WASHINGTON – A year and a half after the deadly U.S. Capitol insurrection, the most memorable recounting of former President Donald Trump's behavior that day came from a young woman who had graduated from college just a few years earlier.
Cassidy Hutchinson gave two hours of testimony on national television that cast Trump as enraged by efforts to keep his armed supporters from attending his speech before many marched to the Capitol and her boss at the time, chief of staff Mark Meadows, as unwilling to confront Trump and staring unresponsively at his cellphone during key moments.
Having once shed tears of joy after getting a White House internship, Hutchinson, now in her mid-20s, described how she grew disgusted by Trump's refusal to stop the rioters. And in a single afternoon, she went from being a former junior White House staffer, to high-profile star witness, with the scrutiny that comes with it.
“We were watching the Capitol building get defaced over a lie,” she said.
The testimony helped fill in several key gaps about Trump's level of direct involvement that day, and placed Meadows and other key Trump officials at the center of events critical to investigations by the House committee and the Justice Department.
It amplified calls for Meadows to drop his fight against the committee's subpoena and raised new questions about whether officials around Trump could face criminal charges.
“I knew her testimony would be damning,” tweeted Alyssa Farah Griffin, a former White House communications official who said she was friends with Hutchinson. “I had no idea it’d be THIS damning. I am so grateful for her courage & integrity.”
Hutchinson showed her familiarity with better-known officials in the White House, referring at times to Meadows, security official Tony Ornato, and national security adviser Robert O’Brien by their first names. Meadows, in turn, called her “Cass,” in her retelling of one story.
Her voice never broke as she recounted quotes from Trump and Meadows in her video depositions and under questioning from the committee’s Republican vice chairman, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming. Both women embraced after the hearing.
Cheney, a 55-year-old former State Department official and daughter of a vice president, spent decades in public life before her criticism of Trump led many in the GOP to turn against her.
Hutchinson, meanwhile, became Trump's focus for the first time. He pumped out harsh attacks on Truth Social, the website he created after Twitter banned him following the insurrection.
“I hardly know who this person, Cassidy Hutchinson, is, other than I heard very negative things about her (a total phony and ‘leaker’),” he wrote.
He continued to post throughout the afternoon, accusing Hutchinson of lying, saying her body language “is that of a total bull.... artist,” and describing her handwriting as “that of a Whacko?”
Allies of Trump and Meadows questioned some details of her testimony, which included stories she said she heard second-hand. One story that drew pushback was her allegation that Trump lunged for the steering wheel and assaulted a Secret Service agent when his detail wouldn't take him to the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Meadows' attorney, George Terwilliger, told The Associated Press that Hutchinson's testimony "could not withstand even five minutes of fundamental cross-examination.”
“Most of it is based on hearsay, lack of first-hand knowledge and even just pure speculation as to what others were thinking, said or did," he said.
Several high-profile Republicans said Tuesday that Hutchinson was known to be close to Meadows and often accompanied him in meetings. The committee early in her testimony showed photos of her with Trump and other top officials.
Mick Mulvaney, who preceded Meadows as Trump’s chief of staff, tweeted during the hearing that “things just got a lot more interesting.” He added that “if the President knew the protesters had weapons, and still encouraged them to go to the Capitol, that is a serious problem.”
Although the White House is perhaps the world’s most prestigious office building, much of the staff is young, sometimes even fresh out of college like Hutchinson. They often previously worked on the president’s campaign or the national party, and they’re distinguished by their ambition and willingness to work long hours for little pay.
They’re also critical to any administration’s machinery. They help with the logistics of media coverage, prepare for public events and answer the phones. Because they’re often within earshot as the country’s most powerful people gossip and plan, discretion is expected.
Young aides often go on to bigger government roles or prestigious positions in business or the media. Some run for office themselves.
Hutchinson had the same ambitions when she graduated, telling a college publication in 2018 that she wanted to be an “effective leader in the fight to secure the American dream for future generations.”
She described having been “brought to tears” when she received an email telling her she’d been accepted to a White House internship program.
“As a first-generation college student, being selected to serve as an intern alongside some of the most intelligent and driven students from across the nation – many of whom attend top universities – was an honor and a tremendous growing experience,” she is quoted in a profile published by her alma mater, Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia.
She says in the article that she attended numerous events hosted by Trump and often watched out her window as Marine One would depart the White House’s South Lawn.
“My small contribution to the quest to maintain American prosperity and excellence is a memory I will hold as one of the honors of my life,” she said in the piece.
She joined the White House shortly after graduation and became Meadows' aide in March 2020. Several months later, she would be in rooms where top Trump aides discussed how they could overturn his election loss.
She saw the aftermath of Trump's rage at Attorney General Bill Barr for telling The Associated Press that there was no evidence of widespread election fraud. Entering a private dining room, she saw a valet cleaning up a mess after Trump smashed a plate and the remains of his lunch on a wall.
“There was ketchup dripping down the wall, and there was a shattered porcelain plate on the floor," she said Tuesday. "The valet had articulated that the president was extremely angry at the attorney general’s AP interview and had thrown his lunch against the wall.”
She grabbed a towel to help the valet clean up, she said.
There was no widespread election fraud. Trump lost more than 60 court cases attempting to prove wrongdoing.
On the morning of Jan. 6, she said Ornato, a Secret Service agent detailed to the White House, came to warn Meadows that many rallygoers waiting to hear from Trump had guns and other weapons, including spears attached to the end of flagpoles. Meadows didn't immediately look up from his cellphone, then later asked to confirm that Ornato had briefed Trump, she said. He had.
Terwilliger defended Meadows as able to multitask and to maintain calm during crises. And another former Meadows aide, Ben Williamson, tweeted criticism of what he called the “nonsense suggestion that Meadows somehow didn’t care about initial violence at the Capitol.”
Hutchinson said she was close enough to Trump at one point to hear him demand that attendees not be screened so that they could fill the crowd, saying, “I don’t effing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me.”
And she alleged Trump became so irate at being driven back to the White House after his speech — when he exhorted his supporters to “fight like hell” — rather than the Capitol that he tried to grab the steering wheel of the presidential vehicle away from a Secret Service agent who was driving.
“I’m the effing president,” Hutchinson said she was told Trump had said.
Hutchinson recently switched lawyers, going from a former Trump White House official to Jody Hunt, a veteran former Justice Department official who served as chief of staff to former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and who emerged as a key witness for special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign.
“While she did not seek out the attention accompanying her testimony today, she believes that it was her duty and responsibility to provide the Committee with her truthful and candid observations of the events surrounding January 6,” said Hunt and co-counsel William Jordan in a statement. “Ms. Hutchinson believes that January 6 was a horrific day for the country, and it is vital to the future of our democracy that it not be repeated.”
Associated Press writer Chris Megerian contributed to this report.