Former White House aide says Trump figures sought to influence her testimony

Former White House aide says Trump figures sought to influence her testimony

Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified to the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol that she was advised by her first lawyer to deliberately withhold information from investigators and was wooed with job offers and promises of financial stability in exchange for her loyalty to former president Donald Trump.

The claims – which, if true, amount to possible witness tampering – were detailed at length by Hutchinson in interview transcripts that the committee released on Thursday.

Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testifies about Donald Trump’s behaviour at the hearing.Credit:AP

In her testimony, Hutchinson accuses her first lawyer, former Trump White House ethics counsel Stefan Passantino, of coaching her to tell committee investigators during her interviews that she did not recall certain things. She said he also discouraged her from jogging her memory or even bringing notes to her interviews that investigators could then collect.

“The less you remember, the better,” Hutchinson recalled Passantino telling her. “Don’t read anything to try to jog your memory. Don’t try to put together timelines … Especially if you put together timelines, we have to give those over to the committee.”

In addition to her own lawyer, Hutchinson claimed that Trump’s former campaign lawyer, chief of staff, White House lawyers and other close confidants to the former president showered her with praise and promised that her loyalty would be rewarded.

“We’re gonna get you a really good job in Trump world,” Hutchinson said Passantino told her in one phone call days ahead of her scheduled testimony. “You don’t need to apply other places. We’re gonna get you taken care of. We want to keep you in the family.”

The committee released the transcript of Hutchinson’s September testimony Thursday amid a final flurry of activity this week that also included multiple criminal referrals Monday, and the expected release of an 800-plus-page report on the committee’s investigation.

Hutchinson, a former junior aide, was the star witness from the committee’s series of summer hearings, offering the public an inside perspective on events at the White House as Trump fought to overturn his 2020 defeat. The committee has said it stands behind her testimony, though some of her most explosive claims have remained uncorroborated or have been disputed by others involved.

Passantino denied any wrongdoing in a statement provided to The Washington Post. He has not been questioned by the committee, people familiar with the matter said, and has privately told colleagues he has done nothing wrong.

“As with all my clients during my 30 years of practice, I represented Ms Hutchinson honourably, ethically, and fully consistent with her sole interests as she communicated them to me. I believed Ms Hutchinson was being truthful and cooperative with the Committee throughout the several interview sessions in which I represented her,” Passantino said in a statement.

He added that he would be taking a leave of absence from one of his law firms, Michael Best & Friedrich, “given the distraction of this matter.” The firm, he said, “was not involved in the representation of Ms Hutchinson.”

Hutchinson told investigators that Passantino repeatedly declined to disclose to her that he was being paid to represent her by Trump’s allies. He dangled lucrative job prospects within Trump’s orbit that were pulled from her once it became public that Hutchinson was cooperating with investigators, she testified.

In her September testimony, Hutchinson described struggling with the opposing forces at play: her belief that she did not tell the truth in her first two interviews – which had been conducted in February and March – versus her fear of the repercussions that would ensue from what she called “Trump world” if she testified more candidly.

“It wasn’t just that I had Stefan sitting next to me; it was almost like I felt like I had Trump looking over my shoulder,” Hutchinson testified. “Because I knew in some fashion it would get back to him if I said anything he would find disloyal. And the prospect of that genuinely scared me. You know, I’d seen this world ruin people’s lives or try to ruin people’s careers.”

She said she started hearing from multiple people in Trump’s orbit about potential employment opportunities soon after Passantino started representing her. Those communications escalated on the eve of her March 7 interview with the committee, Hutchinson testified.

Donald Trump incited the Capitol riot, the panel concluded.Credit:AP

Hutchinson said she received texts from Justin Clark, a former Trump campaign lawyer, on 10 days in March, beginning four days ahead of her scheduled testimony. She also testified that Jason Miller, another Trump loyalist and chief executive of the social media platform GETTR, arranged a job interview for her with one of his executives there on March 8 – the day after one of her committee interviews.

She recalled that the executive, former Trump campaign operative Kaelan Dorr, said to her on March 8: “Jason’s told me great things about you. We’re looking for somebody that fits exactly what he says you are.”

Other high-profile allies in Trump’s orbit found their way to Hutchinson’s inbox in the weeks and months ahead of her interviews with committee investigators and lawmakers, she said.

Clark and Eric Hershmann, a Trump White House lawyer, all periodically checked in. Pam Bondi, Florida’s former attorney general, even let Hutchinson know one night in March that she had been the topic of conversation during a dinner with Trump himself in which a job working with a Republican heavyweight was discussed.

Hutchinson testified: “Pam texted me that night and said something to the effect of: ‘Susie, Matt Schlapp, and I had dinner with POTUS at Mar-a-Lago tonight. Call Matt next week. He has a job for you that we all think you’d be great at – that you all – we all think you would be great in. You are the best. Keep up the good work. Love and miss you.’”

Neither Bondi nor Schlapp responded to requests for comment.

