The Secret Service’s Denial Won’t Erase Damning Jan. 6 Testimony on Trump

Whether Trump got physical or just had a tantrum over not being taken to the Capitol on Jan. 6 is beside the point.

Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson’s damning testimony on Wednesday was arguably the most riveting moment of the House Jan. 6 Select Committee’s investigation.

Those looking to discredit her testimony are now jumping on a minor, if juicy, detail of that narrative: that then-President Donald Trump got physical with Secret Service agents when they wouldn’t drive him to the Capitol on Jan. 6.

But those details, which Hutchinson made clear were secondhand hearsay, matter a lot less than what she and others testified they witnessed firsthand—that Trump, fully knowing that some of his supporters were armed, urged them to march on the U.S. Capitol, demanded that he join them, then grew “irate” when he wasn’t allowed to. The Secret Service agents may deny specific details she said she didn’t personally witness—but that doesn’t impact her overall credibility.

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The details in question come from a conversation Hutchinson, a senior aide to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, said she had with Secret Service head Tony Ornato shortly after returning to the White House from Trump’s Jan. 6 rally that day. She said Ornato told her that Trump grew “irate” when Secret Service agents refused to take him down to Congress that day, and threw a physical tantrum where he grabbed at the steering wheel of the SUV and “used his free hand to lunge toward” an agent in the front seat.

A Secret Service spokesman told NBC News and other outlets that Secret Service members Tony Ornato and Bobby Engel are “available to testify under oath”—again—to the committee. Multiple outlets reported, based on anonymous sources close to the Secret Service, that both agents will dispute that Trump “grabbed the steering wheel or assaulted an agent.”

Anonymous sources are worth little compared to public, under-oath testimony. And even if he testifies to dispute those details, Ornato isn’t exactly a neutral, nonpartisan witness. He was so pro-Trump that the president removed him from the Secret Service and made him his political adviser, then deputy chief of staff. Ornato helped orchestrate that infamous moment where riot police cleared peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters from in front of the White House so that Trump could have a photo op in front of a historic church that had been damaged by vandalism, and helped plan many Trump political rallies before later returning to the Secret Service.

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Carol Leonnig, a Washington Post reporter and expert on the Secret Service, told Rachel Maddow Tuesday night that both agents were close Trump allies, calling their credibility into question.

“Both of these individuals, Bobby Engel and Tony Ornato, were very, very close to President Trump. And some people accused them of at times being enablers and yes-men of the president,” she said. “Both of these individuals lose a little credibility because of how closely they have been seen as aligned to President Trump.”

But even if these specific details in dispute aren’t correct, that matters a lot less than the other part of what that anonymous source is telling multiple reporters.

“They do not deny that Trump was irate and demanded they drive to the Capitol,” NBC News’ Peter Alexander reported this morning, echoing other reports.

Then-White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany corroborated this during her own taped deposition. 

“When we got back to the White House, he said he wanted to physically walk with the marchers,” she said, referencing contemporaneous notes she took, while saying that Trump was willing to travel instead in the armored vehicle.

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Trump’s defenders immediately tried to debunk the story. Many first tried to argue that it would have been impossible for him to lunge at the driver while sitting in “The Beast,” the limousine he normally travels in. But in this case Trump was actually being transported not in the limo but in an SUV, where the front and back seats are much closer together.

They have now jumped on reports that these details are inaccurate to try to discredit Hutchinson as a witness.

If more of Hutchinson’s overall testimony turns out to be inaccurate, that’s a big deal. And one other detail from her testimony has been called into question by White House attorney Eric Herschmann, a more reliable witness who said he was the one who penned a note that Hutchinson said she wrote.

But obsessing over the specific detail of Trump’s tantrum overshadows Hutchinson’s much more salient testimony. It misses the point, and ignores what Hutchinson testified she’d heard firsthand.

What matters is this: Hutchinson testified that she personally was told Trump and some of his top allies pushed for days for him to march down to the Capitol with his supporters on Jan. 6, and that kept demanding to do so even after his rally that day. She also testified that she was backstage with Trump at the Jan. 6 rally, where she personally heard Trump acknowledge that many in the crowd were armed while demanding the Secret Service stop using magnetometers to screen the crowd, before urging them to march on the Capitol anyway.

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“I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons,” Hutchinson said she heard Trump say. “They’re not there to hurt me. Take the f-ing mags away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here. Let the people in, and take the effing mags away.” 

To focus on whether she got the details of a secondhand story she readily said was hearsay exactly right—whether Trump’s tantrum that day was merely verbal or grew physical—fully missed the point of what she said on Tuesday.

Tagged:

white house, secret service, jan 6, Capitol Riot, january 6 committee

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