WASHINGTON — Republicans and other sources refute elements of former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony before the Jan. 6 committee, handing Donald Trump and his allies ammunition as they attempt to discredit her and portray her as a unreliable witness.
Hutchinson’s report Tuesday of a dramatic physical altercation between Trump and his top security official on Jan. 6 has come under intense scrutiny after sources told NBC News that two witnesses were willing to testify under oath that it never happened.
“Mrs. Hutchinson stands by all the testimony she gave under oath yesterday to the Select Committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the United States Capitol,” her attorneys said in a statement.
The Jan. 6 commission continued to maintain that they found Hutchinson’s testimony credible and invited those who wished to dispute her to come forward and give sworn testimony. And former White House colleagues came to Hutchinson’s defense and said she would have been close to the president and familiar with the kind of information she testified about.
Separately, Eric Herschmann, a former Trump White House attorney who has given damning testimony about Trump’s plot to undo the election, now says he wrote a handwritten note as the violence unfolded in the Capitol — not Hutchinson , as she testified.
“Anyone entering the Capitol without proper authority must leave immediately,” read the note, written on Chief of Staff Mark Meadows’ stationery and intended to be released by Trump when rioters stormed the Capitol.
“The handwritten note that Cassidy Hutchinson testified was written by her and was in fact written by Eric Herschmann on Jan. 6, 2021,” a Herschmann spokesperson said. “All sources of direct knowledge and law enforcement officials have and will confirm that it was written by Mr. Herschmann.”
Hutchinson, who had served as Meadows’ top assistant, testified publicly that she was sure she had written the note and that her handwriting was on it.
Taken together, the two discrepancies have tarnished Hutchinson’s credibility when Trump discredited her in a series of posts on his social media platform, Truth Social.
Before Herschmann’s statement, Trump also criticized the handwriting on the note as “that of a Whacko”.
But portions of Hutchinson’s testimony regarding Trump’s car ride back to the White House after his Jan. 6 rally at the Ellipse have been validated by others. A person close to the Secret Service said that “there are very important pieces of testimony out there that” [agency officials] have no problem with it. … We don’t want to lose the forest for the trees.”
Trump did indeed want to go to the Capitol after the rally and was banned from doing so by the Secret Service: “He wasn’t happy to hear that, but there was no escalation of any kind of attack on it,” said this person.
Hutchinson testified that she did not directly witness the alleged altercation and it was clear her knowledge was second hand. Instead, she told the panel that after Trump’s “Stop the Steal” meeting on Jan. 6, she returned to the White House where Deputy Chief of Staff Tony Ornato passed on an account of Bobby Engel, Trump’s chief of security, who is also in the room wash .
Ornato told her Trump believed he would go to the Capitol after his speech, Hutchinson said. For security reasons, Trump was told no. At that point, Trump, in a fit of rage, tried to grab the wheel of the armored presidential SUV and then reached for Engel’s “collarbones,” she said, Ornato told her.
She said Engel, who listened as Ornato told the story, didn’t dispute anything. Trump allies have dismissed Hutchinson’s account as rumours.
The committee has chosen its words carefully amid opposition to Hutchinson’s shocking account of the confrontation in Trump’s vehicle. In a prepared statement, a committee member said the panel found her testimony “credible.”
The commission has no first-hand testimony to corroborate its story.
The person close to the Secret Service insists the altercation did not take place and suggested Engel and the driver say so under oath.
Committee members have already received closed-door testimony from both Ornato and Engel. It is not known whether they were directly asked about Trump’s car ride. The committee may have the opportunity to question Engel, along with the driver, at a future public hearing; the secret service will allow them to testify.
“The Secret Service has been fully cooperating with the select committee since its inception in the spring of 2021, and we will continue to do so by formally and officially responding to the committee regarding new allegations raised in yesterday’s testimony.” the agency said. in a statement.
The dispute over Hutchinson’s testimony has given Trump supporters an opening to try to discredit her as a witness. Her appearance included other revelations that could potentially be more damaging and cause trouble for Trump as he appears to be gearing up for another presidential campaign.
For example, Hutchinson testified that Trump knew some of the people attending his rally had guns, but he still urged them to march to the Capitol, where Congress met to confirm Joe Biden’s victory. That testimony was based on her first-hand experience, after hearing him say that there was no one in the crowd to hurt him.
Trump tried to cast her as a nobody in the White House: “I hardly knew who she was,” he said on his social media site.
Still, a former Trump aide who was familiar with Hutchinson’s work and her relationships with top White House officials said she would have been able to participate in many of the conversations she described to the Jan. 6 panel. .
“It’s 100% believable that she would be part of those conversations and witness these things,” the former White House staffer told NBC News.
“Knowing how closely she followed Meadows, he really made her come to every trip. She was always on Air Force One, always on the hill, at every meeting.”
The person also characterized Hutchinson as having a close working relationship with Ornato.
Another White House employee who worked with her in the West Wing characterized Hutchinson as “the doorman for Meadows.”
“She was not a low-level assistant. She was strapped to Mark Meadows’ hip,” said Olivia Troye, a national security officer for Vice President Mike Pence who has criticized Trump. “I commend her courage; I know what she’s dealing with.
“Donald Trump is probably attacking her credibility, claiming he doesn’t know her. But anyone who has worked in the West Wing knows she was a vital part of the operation. You can’t discredit that.”