WASHINGTON — Republicans and other sources are rebutting elements of former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony before the Jan. 6 committee, handing Donald Trump and his allies ammunition as they seek to discredit her and portray her as an unreliable witness.
Hutchinson’s account Tuesday about a dramatic physical altercation between Trump and his top security official on Jan. 6 has come under intense scrutiny after sources told NBC News that two witnesses were prepared to testify under oath that it never happened.
"Ms. Hutchinson stands by all of the testimony she provided yesterday, under oath, to the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol," her attorneys said in a statement.
The Jan. 6 committee has continued to insist that they found Hutchinson’s testimony credible and invited those who would dispute her to come forward and give sworn testimony. And former co-workers in the White House came to Hutchinson’s defense, saying that she would have been in close proximity to the president and privy to the kind of information she testified about.
Separately, Eric Herschmann, a former Trump White House lawyer who has provided damning testimony about Trump’s plot to overturn the election, is now saying that he wrote a handwritten note as the violence unfolded at the Capitol — not Hutchinson, as she testified.
“Anyone who entered the Capitol without proper authority should leave immediately,” read the note, which was written on chief of staff Mark Meadows’ stationery and intended for Trump to release as rioters stormed the Capitol.
“The handwritten note that Cassidy Hutchinson testified was written by her was in fact written by Eric Herschmann on January 6, 2021,” a Herschmann spokesperson said. “All sources with direct knowledge and law enforcement have and will confirm that it was written by Mr. Herschmann.”
Hutchinson, who had served as a top aide to Meadows, testified publicly that she was sure she had written the note and that it featured her handwriting.
A Jan. 6 committee spokesman said the panel "found Ms. Hutchinson’s account of this matter credible.“
“While we understand that she and Mr. Herschmann may have differing recollections of who wrote the note, what’s ultimately important is that both White House officials believed that the president should have immediately instructed his supporters to leave the Capitol building," the spokesman said. "The note memorialized this. But Mr. Trump did not take that action at the time.”
Taken together, the pair of discrepancies have chipped at Hutchinson’s credibility as Trump disparaged her in a series of posts on his social media platform, Truth Social.
Before Herschmann’s statement, Trump also criticized the handwriting on the note as “that of a Whacko.”
But parts of Hutchinson’s testimony involving Trump’s car ride back to the White House after his Jan. 6 rally at the Ellipse have been validated by others. One person close to the Secret Service said that “there are very important pieces of the testimony that are out there that [agency officials] have no issue with. … We don’t want to lose the forest for the trees.”
Trump indeed wanted to go to the Capitol after the rally and was barred from doing so by the Secret Service: “He was not pleased to hear that, but there was no escalation of any type of assault on that,” this person said.
Hutchinson testified that she did not directly witness the alleged altercation and was clear that her knowledge was second-hand. Instead, she told the panel that after Trump’s Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally, she returned to the White House where Deputy Chief of Staff Tony Ornato relayed an account from Bobby Engel, Trump’s head of security, who was also in the room.
Ornato told her that Trump had been under the impression he would go to the Capitol after his speech, Hutchinson said. Due to security concerns, Trump was told no. At that point, Trump, in a fit of rage, tried to grab the steering wheel of the armored presidential SUV and then reached for the “clavicles” of Engel, she said Ornato told her.
She said Engel, who was listening as Ornato told the story, did not dispute anything. Trump allies have dismissed Hutchinson’s account as hearsay.
The committee has chosen its words carefully amid the pushback over Hutchinson’s jarring account of the confrontation in Trump’s vehicle. In a prepared statement, a committee aide said that the panel found her testimony to be “credible.”
The committee hasn’t produced testimony from first-hand witnesses to corroborate her account.
The person close to the Secret Service insists the altercation did not happen and suggested that Engel and the driver would say as much under oath.
Committee members have already gotten closed-door testimony from both Ornato and Engel.
During a “Meet the Press NOW” interview Wednesday, Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a member of the House panel, was asked whether any other witnesses, such as Ornato, had mentioned an incident in the presidential SUV before Hutchinson's testimony.
“Yes. Mr. Ornato did not have as clear of memories from this period of time as, I would say, Ms. Hutchinson did, if that’s a fair assessment there,” Murphy, D-Fla. said. “But we’re always happy to have folks who have recalled things to come back and talk to us.”
The committee may get a chance to question Engel, along with the driver, at a future public hearing; the Secret Service will allow them to testify.
“The Secret Service has been cooperating fully with the select committee since its inception in spring of 2021, and we will continue to do so by responding formally and on the record to the committee regarding new allegations that surfaced in yesterday’s testimony,” the agency said in a statement.
The dispute over Hutchinson’s testimony has given Trump supporters an opening to try to discredit her as a witness. Her appearance included other revelations that could potentially be more damaging, posing problems for Trump as he apparently gears up for another presidential campaign.
Hutchinson testified, for example, that Trump knew that some people attending his rally were carrying weapons, but he still urged them to march to the Capitol, where Congress was meeting to certify Joe Biden’s victory. That testimony was based on her first-hand experience, having overheard him say that no one in the crowd was there to hurt him.
Trump tried to cast her as a nobody at the White House: “I hardly knew who she was,” he said on his social media site.
Yet a former Trump aide familiar with Hutchinson’s work and her relationships with top White House officials said she would have been in a position to participate in many of the conversations she described to the Jan. 6 panel.
”It’s 100% believable that she’d be a part of those conversations and witness to these things,” the former White House aide told NBC News.
“Knowing how closely she followed Meadows, he really did have her come to every trip, she was always on Air Force One, always on the Hill, in every meeting.”
The person also characterized Hutchinson as having had a close working relationship with Ornato.
Another White House aide who worked with her in the West Wing characterized Hutchinson as “the doorkeeper for Meadows.”
“She was not a low-level aide. She was attached to the hip of Mark Meadows,” said Olivia Troye, who was a national security aide to Vice President Mike Pence and who has been critical of Trump. “I commend her bravery; I know what she’s up against.
“Donald Trump is probably out there attacking her credibility, claiming that he doesn’t know her. But anyone who worked in the West Wing knows that she was a critical part of the operation. You can’t discredit that.”