WASHINGTON — It was well known before the House Jan. 6 committee hearing Tuesday that Donald Trump has a temper. Nor was it a state secret that the ex-president berates aides and fumes when things don’t go his way.
What wasn’t known is the full extent of Trump’s rage as he saw his power and presidency slip away on Jan. 6, 2021.
Americans know a lot more now.
Cassidy Hutchinson was the surprise witness at the Jan. 6 committee’s hastily called hearing, which offered fresh revelations about Trump’s actions on the day rioters stormed the Capitol. As a top aide to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, she worked at a desk near the Oval Office and was in position to hear and see plenty.
Hutchinson was with Trump right before he delivered his Jan. 6 speech urging the crowd to march to the Capitol. She saw firsthand his profane outbursts and once said she cleaned up a mess he had caused — quite literally.
Hutchinson was poised and somber throughout her sworn testimony, giving the impression that her damning account of Trump’s behavior gave her no pleasure. After she spoke, committee members came down from the dais to thank her and shake hands. Former White House aides who served with her tweeted about her credibility. Apparently watching the hearing in real time, Trump was quick to denounce the 25-year-old: “I hardly know who this person Cassidy Hutchinson is, other than I heard very negative things about her (a total phony and ‘leaker’),” he posted on his social media site, Truth Social.
A few takeaways from the hearing:
The committee is looking into witness tampering
At the close of Tuesday’s hearing, committee Vice Chair Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., issued a warning to Trump administration and campaign officials who she said have been contacting witnesses and trying to sway their testimony before the committee.
“I think most people know that attempting to influence witnesses to testify untruthfully presents very serious concerns,” Cheney said in her closing remarks.
Legal experts said witness tampering comes in all forms. It can be in your face, or more subtle.
“I’ve seen witness tampering as a prosecutor, sometimes blatant — you firebomb someone’s house, right? Or you beat them with a baseball bat — and sometimes subtle: ‘Hey, Peter. You know what the boss wants you to do? You don’t want to make anyone unhappy. You’re going to do the right thing, aren’t you Peter?’ One’s blatant, one’s subtle. They’re both witness tampering,” Chuck Rosenberg, a former FBI official and federal prosecutor said on NBC News NOW.
“And so that really piqued my interest. I want to hear more about that — not as a viewer necessarily, but as a prosecutor.”
Crowd size means a lot to Trump.
When he showed up for his speech that day, he was unhappy about unfilled spaces on the Ellipse, an open grassy area between the White House and the Washington Monument.
Aides tried to explain: Some in the crowd were armed and didn’t want to walk through Secret Service metal detectors and have their weapons confiscated, Hutchinson testified.
Trump saw the metal detectors as a deterrent that kept people out of camera view. Hutchinson said that she overheard Trump say: “You know, I don’t f------ care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the f------ mags [magnetometers] away. Let my people in.”
Later, knowing some in the crowd were armed, Trump said that he would march with them to the Capitol. But the Secret Service refused to take him and drove him back home.
Not without an argument, though.
Hutchinson said that when she returned to the West Wing she stopped in the office of Tony Ornato, deputy chief of staff. Sitting in the office with him was Robert Engel, head of Trump’s Secret Service detail. Engel looked “lost” and “discombobulated,” she said.
Ornato described an incident in the car with Trump after he was told he couldn’t go to the Capitol. “I am the f—--- president. Take me to the Capitol now,” Hutchinson testified that Trump said.
Hutchinson said Ornato described Trump trying to grab the steering wheel. Engel, she said, grasped his arm: “Sir, you need to take your hand off the steering wheel,” he said. At that point, Trump lunged at Engel, Hutchinson testified. (Trump denied the account. In a Truth Social post, he wrote, “Her Fake story that I tried to grab the steering wheel of the White House Limousine in order to steer it to the Capitol Building is ‘sick’ and fraudulent.”)
A source close to the Secret Service told NBC News that both Engel and the presidential limousine driver are prepared to testify under oath that neither man was assaulted and that Mr. Trump never lunged for the steering wheel.
When reached for comment, a Jan. 6 committee aide told NBC News in a statement: “The Select Committee found Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony to be credible. The committee welcomes anyone who wishes to provide additional information under oath.”
