Jan 6 takeaways: Ex-aide said ‘Trump world’ tried to stifle her – USA TODAY

Cassidy Hutchinson’s transcript released Thursday illustrated how the star Jan. 6 committee witness wrangled behind the scenes to provide testimony.

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  • Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson feared retribution by “Trump world” figures
  • “They will ruin my life if I do anything that they don’t want me to do,” she told Jan. 6 committee
  • Hutchinson ultimately delivered bombshell testimony in a Jan. 6 committee public hearing about Trump

Former Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson says she was so concerned about being pressured into whitewashing elements of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack that she begged her family for money so she could hire her own defense lawyer.

Hutchinson told her mother about her fears of retaliation by Trump loyalists when it became clear she would have to testify before the House committee investigating the attempted insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021. “I am completely indebted to these people. … And they will ruin my life, Mom, if I do anything that they don’t want me to do.”

When that fundraising campaign failed, Hutchinson went behind the back of her “Trump world” attorney to make sure House lawmakers investigating Jan. 6 knew all of the incriminating details that she knew about what really happened that day and in the weeks leading up to it.

And Hutchinson said she ultimately fired former White House ethics lawyer Stefan Passantino, the attorney paid for by Trump allies, after he advised her to withhold damaging information from the Jan. 6 committee by saying she didn’t remember.

“We just want to focus on protecting the President,” Passantino told her at one point, Hutchinson would later tell congressional investigators. “We all know you’re loyal.”

The last straw, she said, was when Passantino advised her to stop cooperating with the Jan. 6 committee altogether – even if it meant facing contempt of Congress charges and a possible prison term.

“Contempt is a small risk, but running to the right is better for you,” she quoted Passantino as saying. “I took that as FOX News, Trump world, Republicans.”

More: Big question for Jan. 6 committee: Did Trump aide Mark Meadows help stop – or fuel – the insurrection?

On Thursday, the committee released those and other damning details from its extraordinary two days of closed-door interviews with Hutchinson in September, 10 weeks after she went public with her bombshell accusations about Trump and her former boss, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, in an open committee hearing

Jan. 6 report released Thursday

The committee also released transcripts from interviews with dozens of other witnesses and, late Thursday night, its final report on Jan. 6. The report, which is over 800 pages long, asserted that Trump engaged in a criminal “multi-part conspiracy” to overturn the lawful results of the 2020 presidential election and failed to act to stop his riled-up supporters from attacking the Capitol.

Days earlier, the committee voted to ask the Justice Department to file criminal charges against Trump for allegedly trying to subvert the 2020 election results so he could stay in power despite losing the election to his Democratic rival Joe Biden.

Passantino said he represented Hutchinson ‘honorably’

Passantino did not respond to messages left for him seeking comment Thursday. But he has denied acting inappropriately, issuing a statement saying that he never advised Hutchinson to mislead the committee. “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.”

But the details from Hutchinson’s testimony portray a former White House official terrified of what Trump loyalists might do to her if she testified truthfully about potentially incriminating events surrounding the Jan. 6 insurrection and other Trump efforts to subvert democracy after losing the election. 

She stressed that Passantino never told her to lie outright, but rather to not volunteer specific information even if it was relevant to what the committee was asking.

“And it wasn’t just that I had Stefan sitting next to me; it was almost like I felt like I had Trump looking over my shoulder. Because I knew in some fashion it would get back to him if I said anything that he would find disloyal,” Hutchinson said about her committee testimony. “And the prospect of that genuinely scared me. You know, I’d seen this world ruin people’s lives or try to ruin people’s careers. I’d seen how vicious they can be.”

More: Jan. 6 committee postpones release of final report on Capitol attack, Trump

Hutchinson asked family for help to avoid Trump-aligned lawyers

Hutchinson told committee members on Sept. 14 she interviewed dozens of independent lawyers after being subpoenaed but couldn’t afford the required legal retainers of $125,000 or more. In desperation, she asked for help from her family.

Besides her mother, Hutchinson testified, she talked to an aunt and uncle, who she had not spoken to in years about refinancing their house to free up money so she didn’t have to ask “Trump world” for legal representation.

“They understood why I didn’t want to,” she told the committee.

Growing ever more desperate, she drove to New Jersey to talk to her father for help despite not having any kind of relationship with him. “Name your interest rate,” she said, promising to pay him back whatever the cost.

And I remember saying to him, “You have no idea what they’re going to do to me if I have to get an attorney with Trump world,” she recalled.

‘The less you remember, the better’

When family members were unable to help, she said, Hutchinson was steered to Passantino by former White House colleagues either working for Trump or part of his broad support network. When she asked who was paying the bill, Passantino told her he couldn’t discuss it.

The detail-oriented Hutchinson wanted to print out her work calendars and take other steps to prepare a detailed timeline of events so she’d be prepared for questions from the committee about key dates and conversations. He said no, she testified.

