The White House aide who testified that former President Donald Trump had an angry outburst at his security detail on Jan. 6, 2021 was urged in advance not to bring up the episode by a lawyer linked to the then-president’s legal team.
Cassidy Hutchinson recalled in closed-door questioning by the House Jan. 6 committee released on Thursday that Stefan Passantino, a former Trump White House ethics lawyer, advised her to claim she could not recall details of the episode.
Hutchinson, an aide to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, was a star witness in the committee’s televised hearings over the summer. In the transcripts, she testified that Passantino and other Trump allies floated potential job offers amid her appearances for depositions, which she saw as efforts to keep her loyal. She also described a number of encounters with various White House associates giving her unsolicited advice on dealing with the committee.
In one exchange, she said that Ben Williamson, a top aide to Meadows, told her that Meadows, along with Williamson’s attorney, had told him that “I don’t recall” is an acceptable answer to give the committee because the committee doesn’t know what you can and can’t recall. Reached by phone Thursday, Williamson said he had no comment.
But the most controversial part of Hutchinson’s testimony was about how she was told Trump reacted angrily when his security detail refused to take him to the Capitol on Jan. 6. The incident came after Trump had just delivered a fiery address urging his followers to march on the building as Congress prepared to certify the victory of Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.
Hutchinson told Passantino she heard from Tony Ornato, a long-time Secret Service agent who was working at the time as deputy chief of staff to Trump, that the former president had lunged for the steering wheel of the SUV he was in, and had even tried to wrap his hands around the neck of of one agent.
Hutchinson testified that Passantino told her, “No, no, no, no. We don’t want to go there. We don’t want to talk about that.”
She said she asked “what if they do ask me about that?”
“They have no way of knowing that. Nobody ever would,” he said.
“I said, ‘But if I do recall something, but not every detail, Stefan, can I still say I don’t recall?”
“And he had said, ‘Yes.’” Hutchinson told the committee, on Sept. 14.
Trump, in a social media post during the hearing, denied the incident took place. Ornato told the panel he didn’t remember the conversation.
But the panel asserted in the summary of its 17-month investigation that it “has significant concerns about the credibility” of Ornato’s testimony.
Hutchinson said Passantino advised her not to engage with the panel again unless there were a second subpoena of her, offering, “Trump world will not continue paying your legal bills if you don’t have that second subpoena.”
Hutchinson said that while she had had strong suspicions, Passantino had never given any indications until that night that the funding for her legal representation “was coming from Trump world.”
Hutchinson also testified that Passantino and other Trump allies floated potential job offers amid her appearances for depositions, which she saw as efforts to keep her loyal.
“We’re gonna get you a really good job in Trump world,” she testified that Passantino told her in one exchange. “You don’t need to apply to other places. We’re gonna get you taken care of. We want to keep you in the family.”
She later replaced Passantino with lawyers from Alston & Bird, including former Trump Justice Department official Joseph “Jody” Hunt.
Passantino has taken a leave of absence from law firm Michael Best & Friedrich “given the distraction of this matter,” he said Wednesday in a email.
“I represented Ms. Hutchinson honorably, ethically, and fully consistent with her sole interests as she communicated them to me,” Passantino said. “I believed Ms. Hutchinson was being truthful and cooperative with the committee throughout the several interview sessions in which I represented her.”
(Bloomberg News writers Zoe Tillman and Justin Wise contributed to this article.)