Cassidy Hutchinson Secretly Back-Channeled With the Jan. 6 Committee

Cassidy Hutchinson Secretly Back-Channeled With the Jan. 6 Committee

  • Cassidy Hutchinson described in raw detail why she decided to come clean to the Jan. 6 committee.
  • Hutchinson told the panel that her Trump-aligned lawyer advised her to mislead lawmakers.
  • Ultimately, she said that she wanted to prove her loyalty was to the truth.

New transcripts released by the House January 6 committee on Thursday show how one key witness was pressured by her counsel to mislead the panel before flipping against President Donald Trump and his allies.

The witness, Cassidy Hutchinson, who served as a top aide to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, testified to the committee that her Trump-aligned lawyer repeatedly urged her to “downplay” her role in the Trump White House and told her”we just want to focus on protecting the president.” 

But as their attorney-client relationship developed, Hutchinson said, she became increasingly uneasy with Stefan Passantino, a former top ethics lawyer in the Trump White House, advice until finally she decided to fire him and tell the committee what she knew.

According to transcripts, Hutchinson, even admitted that she initially lied to the committee about whether she had heard Trump lunge at a Secret Service agent after being told he could not go to the Capitol on January 6.

The transcripts, released Thursday, illustrate in detail Hutchinson’s transformation from combative former aide to star witness whose testimony painted a damning portrait of Trump’s final months in office. 

No matter how hard she tried, Hutchinson couldn’t escape Trump’s orbit.

In a September deposition, Hutchinson told lawmakers how uncomfortable she felt after her first interview with the committee in February, during which she followed Passantino’s counsel despite disagreeing with his strategy of downplaying virtually everything.

“”Look, we want to get you in, get you out,” Hutchinson said Passantino told her before the appearance. “We’re going to downplay your role. You were a secretary. You had an administrative role.”

Hutchinson both in this instance and many others described Trump-aligned figures as speaking in plural pronouns. Often, she said it is not specified who “we” or “everyone” is. It was clear though that the former president was never far from mind.

“To be completely frank, I was extremely nervous going into the first interview, for

a multitude of reasons. You know, I felt like – I almost felt like at points Donald Trump was looking over my shoulder,” Hutchinson later said.

Sometimes the subtleties would drop completely and it was made abundantly clear who was watching.

“‘Well, Mark wants me to let you 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,'” Hutchinson told the panel paraphrasing what Ben Williamson, a former top Meadows aide, told her the night before Hutchinson’s second appearance. ” You know, he knows that we’re all on the same team and we’re all a family.”

The pangs of guilt started to grow, Hutchinson later recalled. One of the biggest episodes concerns what would later become some of her most central testimony. During that very first interview, the panel asked Hutchinson about what she knew about a reported confrontation between Trump and a Secret Service agent in a presidential SUV on January 6. During a break, Hutchinson freaked out about the possibility that she had lied to the committee.

“‘Stefan, I am fucked,'” Hutchinson recalled telling her lawyer. “‘And he was like, ‘Don’t freak out. You’re fine.’ I said, ‘No, Stefan, I’m fucked. I just lied.’ And he said, ‘You didn’t lie.'”

Hutchinson said Passantino told her not to worry, lawmakers wouldn’t know what the former aide didn’t remember.

“‘They don’t know what you know, Cassidy. They don’t know that you can recall some of these things,” Hutchinson said her lawyer told her. “So you saying ‘I don’t recall’ is an entirely acceptable response to this.'”

Hutchinson said Trump allies praised her loyalty and promised she would be looked after.

In between and leading up to her depositions, Hutchinson said she interviewed with multiple Trump-aligned organizations  and promises to help her out and make sure she was looked after. None of these offers ever materialized and some conspicuously fizzled out during key moments as Hutchinson’s appearances before the committee became increasingly public. Passantino, Hutchinson recalled, was often central to these discussions. 

“They know you’re loyal. They want to take care of you. Reach out to them,” Hutchinson told the panel, paraphrasing what Passantino told her of a job offer connected to former top Trump aide Jason Miller.

Ultimately, Hutchinson’s conflicted emotions came to a head when House lawyers responded to Meadows, her former boss dating back to his time in Congress, suit against Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In arguing why Meadows should not be able to block the committee’s subpoenas, House lawyers disclosed for the first time snippets of Hutchinson’s early testimony.