Ben Williamson, a former White House aide who was still working for Hutchinson’s former boss, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, reached out to Hutchinson the night before her second scheduled interview with the committee with a friendly reminder.

“He said something to the effect of: ‘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,’” Hutchinson testified.

Williamson did not immediately offer a comment.

Hutchinson said her doubts about her testimony grew after April 22, when the committee made portions of it public in a legal filing against Meadows.

She told Passantino about her misgivings, she said, and he assured her that her testimony was fine – and that “the boss,” meaning Trump, was not unhappy about it.

“I would have heard if he was mad about anything discussed in yours, but it’s just a good reminder that the boss does read transcripts,” Hutchinson recalled Passantino telling her. “And we want to make sure that, like, whatever he’s reading isn’t going to put you in a bad situation.”

Hutchinson recalled that it was just a few days after that, however, when Miller called her to tell her the GETTR job offer was “done.”

Shortly thereafter, on April 26, Hutchinson sought out a trusted ally to help.

That day, she visited Alyssa Farah, a former aide to Trump who had successfully broken her allegiance to Trump-world. Hutchinson confided that she had been withholding information from the committee at the behest of Passantino, according to her testimony.

In Hutchinson’s retelling, Farah then served as a backchannel to the committee, making clear that Hutchinson had more information to provide about Trump’s conduct on Jan. 6, among other things, and offering possible questions she should be asked.

During her third interview with the committee three weeks later – after Passantino teased an imminent job offer from Red Curve Solutions, the firm that acts as a treasurer for Trump’s PAC, along with other Republican committees – Hutchinson responded to questions she had fed to the committee through Farah, seemingly shocking Passantino.

During a break in the interview, she recalled, Passantino pressed her: “How do they have all of this? How do they know that you know all of this?”

Hutchinson tried to maintain plausible deniability, replying to him: “Stefan, I have no idea, but it sounds like someone’s talking.”

His response, she said, was: “But no one’s talking about any of this stuff, Cassidy. Like as far as I know, nobody’s talked about any of this. I know people that would be privy to all of this. . . . How do they know that you know any of this?”

“Maybe,” she responded, “your sources aren’t that great.”

After the interview, she turned to a committee staff member and remarked, “I’m about to be f—ing nuked.”

“I’m really sorry,” the staffer replied.

Hutchinson told the committee that following her appearance, Passantino frantically sought to alert lawyers for Meadows and others about what the committee knew. He placed calls from outside Hank’s Oyster Bar on the Wharf in Washington as she remained inside the restaurant and “downed my old fashioned and had another one,” as she recounted.

After the May 17 interview, the cost of Hutchinson’s cooperation – and her betrayal of Trump – started to sink in, she said.

Hutchinson said she strongly objected to Passantino alerting George Terwilliger and John Moran, lawyers for Meadows, to what she was asked and what she said in her May interview with the committee.

But Passantino told her that if he didn’t relay the information – and it presumably would leak out soon – that Meadows would think she was a witness against him. He said he wanted to protect her from having a “target” on her back.

“While it is not unusual or improper for lawyers with common interest to speak to each other, in this case, because of the committee members and staff constant overreaching to find fault with our client, we studiously avoided those types of contacts,” said Terwilliger, Meadows’ attorney. “One of our partners may have had a conversation in passing with Mr. Passantino, but it was of no substantive importance to anyone.”

On May 24, one week after the interview before the committee, Red Curve Solutions notified her that she was not being hired, she said.

Bradley Crate, the president of Red Curve Solutions, did not respond to a request for comment.

” . . . In my head I knew where my loyalties lied, and my loyalties lied with the truth,” Hutchinson recalled of extricating herself from a legal arrangement that she saw as serving Trump.

The committee said in an executive summary of its final report, issued Monday, that it regarded Hutchinson as “earnest” with “no reason” to invent her accounts.

But many inside the committee have questioned the decision to allow her to testify live on television to some events she had only heard about secondhand without corroborating those accounts with others who were actually involved, people familiar with the matter told The Post.

Of all the transcripts, Hutchinson’s has caused the most concern within the committee, people involved with the investigation said.

Hutchinson said she had no doubt about her account when asked by Cheney about her live testimony that White House deputy chief of staff Anthony Ornato had told her Trump had lunged for Secret Service agent Robert Engel in a fit of rage over not being driven to the Capitol. She said she had discussed it with Ornato on two additional occasions.

“I have no doubts in the conversation that I had with Mr. Ornato on January 6th,” Hutchinson told investigators in September. “I have no doubts in how I’ve relayed that story privately and publicly.”

She also claimed that Passantino was aware of Hutchinson’s knowledge of Ornato’s story – and that when she expressed concerns to him about lying to investigators, Passantino reassured her that she was not perjuring herself.

“I want to make sure it’s clear that he knew that I had been related by Tony Ornato an incident that potentially happened in the limo,” Hutchinson said. “Stefan was aware of this.”

The Washington Post

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