Republicans dismiss Hutchinson testimony, pointing to factual disputes
Former President Trump’s most vocal defenders in the House are working to undercut former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson’s explosive testimony at Tuesday’s Jan. 6 select committee hearing, calling it “hearsay” and pointing to disputes over statements she made.
Hutchinson, who was an aide to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, relayed fly-on-the-wall firsthand knowledge of conversations between Trump and top officials.
Those included Trump wanting to get rid of magnetometers outside his Ellipse rally to let in more of the crowd, that potential plans were discussed for Trump to travel to the Capitol on the 6th, and aides saying Trump was aware of “Hang Mike Pence” chants and thought he deserved it.
But there are disputes over other portions of her testimony, most notably the secondhand allegation that Trump lunged for the steering wheel of the car a Secret Service agent was driving away from the Ellipse rally when the Secret Service refused to take him to the Capitol building.
“The sham Committee’s star witness is already discredited less than 24 hours after her testimony. It was all hearsay. This is the Russia hoax playbook. Democrats’ media allies are simply repeating their outrageous and evidence-free accusations,” said Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), who was originally selected to be ranking member on the committee before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) vetoed the choice.
Twitter accounts for the House Republican Conference and House Judiciary Committee Republicans fired off rapid response reactions to the hearing in real time, dismissing it and tearing down Hutchinson’s testimony.
“It’s literally all hearsay evidence,” the House Judiciary GOP account said.
Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) also tweeted live reactions to the hearing and the disputes that followed, alleging that the committee lied.
“I spent nearly 30 years trying cases in an adversarial court system designed to ferret out truth. Liz Cheney knows how it’s supposed to work, but she humiliated herself and the rest of this sham committee yesterday out of uncontrollable spite for Trump,” Bishop told The Hill in a statement.
Hutchinson testified that Tony Ornato, Trump’s deputy chief of staff, told her on Jan. 6 that Trump was so angry that the Secret Service would not take him to the Capitol building after the Ellipse rally that he reached for the steering wheel and that Robert Engel, the special agent in charge for Secret Service on Jan. 6, grabbed Trump’s arm to stop him. Engel was in the room as Ornato told the story, she said.
But soon after the hearing ended, several news outlets reported that Engel and Ornato disputed Hutchinson’s description, and were willing to testify that Trump never lunged for the steering wheel.
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) in a radio interview Wednesday called the anecdote “almost inconceivable,” insisting that he would have previously heard about Trump lunging for the steering wheel if it had happened.
Later, former Trump White House lawyer Eric Herschmann disputed that a handwritten note Hutchinson said she had written was actually written by him, ABC News reported. The note was a draft statement for the president that never went out. “Anyone who entered the capitol illegally without proper authority should leave immediately,” it said, with “illegally” crossed out.
Ben Willimson, a longtime adviser to Meadows who also worked in the White House on Jan. 6, pushed back on Hutchinson’s characterization of Meadows as apathetic about protests at the Capitol.
“I’ve worked for Mark Meadows for 7 years — any suggestion he didn’t care is ludicrous. And if the committee actually wanted answers as to that question, they could’ve played my interview where I outlined to them how Meadows immediately acted when I told him of initial violence at the Capitol that day,” Williamson said in a statement.
A spokesman for Meadows also added that he had not sought a pardon from Trump, as Hutchinson said.
The Jan. 6 select committee did not respond to a request for comment about the disputes, but Hutchinson is defending her testimony.
“Ms. Hutchinson stands by all of the testimony she provided yesterday, under oath, to the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol,” legal counsel for Hutchinson said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
The disputes, though, are dominating Republicans’ public responses to Hutchinson’s testimony.
“It looks like, you know, one more day of salacious headlines, and already today, we’re seeing Secret Service agents saying, ‘That didn’t happen,’” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said Wednesday morning on Fox News, adding that he had only seen some excerpts of the hearing. “This is why Pelosi set this up from day one to be a partisan committee, a witch hunt, just to keep going after Trump. Not to get facts, she kicked Republicans off the committee. She didn’t want the facts.”
The committee highlighted during the hearing that Hutchinson had worked for both Scalise and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), but did not note that those stints were internships several years ago. Scalise’s office declined to comment about his relationship to Hutchinson, and Cruz’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
While the most vocal House Republicans on Hutchinson’s testimony are critical of her, a large number are not publicly responding to the revelations from the testimony at all. Several House GOP members who have previously expressed that some of the Jan. 6 committee’s testimony has been powerful, or who have expressed sharp criticism of Trump, did not respond to requests for comment.
Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah), who voted in favor of a bipartisan Jan. 6 commission but against the select committee, said in an ABC News interview Tuesday that Hutchinson came off as an “extremely credible witness,” but lamented that there were no Republican-appointed members on the committee to push back a little or ask questions. He pointed to the anecdote about Trump reaching for the steering wheel a “perfect example of, ‘wait a minute, I want to know more.’”
“I think that was very sobering, what we heard about what happened in the president’s automobile,” Curtis said.
Updated at 6:20 p.m.