Politics

January 6 hearings: Trump urged armed supporters to storm Capitol – aide

Donald Trump knew supporters had weapons when he urged them to storm the Capitol to overturn the 2020 election, a former White House aide has said.

Ex-aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified to the committee probing the 6 January riots that Mr Trump and his top staff knew the potential for violence.

But a planned rally went ahead, with Mr Trump saying the armed attendees were “not here to hurt me”.

The president also demanded to join the march on the Capitol himself, she said.

In a series of public hearings, the Democrat-led 6 January committee has sought to link the former president directly to the efforts to prevent Congress from certifying the 2020 election results.

The select committee has conducted a nearly year-long investigation into how Trump supporters invaded Congress on 6 January 2021 to disrupt lawmakers as they certified Democrat Joe Biden’s election victory.

Up until now, the congressional panel was missing testimony from inside the room – someone who could offer a first-hand account of the situation in the White House in the critical hours before the attack.

But at its sixth hearing on Tuesday – hastily announced with what the committee said was the revelation of new evidence – Ms Hutchinson, 25, filled in the blanks.

As principal advisor to Mr Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, she sat less than 10 seconds from the Oval Office, spoke daily with Mr Meadows, and was the chief West Wing liaison to Capitol Hill.

She recounted that several top officials warned repeatedly that Mr Trump’s rally on 6 January could spiral out of control.

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe told the White House the event could be “dangerous for the president’s legacy”, while counsel Pat Cipollone expressed concerns it would look like the White House was inciting a riot.

And days before the attack, Ms Hutchinson recounted Mr Meadows saying that things “could get real, real bad”.

Yet, on the morning of 6 January, when he was informed that attendees at Mr Trump’s rally had brought guns, knives and other weapons with them, Mr Meadows barely looked up from his phone and asked “anything else?”.

Ms Hutchinson also claimed that Mr Trump was informed some of his supporters were being turned away by Secret Service agents because they were armed and setting off security devices.

But the former president called for the security devices to be removed and the official rally space to be filled to capacity, repeatedly saying “they’re not here to hurt me” and “let them in”, she alleged.

During Ms Hutchinson’s testimony, Mr Trump denied her account on his Truth Social online platform, saying: “I didn’t want or request that we make room for people with guns to watch my speech. Who would ever want that?”

Other parts of Ms Hutchinson’s testimony portrayed the former president as reacting angrily when he was upset by certain events.

When attorney general William Barr dismissed the president’s election fraud claims in a December 2020 interview, Mr Trump smashed crockery in a rage – which Ms Hutchinson said he had done in the past – and sent ketchup splattering onto the walls.

And after his supporters marched to the Capitol on 6 January 2021, Mr Trump insisted he wanted to join them, lunging for the steering wheel of the presidential vehicle when his staffers refused, Ms Hutchinson said she was told.

She also said that her boss, Mr Meadows, had sought a pardon from the president after the 6 January riot.

Ms Hutchinson is one in a series of Republicans and former White House staffers to co-operate with the congressional probe – but the first to provide live testimony.

Vice chairwoman Liz Cheney, one of only two Republicans on the committee, praised her co-operation with the inquiry, saying that Trump allies have pressured fellow Republicans to “continue to be a team player”.

The 6 January committee will continue its work with at least two more public hearings next month.

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