Trump lunged at driver to try to join Capitol riot: aide

Frankie Taggart, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jun 29 2022 11:34 AM

Former President Donald Trump speaks in Wellington, Ohio, on June 26, 2021 in his first big campaign-style rally since leaving the White House. Stephen Zenner, AFP/File
Former President Donald Trump speaks in Wellington, Ohio, on June 26, 2021 in his first big campaign-style rally since leaving the White House. Stephen Zenner, AFP/File

WASHINGTON — Former US president Donald Trump angrily lunged at his Secret Service driver and grabbed at the steering wheel of his limousine in a bid to join the crowd as it marched on the Capitol on the day of the deadly insurrection, an aide testified Tuesday.

In some of the most explosive testimony so far to the House committee probing the violence, Cassidy Hutchinson, an assistant to Trump's chief of staff Mark Meadows, said the president had demanded to be taken to the Capitol after his speech near the White House.

Trump became irate when he was told that it was impossible for security reasons, and he tried to wrestle the Secret Service for control of his official car, Hutchinson testified.

"I'm the effing president, take me up to the Capitol now," Trump said, according to Hutchinson, who testified that the story was relayed to her by another administration official.

Trump, apparently watching the televised hearing, attempted to discredit Hutchinson in real time in a multiple-post rant on his social media network, dismissing the episode as a "fake story" and calling the hearing a "kangaroo court."

US media later reported that the Secret Service agents involved may be willing to testify and deny Hutchinson account.

The US Secret Service did not respond to AFP's request for comment.

The congressional panel has spent a year investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 riot that temporarily halted the certifying by Congress of the presidential election result.

It has now held 6 public hearings to outline its initial finding -- that Trump led a criminal conspiracy to overturn his defeat to Joe Biden that led to the violence.

Hutchinson was a central figure in the administration and able to offer the committee its first blow-by-blow account of activity inside the White House.

She testified that Trump and some of his top lieutenants were aware of the possibility of violence -- contradicting claims that the assault was spontaneous and had nothing to do with the administration.

'THINGS MIGHT GET REAL, REAL BAD' 

Hutchinson said she recalled Meadows saying four days before the insurrection: "Things might get real, real bad on January 6."

Hutchinson had sought out her boss, she said, after a White House meeting involving Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani. As they were leaving, Giuliani asked her if she was "excited" for Jan. 6. 

When she asked what Giuliani meant, Hutchinson recalled that he "responded something to the effect of, '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... Talk to the chief about it. He knows about it.'"

She told Meadows what Giuliani had said, she testified.

"He didn't look up from his phone and said something to the effect of, 'There's a lot going on, Cass, but I don't know. Things might get real, real bad on Jan. 6,'" Hutchinson told the hearing.

Meadows and Trump were aware of the possibility of violence, including that members of the pro-Trump mob were armed when they gathered near the White House on the day of the riot, Hutchinson said. 

ARMED PROTESTERS

Watch more News on iWantTFC

When she told Meadows violence had erupted, Meadows "almost had a lack of reaction," Hutchinson said.

Vice chair Liz Cheney said the committee had obtained police reports that people at the Trump rally on the Ellipse had knives, Tasers, pepper spray and blunt objects that could be used as weapons.

Police transmissions played at the hearing showed that others outside the rally had firearms including AR-15 semi-automatic rifles.

Hutchinson described an exchange between Meadows and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone soon after the rioters broke into the US Capitol, during which the lawyer said Trump needed to call off the mob chanting for his vice president Mike Pence to be hanged.

"He doesn't want to do anything, Pat," Hutchinson recalls Meadows telling Cipollone. Trump "thinks Mike deserves it," Hutchinson recalled Meadows adding.

Meadows, who asked for a pardon related to January 6, refused to testify before the panel since handing over thousands of text messages and other documents in the early stages of the investigation.

The latest hearing was announced at last minute amid concerns for Hutchinson's security. Cheney suggested that that former Trump officials were trying to intimidate witnesses.

© Agence France-Presse