Donald Trump tried to grab the steering wheel of his presidential limousine on January 6, 2021, when his security detail resfused to take him to the US Capitol where his supporters were rioting, a former aide has testified.
The then-US president dismissed concerns that some supporters gathered for his fiery speech outside the White House that day carried AR-15-style rifles, instead asking security to stop screening attendees with metal-detecting magnetometers so the crowd would look larger, the aide testified on Tuesday.
“Take the effing mags away; they’re not here to hurt me,” Cassidy Hutchinson, who was a top aide to Trump’s then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, quoted Mr Trump as saying that morning.
Ms Hutchinson, who testified on the sixth day of House of Representatives hearings into the deadly January 6 Capitol assault by Trump’s followers, said the conversation was relayed to her by Tony Ornato, a senior Secret Service official.
Mr Trump struggled with Secret Service agents, who insisted he return to the White House rather than join supporters storming the Capitol, where Congress was meeting to certify Democrat Joe Biden’s victory over him in the presidential election, Ms Hutchinson testified, citing her conversation with Mr Ornato.
Mr Trump’s supporters were roused by his false claims that his 2020 election defeat was the result of fraud
“‘I’m the effing president. Take me up to the Capitol now’,” Ms Hutchinson quoted an enraged Mr Trump as saying. She said Mr Trump tried from the back seat to grab the steering wheel of the presidential vehicle and lunged in anger at a Secret Service official.
On social media Mr Trump, a Republican, denied her account.
“Her Fake story that I tried to grab the steering wheel of the White House Limousine in order to steer it to the Capitol Building is ‘sick’ and fraudulent,” Mr Trump wrote on Truth Social, his social media app.
Dozens of courts, election officials and reviews by Mr Trump’s own administration rejected his fraud claims.
Four people died the day of the attack, one fatally shot by police and the others of natural causes. More than 100 police officers were injured, and one died the next day. Four officers later died by suicide.
At the end of about two hours of testimony, Liz Cheney, one of two Republicans on the nine-member panel, presented possible evidence of witness tampering and obstruction of justice.
Ms Cheney showed messages to unidentified witnesses advising them that an unidentified person would be watching their testimony closely and expecting loyalty.
Ms Hutchinson told the committee that Mr Meadows and Mr Trump’s former lawyer Rudy Giuliani had sought pardons from Mr Trump, a charge Mr Giuliani later denied in an interview on New York radio.
Tuesday’s hastily called hearing marked the first time this month, in six hearings, that a former White House official appeared for live testimony.
Ms Hutchinson, 26, painted a picture of White House officials bristling at the possibility of Mr Trump’s joining what was to become a violent mob pushing its way into the Capitol, hunting for his vice-president, Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers who were certifying Mr Biden’s victory over Mr Trump.
“We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable,” Ms Hutchinson said White House counsellor Pat Cipollone told her if Mr Trump were to go to the Capitol on January 6.
Ms Hutchinson testified that days before the attack, Mr Meadows knew of the looming violence that could unfold.
“‘Things might get real, real bad on January 6’,” she quoted him as saying on January 2.
She testified that Mr Giuliani had said of January 6: “‘We’re going to the Capitol, it’s going to be great. The president’s going to be there; he’s going to look powerful.'”
At that point, she told the House committee of seven Democrats and two Republicans: “It was the first moment that I remembered feeling scared and nervous of what could happen on January 6.”