Jan. 6 Witness Told Panel That Lawyer Tried to Influence Her Testimony
WASHINGTON — Cassidy Hutchinson, a former White House aide who was a standout witness of the House Jan. 6 committee investigation, told the panel in an interview in September that a lawyer aligned with former President Donald J. Trump had attempted to influence her testimony, the latest example of what the committee says was an effort to stonewall its inquiry.
“We just want to focus on protecting the president,” Ms. Hutchinson recalled Stefan Passantino, a former Trump White House lawyer who represented her during her early interactions with the committee, telling her.
“We all know you’re loyal,” she said Mr. Passantino told her. “Let’s just get you in and out, and this day will be easy, I promise.”
The revelation was included in transcripts of Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony the panel released on Thursday as it prepared to publish its lengthy final report into the Capitol riot and the attempt to overturn the 2020 election. The transcripts were of closed-door interviews Ms. Hutchinson conducted with the committee after she had parted ways with Mr. Passantino, whose legal fees were being covered by allies of Mr. Trump, and hired a different lawyer.
Ms. Hutchinson would go on to provide the Jan. 6 committee with some of its most explosive testimony at a widely watched televised hearing during which she detailed — relying at times on secondhand accounts — how Mr. Trump raged against Secret Service agents, demanded to join a crowd of his supporters at the Capitol, showed approval for his supporters carrying weapons and endorsed chants of hanging his own vice president.
Ms. Hutchinson told the committee that she had been told by several allies of Mr. Trump that he knew he had lost the election two weeks after Election Day but continued to push for any way he could attempt to overturn the results, first through lawsuits but then through increasingly extreme plans.
Ms. Hutchinson testified that Mark Meadows, her boss and the White House chief of staff, spoke with her on Jan. 2, 2021, after Mr. Trump had attempted to persuade Georgia election officials to swing the election in his favor.
“He said something to the effect of, ‘He knows it’s over. He knows he lost. But we are going to keep trying,’” Ms. Hutchinson recalled Mr. Meadows saying, referring to Mr. Trump.
Another time, Mr. Meadows described Mr. Trump as in a constant state of fury over his election loss.
“Mark said something to the effect of, ‘He’s just so angry at me all the time. I can’t talk to him about anything post-White House without him getting mad that we didn’t win,’” she said Mr. Meadows told her.
Understand the Events on Jan. 6
- Timeline: On Jan. 6, 2021, 64 days after Election Day 2020, a mob of supporters of President Donald J. Trump raided the Capitol. Here is a close look at how the attack unfolded.
- A Day of Rage: Using thousands of videos and police radio communications, a Times investigation reconstructed in detail what happened — and why.
- Lost Lives: A bipartisan Senate report found that at least seven people died in connection with the attack.
- Jan. 6 Attendees: To many of those who attended the Trump rally but never breached the Capitol, that date wasn’t a dark day for the nation. It was a new start.
A lawyer for Mr. Meadows did not respond to a call seeking comment.
Ms. Hutchinson also recalled John Ratcliffe, the former director of national intelligence, telling her Mr. Trump knew he lost but did not want to concede.
Mr. Passantino was not the only person who Ms. Hutchinson claimed wanted her to protect Mr. Trump.
She told the committee that on the night before her initial interview, another aide to Mr. Meadows, Ben Williamson, called her with a message.
“Mark wants you to 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,” she quoted Mr. Williamson as saying, in an apparent reference to Mr. Trump. “You know, he knows that we’re all on the same team and we’re all a family.”
Mr. Williamson did not respond to a message seeking comment.
Ms. Hutchinson also said Mr. Passantino was working to “protect” Eric Herschmann, another lawyer for Mr. Trump, who emerged as a standout of the Jan. 6 committee hearings for his colorful and profane put-downs of the attempts to overturn the 2020 election.
In a statement through a spokesman, Mr. Herschmann disputed parts of Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony.
“She told Mr. Herschmann that she was desperate, had no money and needed to find a lawyer,” the statement said. “Mr. Herschmann never put her in contact with any lawyer. No one discussed her testimony with Mr. Herschmann, nor did anyone ever try to confirm with him whether her testimony was accurate. The only thing he ever said to her about her testimony was to be truthful.”
In her two most recent interviews with the committee, Ms. Hutchinson repeatedly suggested that Mr. Passantino sought to shape her testimony and encouraged her to avoid mentioning events that might embarrass Mr. Trump. She said she was concerned in particular about being asked about an episode in which Mr. Trump was said to have lunged at a Secret Service agent who refused to take him to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
According to Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony, Mr. Passantino advised her to say that she did not recall the event if she was asked about it. “The less you remember, the better,” she quoted him as saying.
Mr. Passantino left the White House Counsel’s Office midway through Mr. Trump’s term. But he maintained ties to Mr. Trump’s world, including appearing in court as a lawyer for the Trump Organization regarding some of Mr. Trump’s legal matters.
His representation of Ms. Hutchinson was unorthodox from the start.
According to her testimony, she hired him without a formal engagement letter — a move he told her that she did not have to worry about. “We have you taken care of,” she quoted him as saying.
Mr. Passantino also told Ms. Hutchinson that she would not have to pay his bills. “We’re not telling people where funding is coming from right now,” he said by her account. “Don’t worry, we’re taking care of you.”
Mr. Passantino took a leave of absence from his law firm this week and defended himself against what he said were false insinuations by the panel that he had interfered with his client’s testimony.
In a statement, Mr. Passantino said he “believed Ms. Hutchinson was being truthful and cooperative with the committee throughout the several interview sessions in which I represented her.”
He added: “External communications made on Ms. Hutchinson’s behalf while I was her counsel were made with her express authorization. Unfortunately, the committee never reached out to me to get the facts.”
In early March, on the day of her first closed-door appearance before the committee, Ms. Hutchinson said she was nervous, feeling as if “I had Trump looking over my shoulder.”
She said her anxiety grew worse when the panel asked about the episode with Mr. Trump and the Secret Service agent and, following Mr. Passantino’s advice, she said on several occasions that she did not recall it.
Seemingly in a panic, she took a break from the interview and told Mr. Passantino in a hallway that she felt as though she had lied to the committee by avoiding talking about the incident. Mr. Passantino tried to assuage her, she testified, arguing that saying she did not recall was not the same as lying.
“They don’t know what you know, Cassidy,” she quoted him as saying. “They don’t know that you can recall some of these things.”
After the interview, Ms. Hutchinson said, Mr. Passantino told her that he would help her get her “a really good job in Trump world.”
“We’re going to get you taken care of,” she quoted him as saying. “We want to keep you in the family.”
Still feeling as though she had lied to the committee, Ms. Hutchinson arranged for a friend from the White House, Alyssa Farah Griffin, Mr. Trump’s former director of strategic communications, to quietly reach out to the panel and have her return for another interview to explore the incident involving Mr. Trump and the Secret Service.
After that interview, Ms. Hutchinson said, Mr. Passantino, who still represented her at that point, was stunned that investigators knew about the episode. He later related what had happened during the interview to Mr. Meadows’s lawyers even though Ms. Hutchinson had asked him not to.
The committee has so far released transcripts of more than 40 of its hundreds of witness interviews. The transcripts are also going to the Justice Department, which has been pursuing a criminal investigation into the efforts to keep Mr. Trump in power despite his election loss.