They haven’t found anything to contradict it either, WaPo notes. But that may simply be because they haven’t yet asked Tony Ornato, the deputy chief of staff who supposedly told Cassidy Hutchinson what happened, about it under oath.
The committee came under increasing scrutiny from Trump allies on Wednesday for highlighting Hutchinson’s claims about Trump lunging at a Secret Service officer and trying to grab the wheel of the presidential SUV. One person familiar with direct knowledge of the committee’s work said the committee did not have direct evidence to corroborate or repudiate Hutchinson’s testimony, and some people involved in the committee’s work said they hoped more evidence would emerge to substantiate her claims.
Wherever you come down Hutchinson versus Ornato, it’s clear now that it was an unforced error by the committee to have her testify about the SUV story. It was hearsay which they hadn’t attempted to corroborate, unbelievably. It was also a needless sensational distraction from the guts of Hutchinson’s testimony, that Trump was aware the crowd at the January 6 rally had weapons before he spoke to them and riled them up. That detail will matter greatly to a potential prosecution for incitement or seditious conspiracy. Whether he tried to grab the steering wheel of the presidential SUV or lunged at his Secret Service escort won’t.
Even more baffling is the fact that no one, including the Secret Service, disputes that Trump was furious when he asked to be driven to the Capitol after the rally and the agents told him no. He wanted to be there to witness — or participate in? — the insurrection. No one disputes that. The dispute is simply whether he tried to intervene physically to make it happen, which is unimportant but attention-grabbing because it’s shocking.
In other words, even if Ornato came out today and admitted that he told Hutchinson the steering-wheel story, it’s arguably still an unforced error by the committee to have brought it up at the hearing. It ended up obscuring the much more menacing testimony about the weapons.
And of course it’s given Trump and his allies a reason to challenge Hutchinson’s truthfulness across the board. If she got the SUV story wrong, what else has she gotten wrong? “I am absolutely confident in her credibility,” Liz Cheney said of Hutchinson this morning, which is nice. But why is she confident if they haven’t corroborated key bits of what she told them?
Even stranger, by letting Hutchinson testify to something Ornato told her, the committee is now in the position of having to treat Ornato as truthful and dishonest at the same time. Presumably they wanted the public to hear about Trump grabbing the steering wheel because they believed it might be true — but since Ornato is the alleged source for that detail, his credibility is now crucial. Meanwhile, Ornato is apparently telling people that he never told Hutchinson about the incident and is prepared to testify to that fact. If he does then the committee will either have to disbelieve him or disbelieve Hutchinson.
Either way, there’d no longer be a reason to treat the story as credible. One way or another, it came from someone whose credibility is in doubt.
Although … here’s an interesting bit of circumstantial corroboration of Hutchinson’s most important testimony, her claim that Trump knew rallygoers had weapons. He was mad at the Secret Service backstage for insisting on metal detectors to get in, she testified, because he thought it was restricting the flow of people and holding down the size of the crowd. Have a look at what Trump said to the crowd once he finally got onstage:
We went back and watched Trump’s speech on January 6.
Sure seems to back up what Cassidy Hutchinson said under oath yesterday. pic.twitter.com/8XAU6yRRhd
— The Republican Accountability Project (@AccountableGOP) June 29, 2022
One way the committee can solve its Hutchinson vs. Ornato problem is to let the unimportant steering-wheel dispute drop and focus on corroborating her key testimony. Can anyone else who was backstage at the rally that morning confirm that Trump was told that the crowd had weapons? Can Mark Meadows? Can Ornato? Meadows probably isn’t going to testify so he’s a nonstarter. Ornato is willing to testify, supposedly, but it’s unclear if he’s willing to tell the truth. “Agents [of the Secret Service] were seen as more overtly supportive and admiring of Mr. Trump than they had been under any other modern president, according to people who have spent time in the White House during multiple administrations, and Mr. Trump worked to build loyalty among them,” the Times reported today. No one owes Trump more loyalty than Ornato, who went from a nonpolitical job in the Secret Service to the exalted role of deputy White House chief of staff, an unheard-of promotion. Do we trust that Ornato would admit that Hutchinson told the truth about Trump and the weapons, knowing that testimony might trigger a criminal prosecution of his patron?
Might Ornato himself be in criminal jeopardy if that detail was corroborated? Some of Trump’s advisors are beginning to sweat, according to Rolling Stone:
“I keep waiting for the feds to come raid my sh*t,” says a current close adviser to former President Trump, who was also intimately involved in the effort to overturn the 2020 election results. This person spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly address their ongoing anxieties. “I’m not sure how high on the food chain the Department of Justice considers me, but it wouldn’t be the most out-of-the-blue thing if I … got subpoenaed or served a search warrant.”…
“In the time since Cassidy testified, there has definitely been an uptick in chatter in [Trumpworld] about who is and who isn’t criminally exposed,” said a former senior Trump aide. “There are some people who don’t take these hearings or the DOJ probe seriously, and think of it as ‘Mueller Part 2’ or yet another example of the media getting over its skis. There are others who think that, whatever you think of the committee, criminal charges could easily come after all these testimonies and subpoenas. I count myself among the latter group, and Tuesday made me feel even more confident in the idea that we should all be preparing for the Biden Justice Department to really go after Trump people. This isn’t a joke, and should not be treated like one.”
NRO’s Andy McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, said he thinks Hutchinson’s testimony now makes it likely that the DOJ will prosecute Trump. Could be — *if* her testimony can be backed up. Can it? Would they put a former president on trial based on nothing more than Hutchinson’s say-so?
Below you’ll find former Trump staffer Alyssa Farah Griffin with an interesting revelation about how Hutchinson’s testimony came about. Initially, Hutchinson had a lawyer “assigned” to her by TrumpWorld, Griffin claims. But evidently that lawyer limited the scope of the questions the committee could ask, which bothered Hutchinson since she had more that she wanted to reveal. Not until she fired that lawyer and got herself a new lawyer was she able to share that extra information. Which raises the possibility that the TrumpWorld lawyer wasn’t treating her as his client so much as he was treating Trump as the client, aiming to protect the boss by making sure Hutchinson didn’t say anything she wasn’t supposed to.
Coincidentally, Hutchinson was also the target of some vaguely threatening texts from Trump associates about being a team player once she got her new lawyer. Hmmmm again.
JUST NOW: “Cassidy said there’s more I want to share with the committee a couple months ago, I put her in touch with Cong. Cheney, she got a new lawyer and that’s how this testimony came about.”
— John Berman (@JohnBerman) June 30, 2022