I don’t know if this is a disaster for Cassidy Hutchinson’s credibility. But, assuming these reports are accurate, it’s a disaster for the January 6 committee.
Maybe a major one.
🚨 A source close to the Secret Service tells me both Bobby Engel, the lead agent, and the presidential limousine/SUV driver are prepared to testify under oath that neither man was assaulted and that Mr. Trump never lunged for the steering wheel.
— Peter Alexander (@PeterAlexander) June 28, 2022
A USSS source confirms to me that Engel and driver are willing to give the testimony @PeterAlexander details below.
The source has not responded to whether Tony Ornato would give the same testimony.
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) June 28, 2022
Hutchinson didn’t claim to have witnessed the SUV incident firsthand. She said that after she arrived back at the White House on January 6, deputy chief of staff Tony Ornato described to her what had happened. Supposedly Trump was furious that his Secret Service driver wouldn’t take him to the Capitol after the rally ended and ended up trying to jerk the wheel of the SUV they were riding in out of frustration. At that point, Robert Engel, the Secret Service officer assigned to protect Trump, tried to intervene. Trump supposedly responded by lunging at Engel.
Cassidy Hutchinson testifies that she was told that as then-President Donald Trump was being driven back to the White House after the Jan. 6 rally that he demanded to be taken to the Capitol and tried to grab the steering wheel from a Secret Service agent. https://t.co/JefVhEsY0b pic.twitter.com/uUyQcnSlLG
— The Associated Press (@AP) June 28, 2022
Did Hutchinson tell the truth? Maybe. It all depends on what Tony Ornato has to say.
Her lawyer tweeted tonight that the testimony she gave was accurate. Ornato told her something and she accurately relayed what he had told her to the committee:
Ms. Hutchinson testified, under oath, and recounted what she was told. Those with knowledge of the episode also should testify under oath. https://t.co/F69nuMH5oy
— Jody Hunt (@realJodyHunt) June 28, 2022
I noted in this afternoon’s post that the January 6 committee has already interviewed Engel. Maggie Haberman reports that they interviewed Ornato too, many months ago. I assumed they had already corroborated the details of the SUV incident with the two of them and were having Hutchinson tell her story today in anticipation of Engel and Ornato telling it themselves in future testimony. Otherwise, why the hell would they have Hutchinson pass on a story second-hand on national television which might not bear out under scrutiny, causing it to blow up in their faces?
I assumed too much, it seems. And as others have noted, it *is* strange that this explosive account of what happened in the vehicle never once leaked in 17 months before today.
Much depends on Ornato now. If he testifies that he told Hutchinson about the SUV incident but got his facts wrong somehow — maybe he heard a rumor second-hand himself and irresponsibly passed it along — then Hutchinson’s credibility is intact. It’s the committee’s credibility that will be badly damaged, having allowed a witness to share a bombshell allegation that they hadn’t personally corroborated. That would be a disaster, but not a major disaster inasmuch as the SUV incident wasn’t the important testimony that Hutchinson gave today. The important stuff was when she claimed to have heard firsthand Trump say backstage at the January 6 rally that he didn’t care if his supporters were bringing weapons to the rally because he knew they weren’t meant for him.
That detail could be critical if the DOJ or Washington D.C. is thinking of prosecuting Trump for incitement or seditious conspiracy. If he knew that his fans were spoiling for violence and riled them up anyway, he’s in dangerous territory legally.
Again, Hutchinson claims she heard him acknowledge that they were carrying weapons with her own ears:
Cassidy Hutchinson: "I overheard the president say something to the effect of, 'I don't effing care that they have weapons. They're not here to hurt me. Take the effing mags away. Let my people in, they can march to the Capitol from here.'" pic.twitter.com/42RRdO7dNh
— CSPAN (@cspan) June 28, 2022
If Ornato says, “Yeah, Cassidy told the truth about what I told her about the SUV but I screwed up and got it wrong” then her credibility isn’t ruined. We can still believe that she overheard Trump mention the weapons.
But if Ornato calls her an outright liar? Major disaster. Not just a legal disaster, in that a key witness to potential criminal charges for Trump will have suddenly been blown up, but a political disaster for the committee. It’s unconscionable that they would put a witness on television to make an allegation that shocking without having run it down first. Republicans will say that if they couldn’t — or wouldn’t — separate fact from fiction with the SUV incident, there’s no reason to believe they did so in other aspects of the investigation.
Bear one thing in mind about Hutchinson, though: She has no reason to lie. She’s already facing “credible security threats” for having provided closed-door testimony to the committee. She made a mortal enemy today in Donald Trump, who owns the party of which she’s a member and whose political heirs will own it for years to come. If she invented the SUV story, multiple witnesses in the figures of Engel, Ornato, and the driver are standing by to testify that she’s a liar — and in that case, she’ll have made enemies of anti-Trumpers too by damaging the credibility of the committee. She’s all of 24 years old, with her entire career in politics in front of her, and she’s already anathema to the Republican Party forever.
That’s a lot to sacrifice for the privilege of lying on TV.
Occam’s Razor: She told the truth and got bad information from Ornato. Or, more sinisterly, she got accurate information from Ornato but Engel and the driver now feel obliged to call her a liar for reasons unknown.
I’ll leave you with Jake Tapper grilling committee member Jamie Raskin this afternoon about Hutchinson’s SUV story. Did you corroborate it with other witnesses, Tapper asks? Raskin is evasive. The best he can do is say that nothing he’s aware of contradicts what Hutchinson said, which is … not corroboration. On the other hand, watch the AP clip up above and you’ll find Liz Cheney pressing Hutchinson towards the end about whether Engel was present when Ornato told her about the SUV incident. He was, she says, and he didn’t correct Ornato. That makes me think Cheney had reason to know that Engel might end up denying that anything had happened. And if so, I hope she has evidence that’ll prove Hutchinson, not Engel, is telling the truth. Otherwise I can’t understand why, given the stakes, she’d let a he said/she said like this one end up on television.
CNN’s @jaketapper asks @RepRaskin about corroborating the shocking story, told by ex-aide of Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, about Trump’s physical attack on Secret Service detail to drive to the US Capitol on January 6. pic.twitter.com/z2ul9WvFcc
— CNN (@CNN) June 28, 2022