Hutchinson described another memorable episode when Trump heard that his Attorney General, William Barr, had told a reporter that there was no widespread fraud in the 2020 election — rebutting Trump’s claim that the election had been stolen.
After the news broke, Hutchinson walked down the hallway and passed the small dining room off the Oval Office where Trump often watched cable news on his 60-inch flat screen. The door was ajar. A valet waved her in, and she saw ketchup dripping from a wall and a shattered porcelain plate on the floor.
Angered by Barr’s interview, Trump had thrown his lunch against the wall, the valet told her. She found a towel and started helping wipe the wall clean. (Trump denied the story on his social media site and wrote: “Why would SHE have to clean it up.”)
Trump didn’t seem worried about Congress’ safety
In the hours before Trump’s rally, White House officials knew that people in the crowd carried weapons. Hutchinson described a meeting with Meadows where Ornato said that people had been found with guns, knives, bear spray and flagpoles that had been converted into spears. Trump was told about the weapons.
“Let’s reflect on that for a moment,” Cheney said at the hearing. “President Trump was aware that a number of individuals in the crowd had weapons and were wearing body armor.”
She then played a clip from Trump’s speech, where he told the crowd, “We’re going to walk down to the Capitol.”
A White House lawyer, Eric Herschmann, had warned officials beforehand not to use inflammatory rhetoric. He had advised against language that urged people to “fight for Trump” or to march to the Capitol, citing legal concerns, Hutchinson testified.
It seems he was ignored. In the speech Trump delivered, he said at one point: “We fight like hell and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
(In a Truth Social post, Trump wrote that Cheney had omitted a part of his speech where he told the crowd to “peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”)
The top White House lawyer warned about Trump’s Jan. 6 plans
White House counsel Pat Cipollone also had grave misgivings about Trump’s plan to join the crowd that marched to the Capitol.
On the morning of Jan. 6, he spoke to Hutchinson outside the West Wing and urged her not to let Trump venture to the Capitol.
“We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable” if Trump followed through, Cipollone warned her.
Hutchinson also testified that Cipollone “worried that it would look like we were inciting a riot or encouraging a riot to erupt at the Capitol” if Trump were to show up.
Hutchinson tried to get Meadows to care about the violence
Watching TV in her White House office on Jan. 6, Hutchinson was growing increasingly worried about the violence that had broken out at the Capitol.
She also wondered why her boss, Meadows, didn’t seem concerned at all about what was unfolding.
Meadows was sitting on the couch in his office, scrolling and typing on his phone, she said. She asked him if he had spoken to Trump.
“No. He wants to be alone right now,” Meadows replied.
Hutchinson became frustrated. It was like a “bad car accident that was about to happen,” she told the committee. You know you can’t stop it “but you want to be able to do something.”
“I remember thinking, in that moment, Mark needs to snap out of this, and I don’t know how to snap him out of this, but he needs to care,” Hutchinson said.
Moments later, Hutchinson testified, Cipollone barreled down the hallway and into Meadows’s office: “The rioters have gotten to the Capitol, Mark. We need to go down and see the president now.”
Meadows looked up and replied: “He doesn’t want to do anything, Pat.”
“Mark, something needs to be done, or people are going to die and the blood’s gonna be on your f—--- hands,” Cipollone responded. “This is getting out of control. I’m going down there.”
Meadows stood up, and the two of them walked down to see Trump in the dining room. When they returned, Hutchinson said, it was clear that Trump was unmoved.
“They’re literally calling for the vice president to be f----- hung,” Cipollone told Meadows.
“You heard him, Pat,” Meadows responded. “He thinks Mike deserves it. He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong.”
“This is f----- crazy,” Cipollone said.
(Trump, in another post Tuesday, denied ever saying Pence deserved to be hanged.)
Ben Williamson, a former Meadows aide, also refuted that his former boss was unconcerned about the unfolding violence.
"I’ve worked for Mark Meadows for 7 years — any suggestion he didn’t care is ludicrous," Williamson said in a text message. "And if the committee actually wanted answers as to that question, they could’ve played my interview where I outlined to them how Meadows immediately acted when I told him of initial violence at the Capitol that day. They seem more interested in hearsay, speculation, and conjecture as a means of smearing people, and it’s obvious why."