that she would be “taken care of” if she did her part, she ultimately told the committee.
But the night before she fled for her parent’s house in New Jersey, Hutchinson said she “had a mental breakdown” as the moral crisis she had been grappling with came to a head, pushing her to make a decision that would change the course of the investigation into the 2021 attack on the Capitol.
Hutchinson's blockbuster testimony this summer became a key pillar of Jan. 6 committee's investigation. But new, never-before-seen transcripts of her interviews with investigators released Thursday offer a fresh portrait of a young, desperate woman torn between her conscience and some of the most powerful men in America.
“I was scared,” she told committee investigators last September in sworn testimony. “I almost felt like at points Donald Trump was looking over my shoulder.”
The transcripts, which come ahead of the release of the committee's final report, offer an intimate look at the pressure Hutchinson says she felt from Trumpworld to stay in line.
Unemployed and unable to afford a lawyer at the outset of the committee's investigation, Hutchinson begged her estranged biological father for money on his doorstep one night, but he refused. Asking for his help, she said, was one of her only regrets. Her aunt and uncle — whom she described as believers in QAnon, a conspiracy theory driven by Trump supporters — were more sympathetic, and even looked into refinancing their home to help, but that didn’t work out either.
So she reluctantly accepted when Trump insiders reached out to tell her not to worry, they would set her up with an attorney at no charge to her.
“I am completely indebted to these people. They will ruin my life, Mom, if I do anything that they don’t want me to do,” she said she told her mother at one point, according to the transcripts.
She was fully aware the help came with strings attached.
“It was this, like, battle inside my head where, like, 80% of me constantly felt like, 'This is bad, this is bad, this is bad. I need to get out of this situation,'" she said. "But then there was 20% of me ... where I was thinking, you know, like, 'Cass, you’re overthinking this. ... Maybe they really do want to take care of you and they are trying to make this easy on you. Like, don’t be too cynical about this.'”
Her Trump-allied lawyer, Stefan Passantino, counseled her to say as little as possible to Jan. 6 committee investigators, she said. “We just want to focus on protecting the president. We all know you’re loyal. Let’s just get you in and out,” she said he told her, according to the transcripts.
On days when she was scheduled to be deposed, he would dangle job prospects. “We’re gonna get you a really good job in Trumpworld. You don’t need to apply other places. We’re gonna get you taken care of. We want to keep you in the family,” she said he told her.
“I want to make this clear to you: Stefan never told me to lie," she told the committee. "He specifically told me, ‘I don’t want you to perjure yourself, but ‘I don’t recall’ isn’t perjury. They don’t know what you can and can’t recall.’”
At first, Hutchinson did her part, as instructed, during two depositions. She felt like she had lied and felt bad but tried to forget about it. “I just kind of compartmentalized any guilt that I had had and was just like, 'let me just move on,'” she testified.
But in April, the dam holding back her guilt burst. She was sitting in her Washington apartment and read a legal document that cited her testimony, which was replete with obfuscations, dodges and “I cannot recall” statements. She broke down.
“So I got in the car, and I drove up to New Jersey, because my parents live in New Jersey, and what does Cassidy do when she has problems ... she doesn’t want to confront? I try to get out — I try to get out of here,” she later testified.
She said she didn’t know much about Watergate at the time, but Wikipedia quickly educated her about Nixon White House whistleblowers like former counsel John Dean and Alex Butterfield, the aide who had helped install — and then publicly reveal — Nixon’s taping system.
“It looked like he had a similar role and title to what I had in the White House. So I’m, in driving, sort of trying to read about him,” Hutchinson said.
She quickly ordered two copies of Butterfield’s book, co-authored by journalist Bob Woodward, and had them shipped to her parents’ house, where she devoured them.
“I read it once. Then I read it again, underlined. And then I read it a third time, and I went through and tabbed it,” she said. “He talked about a lot of the same things that I felt like I was experiencing ... but he ended up doing the right thing.
“And it was after I read this I was like, if I’m going to pass the mirror test for the rest of my life, I need to try to fix some of this,” she said, referring to the ability to look at oneself in the mirror.
She back-channeled information to investigators to ensure they would ask her back for a third deposition.
When she met with them again, she was more forthcoming. Her Trumpworld lawyer, Passantino, was not happy, she said, and began frantically calling his colleagues to do damage control.
Passantino, who was deputy White House counsel under Trump, defended himself in a statement and said the Jan. 6 committee never asked for his side of the story. He said he was taking a leave of absence from the law firm where he was a partner, Michael Best, which he said was not involved in Hutchinson’s defense, because he does not want to be a “distraction.”
“As with all my clients during my 30 years of practice, I represented Ms. Hutchinson honorably, ethically, and fully consistent with her sole interests as she communicated them to me. I believed Ms. Hutchinson was being truthful and cooperative with the Committee throughout the several interview sessions in which I represented her,” Passantino said. “It is not uncommon for clients to change lawyers because their interests or strategies change. It is also not uncommon for a third-party, including a political committee, to cover a client’s fees at the client’s request. External communications made on Ms. Hutchinson’s behalf while I was her counsel were made with her express authorization.”
Eventually, Hutchinson would get a new, independent pro bono lawyer, and break entirely from Trumpworld, revealing everything she knew, including about the incident in which Trump allegedly put his hands on a Secret Service agent’s neck demanding he be taken to the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“I’m about to be f------ nuked,” she said she told a committee staffer as she left that third meeting.
“I’m really sorry,” the staffer replied, she said.
And then Hutchinson turned and walked out.