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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Trump White House staffer Cassidy Hutchinson on the price of speaking out

For past two years, Cassidy Hutchinson has basically been off the radar since that day last summer when she found herself in the eye of a political hurricane. “I go out in limited capacities,” she said. “You know, part of it is for security.”

In June 2022 Hutchinson, then 26 and a former senior advisor to Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, testified before the January 6th Committee, and she didn’t hold back.

“As an American, I was disgusted.”

Former aide Cassidy Hutchinson testifies on Jan. 6 warnings, pardon requests, and Trump trying to grab the wheel

Her position as an aide who worked only steps from the Oval Office seemed to make it all the more powerful. She said of the events of January 6, “We were watching the Capitol building get defaced over a lie.”

But reports of security threats afterward drove her into hiding. “My life changed in the way that I was living my life,” she said. “I could not go back to my apartment. I ended up moving down to Atlanta for several months.”

Her legal team didn’t think it was safe for her to stay in D.C. Such a thing would’ve been unthinkable only a few months earlier. Hutchinson was a Trump loyalist from New Jersey who’d worked her way up from a White House internship to a spot as one of the higher-ranking aides in the West Wing, with access to the chief of staff and often the president himself.

“I was the conduit to the White House chief of staff,” Hutchinson said. “Pretty much, to get to him, you had to go through me in some capacity.”

Smith asked, “Did people trust you?”

“I would think so,” she replied. “When I worked there, people did trust me.”

But the events of January 6 left Hutchinson shocked and disillusioned.

In the final days of the administration, she was fired, but as a former White House insider, she was subpoenaed by the January 6 Committee, and she started talking in a series of taped depositions.

Hutchinson said, “I felt torn a lot of the time, because I knew what I knew, and I wanted to come forward with what I knew. But at the same time, I didn’t want to feel like I was betraying them. And I didn’t want to feel like I was betraying my colleagues.”

As Hutchinson writes in a new book, “Enough” (published by Simon & Schuster, which is owned by CBS’ parent company, Paramount Global), her first attorney was paid by a Trump PAC – and, she says, she was advised that the less she remembered, the better.

Cassidy Hutchinson told Jan. 6 committee Trump-linked lawyer urged her to “downplay” role in testimony, transcript reveals

Smith said, “You’re kind of caught here – you’re starting to have this moral dilemma. I mean, you looked over the transcript and you counted the number of times that you said, ‘I don’t know, I don’t recall.’ And you said ‘I don’t know,’ and ‘I don’t recall,’ more than 100 times?”

“Yes, in the final transcripts it was ridden with I don’t knows and I don’t recalls,” Hutchinson said. “Which was information that I very clearly recalled.”

So, as she struggled with the thought of betraying her co-workers, Hutchinson started googling another landmark D.C. hearing, Watergate, and found Alexander Butterfield, the former Nixon aide who revealed the existence of the White House taping system, and helped bring down a president.

Butterfield’s story became her beacon of hope, and the Bob Woodward book about him, “The Last of the President’s Men,” became her Bible. She usually keeps her well-worn copy close to hand.

“He really was the source of strength for me,” she said, “and gave me the perspective not only that I could do this, but that there was life on the other side of it.”

And so, armed with a newfound conviction (and new attorneys), Hutchinson headed up to Capitol Hill, and into history.

She said she wanted to back out of testifying: “Oh, yes! I almost ran out of, there’s a little hold room outside the committee room that we were about to walk in, and I almost darted. Even then! I heard the door click open, and I turned around and I looked at my attorney and said, ‘I can’t do this.’ And I started to walk, and he gently pushed my shoulders, and he said, ‘You can do this.’ And then we walked out.”

Among the more explosive moments of her testimony: A story she says she’d heard from the White House deputy chief of staff Tony Ornato, about a January 6 incident with Secret Service agent Bobby Engel in the presidential limousine nicknamed the Beast, where the president was said to have insisted on being taken to Capitol Hill to join his supporters:

“The president reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel. Mr. Engel grabbed his arm, said, ‘Sir, you need to take your hand off the steering wheel.’ Mr. Trump then used his free hand to lunge towards Bobby Engel. And when Mr. Ornato had recounted this story to me, he had motioned towards his clavicles.”

Trump tried to grab steering wheel, lunged at head of security after he was told he couldn’t go to the Capitol on Jan. 6, former Meadows aide says

Smith asked, “Both of these men say they don’t remember this conversation happening. How can you explain that?”

“I know what I recall,” Hutchinson replied. “And in this particular instance, I can’t climb inside the minds of Tony Ornato and Bobby Engel. Maybe they truly don’t recall this happening. But for me, I stand by what I testified to in that incident, and in any other incident that had been disputed.”

In an interview last week on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” former President Trump himself weighed in, disputing her account: “Who wouldn’t dispute it? She’s … the craziest account I’ve ever heard. You mean that I was in the Beast, and she said I was in the Beast, and the Secret Service didn’t want – so I took a guy who was like a black belt in karate and grabbed his neck and tried to choke him. How ridiculous.”

Smith asked, “You admit in the book, you’ve admitted here, that you told less than the truth, that you lied. Why should we believe you now?”

” ‘Cause what would I have to gain by coming forward?” Hutchinson replied. “You know, it would have been easier for me to continue being complicit and to stay in the comfortable zone … I had some sense of security, a semblance of security. I knew people that I could easily reach out to for jobs. I had friends.”

She said she has not talked to Ornato nor Engel. “I have not talked to many people in the Trump World since the day of my testimony,” she said.

Hutchinson’s book is full of anecdotes about her time in “Trump World,” including a detailed account of Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani groping her. Guiliani’s team calls it a “disgusting lie,” but Hutchinson stands by her story, as does her publisher.

She was also among the witnesses who testified for the federal grand jury in Washington and the grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia. It’s not clear how much impact her testimony had on the subsequent indictments of the president and his associates.

Trump’s 4 indictments in detail: A quick-look guide to charges, trial dates and key players for each case

But there was someone watching it all with special interest: the man who helped inspire Hutchinson to come forward, Alexander Butterfield, who is now 97 and living in southern California … and she’s been able to thank him in person.

“Now we’re lifelong friends,” Hutchinson said.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Butterfield said. “Well, more than friends we are!”

Cassidy Hutchinson says that while her life and her heroes have changed, she’s still a Republican. But when asked whom she’ll back in the 2024 election, she replied, “For starters, I would like to make clear, I would not back the former President of the United States. He is dangerous for the country. He is willing, and has showed time and time again willingness, to proliferate lies to vulnerable American people so he could stay in power. To me that is the most un-American thing that you can do.”

Smith asked, “Alex Butterfield said he’d do it all over again. Would you?”

“I would,” Hutchinson replied. “I don’t think I would really change anything. You know, I got to where I needed to be. And I’m proud of the work the committee did, too. And I’m also very grateful that they were willing to listen, and that America was willing to listen, too.”

READ AN EXCERPT:“Enough” by Cassidy Hutchinson

For more info:

“Enough”by Cassidy Hutchinson (Simon & Schuster), in Hardcover, eBook and Audio formats, available September 26 viaAmazon,Barnes & NobleandBookshop.org

Story produced by John D’Amelio. Editor: Mike Levine.

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