Jun 29, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Unpacking the Jan. 6 committee's Secret Service debacle

Cassidy Hutchinson and Jamie Raskin
Cassidy Hutchinson with Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) after yesterday's hearing. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony to the Jan. 6 committee painted a damning, firsthand portrait of former President Trump's mindset and actions on the day of the Capitol riot.

  • But a brewing controversy over an explosive detail in her account — that Trump lunged at a Secret Service agent and grabbed at the wheel of the car when told he couldn't go to the Capitol — is causing problems for an investigation that has had its evidence buttoned up until now.

Catch up quick: Hutchinson told the committee she was briefed on the altercation by Tony Ornato, a Secret Service agent who served as a Trump political adviser.

  • She said Bobby Engel, the head of Trump’s security detail whom the president allegedly lunged at, was in the room when Ornato was telling the story and did not dispute the account.
  • Both Ornato and Engel have previously testified to the committee behind closed doors, but have yet to agree to testify under oath or on the record discussing this specific incident.

Over the last 24 hours, Secret Service officials have anonymously told reporters both Ornato and Engel are willing to testify to the committee that the incident didn't happen. No one has said on the record that the testimony is false.

  • It's unclear when Hutchinson first told the committee about the incident — she sat for four depositions — but a Secret Service spokesperson told Politico the committee did not reach out about the allegations before yesterday's surprise hearing.
  • "The Select Committee found Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony to be credible. The committee welcomes anyone who wishes to provide additional information under oath," a Jan. 6 committee spokesperson said in response to questions about the discrepancies.
  • Asked if they have evidence corroborating the specific details of Trump lunging at Engel, the committee declined to comment. 
  • Hutchinson herself stands by all of her testimony, according to a statement from her counsel today.

Why it matters: Nobody is challenging the "central material facts" of Hutchinson's testimony, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) insisted on MSNBC today — Trump knew his supporters were armed, encouraged them to march to the Capitol anyway, and was furious when his Secret Service prevented him from joining them.

  • But the committee's decision to question Hutchinson on this explosive, secondhand allegation has handed a gift to its critics.
  • Trump and his allies are now seizing on the inconsistency in an attempt to discredit Hutchinson's entire testimony, forcing a committee that has otherwise been scrupulous about its facts to go on the defensive.
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