“I remember sitting there reading on my phone like this, glancing out the window, and I just kept thinking like, “Oh, my God, I became someone that I never thought I was going to become,” Hutchinson recalled of the night in her Navy Yard apartment.

This belief was furthered by a call with an unnamed Republican congressman. The lawmaker, who Hutchinson said she knew for years, advised her that she would need to behave in a way that she could live with for the rest of her life.

“‘Yeah, Cassidy,  you need to – you’re the one that has to live with the mirror test for the rest of your life,'” Hutchinson said the lawmaker told her. “I know that you feel like that you didn’t handle things right. I know that you’re stressed about this. Are you going to be able to live with yourself if you just move on and kind of forget about this, or do you want to try to do something about it?'”

Driving up to her parents’ home in New Jersey, Hutchinson tried to find solace in history. Googling “Watergate” she found the stories of John Dean and Alexander Butterfield, two Nixon-era aides who became legendary figures by turning against the president. It was Butterfield, who Hutchinson said she found some kinship with, who particularly intrigued her. A deputy assistant to President Richard Nixon, Butterfield revealed to Senate investigators the existence of the taping system that set the president on the path to his eventual resignation in the face of likely impeachment.

After ordering a book Butterfield recently wrote with the legendary journalist Bob Woodward, Hutchinson knew it was time for a change. She called Alyssa Farah, one of Trump’s former communications directors, who had been outspoken in her criticism of Trump following the Capitol riot. Hutchinson said she told Farah, who was also a former House aide, to back channel with the January 6 committee. Hutchinson was ready to talk, especially about the soon-to-be-infamous episode in the Beast.

John Dean

Former White House Counsel John Dean testifies before Congress in 2019.

SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

After reaching her breaking point, Hutchinson was ready to prove her loyalty to the truth.

Unlike her previous appearances, she would not fall back on saying “I don’t recall” when asked about details she clearly remembered. Passantino, whom Hutchinson said encouraged her to be less than forthcoming, was still sitting behind her. This time, she was nervous that he had caught wind of what was really afoot. Hutchinson was going to blindside Trump world and do so with one of its card carrying representatives seated right behind her. Insider could not reach Passantino for comment. He previously told CNN that he did not advise Hutchinson to mislead the panel. Anthony Ornato, the Secret Service agent, who Hutchinson said had told her about Trump’s confrontation with him, told the committee he did not recall telling her about such an episode.

“So the question for me became, where do my loyalties lie? And I knew where they were, but I wasn’t equipped with people that allowed me and empowered me to be loyal to the country and to be loyal to the truth,” Hutchinson would later tell the panel.  “Again, I partially thought that it would be corroborating. I didn’t think that it would be sometimes the first that you guys had heard things or however it ended up playing out.”

On that mid-May day, Hutchinson was prepared to cast aside the promises of plush jobs and the security of being “taken care of.” She was leaving Trump’s orbit once and for all. By the time they took their first break, Hutchinson could tell Passantino was shell-shocked.

“‘How do they have all of this? How do they know that you know all of this?'” Hutchinson paraphrased Passantino as saying “every time” the panel allowed for a break. “Like as far as | know, nobody’s talked about any of this. I know people that would be privy to all of this. Like how I don’t think any of them have given the committee any of this.”

Less than a month later, Hutchinson would send a short email to her former counsel.

“I am ending our attorney-client relationship but still own our privilege,” Hutchinson said, paraphrasing her missive. “Please coordinate with my new attorneys, Bill Jordan and Jody Hunt of Alston & Bird.”

Cassidy Hutchinson

Former Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson arrives for her public testimony in front of the January 6 committee.

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Throughout her emotional testimony, Hutchinson recalls how her actions before and after her about face strained relationships. One of those was with Liz Horning, a former Trump White House counsel employee, who Hutchinson describes as one of her closest friends at 1600 Penn.

On the evening of June 27, Horning sent a final text to her once close colleague.

“‘Please tell me you’re not the effing witness tomorrow,'” she wrote, according to Hutchinson.

Hutchinson said it was unclear whether this was meant in gossipy jest or something hinting that an Oval Office omerta was about to be broken.

What is clear is that Hutchinson was, in fact, the witness. And her testimony changed the January 6 investigation in a way no one saw coming.