Jan. 6 witness recounts pressure campaign from Trump allies

Capitol Riots

A video of former aide to White House Chief of State Mark Meadows, Cassidy Hutchinson is shown on a screen, as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds its final meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson described to the House Jan. 6 committee a wide-ranging pressure campaign from Donald Trump’s allies aimed at influencing her cooperation with Congress and stifling potentially damaging testimony about him.

In extraordinary closed-door testimony made public Thursday, Hutchinson recounted how those in the former president’s circle dangled job opportunities and financial assistance as she was cooperating with the committee investigating the Capitol riot and how her own lawyer — a former ethics counsel in the Trump White House — advised her against being fully forthcoming with lawmakers and told her “the less you remember, the better.”

The nine-member committee released two never-before-seen transcripts of Hutchinson’s testimony as it tries to wrap up its investigation and make its work public. The committee, which will dissolve when Republicans take over the House on Jan. 3, was also expected to release its final report Thursday.

The transcripts provide previously unknown details about what Hutchinson called the “moral struggle” — torn between the desire to speak the truth and to remain loyal to Trump — that she says she endured on the way to becoming one of the most memorable witnesses of the committee’s investigation.

In a televised hearing in June, Hutchinson went public about Trump’s actions on Jan. 6, 2021. She described his directive that magnetometers be removed from a rally of his supporters that day and detailed his angry — and ultimately rebuffed — demands to be taken by the Secret Service to the Capitol to join the crowd trying to disrupt the congressional certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s election as president.

“In my mind this whole time I felt this moral struggle,” she said, according to the transcripts. She described a first interview with the committee in which she concealed testimony about Trump that, months later, she would deliver to a rapt hearing room.

Looking back now, she added, “It feels ridiculous, because in my heart I knew where my loyalties lied, and my loyalties lied with the truth. And I never wanted to diverge from that. You know, I never wanted or thought that I would be the witness that I have become, because I thought that more people would be willing to speak out too.”

But to hear her tell it, that testimony was never a sure thing.

Like other aides whose proximity to Trump entangled them in investigations, Hutchinson scrambled to find a lawyer after receiving a subpoena from the committee last year. Former White House officials and Trump allies worked to line up a lawyer for her despite her own discomfort at being represented by someone in “Trump world” — an affiliation she feared would make her “indebted to these people.”

She said she was contacted in February by Stefan Passantino, a former White House ethics counsel, who told her he would be her lawyer. He said she would not have to pay for his services but demurred when she asked from where the money was coming. She later learned that it was from Trump allies.

“If you want to know at the end, we’ll let you know,” she described him as saying, “but we’re not telling people where funding is coming from right now. Don’t worry, we’re taking care of you. Like, you’re never going to get a bill for this, so if that’s what you’re worried about.”

As Hutchinson prepared for her first interview with the committee later that month, she said Passantino advised her to “keep your answers short, sweet, and simple, seven words or less. The less the committee thinks you know, the better, the quicker it’s going to go.”

She said that when she mentioned to him having heard about an angry outburst by Trump in which he lashed out inside the presidential vehicle at Secret Service agents over their refusal to take him to the Capitol, Passantino counseled her not to delve into that account with the committee.

“No, no, no, no, no. We don’t want to go there. We don’t want to talk about that,” she described him as saying.

Passantino, in his own statement, said that he had “represented Ms. Hutchinson honorably, ethically, and fully consistent with her sole interests as she communicated them to me.”

All the while, Hutchinson told the committee, other Trump advisers appeared to be taking a keen interest in her cooperation, as well as her financial situation and job status. She said two other lawyers allied with Trump offered in May to front her money as they tried to help her find a job and offered her a job on a campaign out West. Other Trump allies reached out with potential job opportunities.

She said Ben Williamson, a friend and an aide to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, had spoken with her the night before the second interview with the committee and told her: “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. You know, he knows that we’re all on the same team and we’re all a family.”

Williamson declined to comment Thursday.

During her first interview, she said, the committee asked Hutchinson repeatedly whether she knew anything about a kerfuffle inside the presidential SUV known as the “Beast.” She was nervous and froze and said she knew nothing about it.

But that wasn’t true.

During a break in the interview, a distressed Hutchinson told Passantino that “I’m (expletive). I just lied.” She said Passantino did not encourage her to correct the record, instead telling her, “They don’t know what you know, Cassidy. They don’t know that you can recall some of these things. So you saying ‘I don’t recall’ is an entirely acceptable response to this.”

In his statement, Passantino said he believed “Hutchinson was being truthful and cooperative with the Committee throughout the several interview sessions in which I represented her.”

By April, though, Hutchinson said she had resolved to break from the constraints of “Trump world.” She did internet research on the Watergate saga, finding resonance in the story of Alexander Butterfield, the young Richard Nixon loyalist who became a key witness against him.

She drove to the house of Alyssa Farah, a former White House official who had had her own public split from the Trump administration, and asked her to serve as a back channel to the committee because she still had more she wanted to say.

She testified publicly in June — this time accompanied by a new lawyer — and in one of the more dramatic moments of the committee’s hearings. She said she had been told that Trump had actually tried to lunge at the agent driving the SUV that took him back to the White House on Jan. 6.

Last September, she returned to the committee and privately recounted the pressure campaign. The information has also been shared with the Justice Department, where Jack Smith, a special counsel named by Attorney General Merrick Garland, is now conducting an investigation.

“I’m not sitting here trying to make myself out to be some hero. I know I handled things wrong. At least, I think I handled some things wrong in the first interview,” she said in the interview. “You know, I hate that I had this moral struggle, because it shouldn’t have existed.”

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Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick, Farnoush Amiri and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

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