“Look, we want to get you in, get you out,” Hutchinson quoted Passantino as saying. “We’re going to downplay your role. You were a secretary. … But the less you remember, the better.”

Hutchinson advised not to tell Jan. 6 committee about Trump allegedly lunging for Secret Service

Hutchinson told Passantino about the now infamous episode in which Trump allegedly tried to “wrap his hands around” his Secret Service agent’s neck on Jan. 6 because he wouldn’t drive him to the Capitol to accompany the mob that he’d sent there during his speech at a rally earlier in the day.

“No, no, no, no, no. We don’t want to go there. We don’t want to talk about that,” she quoted Passantino as telling her.

“And I said, “But if I do remember things but not every little detail, and I say I don’t recall, wouldn’t I be perjuring myself?” Hutchinson told the committee in her closed-door interview. His legal advice, she said, was that, “’I don’t recall’ is the best answer to any of that.”

Mark Meadows aide called Hutchinson before testimony

On another occasion, on the eve of her committee testimony, Hutchinson got a call from Ben Williamson, a former White House colleague who was close to Meadows. “And he said something to the effect of, ‘Well, Mark wants me to let you know that he knows you’re loyal and he knows you’ll do the right thing tomorrow and that you’re going to protect him and the boss,'” she quoted Williamson as saying. “You know, he knows that we’re all on the same team and we’re all a family.”

Williamson did not return USA TODAY requests for comment Thursday. 

Watergate book inspired Hutchinson to testify

By April, Hutchinson was trying to break free of “Trump world” influence. She read up on the Watergate scandal of the 1970s, and drew strength from the young Richard Nixon loyalist, Alexander Butterfield, who became a key witness against him, she said.

Hutchinson also drove to the house of former White House colleague Alyssa Farah and told her how she wanted to provide more information to the committee without Passantino – and “Trump world” – finding out about it. Farah, according to Hutchinson, agreed to serve as a back channel to the committee to provide it with the right questions to ask when Hutchinson returned.

Hutchinson then got new and independent lawyers, including Jody Hunt from the prestigious Alston & Bird law firm, and testified publicly in June. She delivered one bombshell after another, including her account of what happened in the presidential motorcade on Jan. 6, 2021. She returned in September to discuss the pressure campaign she said was directed at her.

And Hutchinson said she has also shared that information, including about Passantino’s representation of her, with the Justice Department, which is conducting its own investigation.

“I’m not sitting here trying to make myself out to be some hero,” she testified. She said she knew she initially had “handled some things wrong in the first interview” by not being completely forthcoming because of the advice of her lawyer.

“So the question for me became, where do my loyalties lie?” she told the committee.  “And I knew where they were but wasn’t equipped with people that allowed me and empowered me to be loyal to the country and to be loyal to the truth.”

More: A breakdown of the 187 minutes Trump was out of view on Jan. 6 as aides urged him to act

Many Jan. 6 transcripts still sealed

The committee posted files Wednesday on 34 witnesses interviewed during the investigation, an initial signal of how much information the panel will be passing along to the Justice Department for its criminal investigation.

But the release was scant so far. Thirteen of the files, dealing with people such as Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis and broadcaster Alex Jones, remain sealed. The rest, featuring witnesses such as former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Trump lawyer John Eastman and former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, reveal very little because the witnesses refused to answer substantive questions by invoking their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

But the transcripts offered some clues about the committee investigation and where the criminal probe might lead.

Nick Fuentes’ lawyer said he was ‘subject and possibly a target’ of an investigation

Tom Durkin, a lawyer for Nick Fuentes, the white nationalist internet streamer who recently dined with Trump at Mar-a-Lago, said in February Fuentes was “a subject and possibly a target” of an investigation by the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.

More than 1,000 witnesses cooperated with the committee. The chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., told MSNBC on Wednesday the committee tracked down witnesses such as fake electors the department hadn’t found yet.

Questions about fake elector scheme went unanswered

Nevada GOP chair Michael McDonald and national committeeman Jim DeGraffenreid, each refused in February testimony to answer questions about whether they signed fake certificates pledging Nevada electoral votes to Trump.

In one set of questions, an investigator asked McDonald about a Nov. 4, 2020, text to someone named Steve: “Was on the phone to President, Mark Meadows, Giuliani, and they want full attack mode.”

Two Michiganders – Kathy Berden, a GOP national committeewoman, and Mayra Rodriguez – also declined to answer most substantive questions from the committee about a plot to subvert the election results.

Parler CEO questioned by Jan. 6 committee

In another vein, John Matze, a co-founder and former CEO of the alternative social media platform Parler, faced questions about efforts to moderate violent rhetoric before and after the riot. Before Jan. 6, 2021, one employee sent an unspecified Parler post to the FBI along with the message, “More where this came from. Concerned about Wednesday.”

Matze also declined to answer questions about the presence of extremist groups such as the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and Three Percenters on the social media platform.