In the fall of 2018, a Virginia college student named Cassidy Hutchinson already knew what she wanted out of life.
"I have set a personal goal to pursue a path of civic significance," Hutchinson told Christopher Newport University, where she was a senior.
Hutchinson has since achieved at least part of her career ambition, taking on a central role this week in the Jan. 6 committee's investigation of the deadly U.S. Capitol riot.
In explosive testimony Tuesday, the 25-year-old former White House aide testified in stark terms about Donald Trump's furious last-ditch bid to keep power in the final days of his presidency, riveting television viewers across the country and infuriating much of the political movement she once served.
But those who know Hutchinson said the testimony didn't come as a surprise.
“She was a member of the Trump administration and she is a Republican, but she puts people first,” said Garrett Robinson, who interned with Hutchinson in 2017 and later became her friend. “If there was any way she could have stopped any violence from occurring on Jan. 6, she would have done something.”
Four years ago, though, Hutchinson was still thrilled about the opportunity to work for Trump, telling her alma mater in Newport News, Virginia, that she was "brought to tears" when she received an email letting her know she had been accepted into the White House's elite summer internship program. She was particularly honored as a self-described first-generation college student.
"My small contribution to the quest to maintain American prosperity and excellence is a memory I will hold as one of the honors of my life," the New Jersey native said in an interview with a member of the university's communications department. The resulting article was titled "A Captain in the 'People's House.'"
Hutchinson was no stranger to Washington when she began her internship. She had already interned for Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, two of Trump's most stalwart allies in Congress. "Interning on Capitol Hill confirmed my desire to continue a path in government," the political science major said.
"We have plenty of students who do one congressional internship, but to have three was really a special thing and not something I've seen in my nine years teaching here," said Andrew Kirkpatrick, a political science professor at Christopher Newport who taught Hutchinson in several classes.
Kirkpatrick remembers Hutchinson as a driven young person with a "sunny" disposition and a clear passion for American politics. He found it "refreshing" that she was a first-generation student from out of state on a campus where the average undergraduate hails from the Washington suburbs or northern Virginia.
"She came at things from her own perspective," Kirkpatrick said.
In her time with Cruz, Hutchinson showed herself to be a hard worker, diligent and steadfast no matter the task, according to a woman who interned with her in the legislator's office in the summer of 2017. "She was very friendly and she always kept it professional," the woman said.
"I always thought she was going to do well in her career," the woman said with a laugh. "She was that type of person."
Hutchinson's former colleague was driving in her car on Tuesday when she heard a voice on NPR. She realized it was Hutchinson testifying before the Jan. 6 committee. "I was, like, 'Oh, I'm pretty sure that's my old friend,' which is crazy."
The woman said she feels sympathy for Hutchinson in the wake of her testimony: "I think this is a really hard position for her to be in ... Usually, we can go back and have relationships with former co-workers and bosses, and that's probably not the case here."
Robinson, 24, who also interned with Hutchinson at Cruz’s office in 2017 and now works at a bank in Texas, said he was constantly impressed by her work ethic: “She always put in extra hours. She always wanted to talk to constituents. She always wanted to be in a position where she could help as many people as possible.”
He and Hutchinson stayed in touch after their internship and became good friends. They would try to find time to hang out while he still lived in Washington. “She was always working, though,” he said, adding that Hutchinson would spend as much time as possible in the White House before going home for a few hours of sleep. “She was always on call,” he said.
He said Hutchinson is someone who put country before party.
"I felt very proud” when Hutchinson appeared in Congress, he said, although it was “very surreal to see her on the front page of every newspaper and trending on Twitter.”
“I sent her a text and an email afterwards to make sure she was doing OK. I would imagine that she’s getting a lot of those at the moment,” he said with a laugh.
Hutchinson joined the White House staff not long after college graduation and become a top aide to Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows in March 2020, eight months before Trump faced off against Joe Biden at the ballot box. She was often seen by Meadows' side, according to former co-workers, taking notes in meetings or accompanying him to events.
"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," a former Trump aide familiar with Hutchinson's work and her relationships with key White House officials told NBC News this week.
Hutchinson's title in the West Wing was special assistant to the president for legislative affairs in the Office of the Chief of Staff, according to her LinkedIn profile, which shows that she held that title from May 2020 to January of the following year.
She "served loyally in the Trump administration," Olivia Troye, a former top aide to ex-Vice President Mike Pence, told MSNBC this week. "I worked with her. She was a critical figure in the West Wing. ... She came to Washington to serve."
Hutchinson's role was necessarily low-profile, although she was photographed at a campaign rally at the Eugene F. Kranz Toledo Express Airport in Swanton, Ohio, on Sept. 21, 2020, dancing to the Village People song "Y.M.C.A." alongside White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
Three days after the 2020 general election, Bloomberg reported that Hutchinson was one of at least five White House officials who had become infected with Covid — along with Meadows, who reportedly informed only a circle of close advisers that he had tested positive for the virus. The severity of her illness was not disclosed.
In the final days of Trump's term, Hutchinson's view of the president evidently darkened. In her testimony this week, she described Trump's rage in vivid detail, presenting him as supportive of the Capitol attack and claiming that he demanded to join rioters there.
Hutchinson's account of a physical altercation between Trump and his top security official has come under scrutiny in the wake of her testimony. The Jan. 6 committee insists that it found Hutchinson’s testimony credible and invited those who would dispute her to come forward and give sworn testimony.
Trump, meanwhile, disparaged Hutchinson in a string of posts on his social media platform, Truth Social.
No matter the outcome of the Jan. 6 investigation, Hutchinson has already emerged as a heroic figure in the eyes of Trump's most vocal critics and opponents, who believe the former president represents an urgent threat to the democratic system.
"I am confident I will be an effective leader in the fight to secure the American dream for future generations," Hutchinson told her alma mater, "so they too will have the bountiful opportunities and freedoms that make the United States great."
Kirkpatrick, Hutchinson's former political science professor, said he was impressed by his former student’s poise during her dramatic testimony.
"I would like to believe that any of our students, put in the same situation, would do the same thing," he said, "and I’m really happy and proud that she did."