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Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Sarah D. Wire

Star Jan. 6 witness told committee that lawyer linked to Trump tried to silence her

WASHINGTON — The Trump-aligned lawyer who initially represented former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson instructed her to downplay her knowledge of what happened during the Capitol insurrection, Hutchinson told the Jan. 6 committee in testimony made public Thursday.

"We're going to downplay your role," attorney Stefan Passantino told Hutchinson, according to her testimony. "You were a secretary ... the less you remember, the better."

The details of the apparent Trumpworld pressure campaign on one of the committee's key witnesses were among a number of revelations in a handful of deposition transcripts the committee made public Thursday. The panel's final report, the closing salvo of its 18-month-long investigation, has not yet been released.

Hutchinson parted ways with Passantino after several spring 2021 appearances before the committee in which she felt she was giving untruthful or incomplete answers, she said. After switching attorneys, she provided some of the most dramatic live testimony of the panel's nine hearings this year.

According to Hutchinson, Passantino did not want her to tell the committee that former President Donald Trump had lunged at his security detail when they refused to take him to the Capitol during the riot on Jan. 6, 2021.

Hutchinson felt she had no other option but to retain the Trump-aligned lawyer because she couldn't afford to pay the high costs of other attorneys she contacted while seeking representation, she told the committee in two days of depositions in September. Passantino would not tell her who was paying for his legal services, Hutchinson told the committee, and she soon became leery, suspecting he was more concerned about Trump and other high-ranking former White House officials than he was about her.

"'I am completely indebted to these people,'" she recalled telling her mother. "I was like, 'And they will ruin my life, Mom, if I do anything that they don't want me to do.'"

Passantino encouraged her to downplay her role as one of White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows' most trusted aides, she said, and urged her to answer questions with the phrase "I cannot recall" even when she had clear memories of what had happened.

Hutchinson said Passantino and others in Trump's orbit, including Meadows through an intermediary, kept reminding her to be "loyal" and repeatedly spoke of finding her a well-paying job after her interviews with the committee.

"'We just want to focus on protecting the president. We all know you're loyal,'" Hutchinson said Passantino told her.

In a statement first reported by CNN, Passantino said he represented Hutchinson, as he had other clients, "honorably, ethically, and fully consistent with her sole interests as she communicated them to me."

Also released Thursday were transcripts of the committee's interviews with Chris Krebs, former director of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency; convicted Jan. 6 rioter Stephen Ayres; former Defense Secretary Mark Esper; Justice Department employee Ken Klukowski; and Sarah Matthews, former deputy White House press secretary.

Klukowski, who transcripts show told the committee he could not recall the answers to most of their questions, has connections to some of the most influential players in the effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

In his June 10, 2022, deposition, Klukowski confirmed that he had worked for the Trump campaign in the weeks before he joined the Justice Department on Dec. 15, 2020. While working for the campaign, Klukowski worked with conservative California lawyer John Eastman, who was behind the theory that the vice president could reject states' electors or send results back to the states for more consideration.

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said in a June 23 hearing that Klukowski helped Jeffrey Clark, head of the Justice Department's civil division, draft a letter that Clark wanted agency leaders to send to lawmakers in Georgia and other states. The letter claimed, falsely, that the Justice Department believed there were problems with those states' elections and urged them to consider overriding the certified results that showed Trump had lost to current President Joe Biden.

Trump would later attempt to make Clark acting attorney general when Justice Department leaders refused to issue the letter.

Trump and his allies needed state lawmakers to consider overturning their election results, or for Vice President Mike Pence to throw out certain state electors, in order to keep Trump in power.

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