Ketchup on the wall, scuffle at the wheel: Trump aide's testimony lands like grenade at Jan. 6 hearing

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Ketchup on the wall. A scuffle in the presidential limousine between Donald Trump and his Secret Service agent. The president's dismissal of warnings that the supporters he urged to march on the Capitol were armed with guns, knives, pepper spray and brass knuckles.

"I don't (expletive) care that they have weapons," he allegedly replied. "They're not here to hurt me."

The historic testimony Tuesday at a hastily scheduled hearing by the House committee investigating the attack on Jan. 6, 2021, was as shocking as anything Americans have heard in two centuries of presidential scandals.

Former White House assistant Cassidy Hutchinson portrayed Trump as reckless and unhinged as he provoked the most serious assault on the Capitol since the War of 1812. By her account, he was at the center of it all, determined to stop the ceremonial counting of electoral ballots that would declare him the loser of the 2020 election, no matter what it took.

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The account was made more devastating because it was delivered by a previously obscure figure, 25 years old and soft-spoken, who made no efforts to grandstand. She was cautious about embellishing what she knew, but then she didn't really need to.

Hutchinson seemed to be a fly on every wall: in the tent behind Trump's speech to the protesters on the Ellipse. In the small dining room where the valet was cleaning up after the president smashed his lunch plate when he learned Attorney General Bill Barr had told a reporter there was no evidence the 2020 election had been stolen. In the West Wing hallway as White House lawyer Pat Cipollone came "barreling down" to grab Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

“The rioters have gotten into the Capitol, Mark; we need to go down and see the president now,” she quoted Cipollone as saying. “And Mark looked up (from his phone) and said, ‘He doesn't want to do anything, Pat.’”

What finally broke her loyalty to Trump, she said, was a tweet the president sent as the rioters threatened to hang Vice President Mike Pence. "Mike Pence didn't have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution," he wrote.

Recap: Trump lunged at a security chief on Jan. 6, demanded to go to Capitol, aide tells hearing

As a staffer, "I remember feeling frustrated, disappointed and – really, it felt personal – it was really sad," she said. "As an American, I was disgusted. It was unpatriotic, it was un-American. We were watching the Capitol building get defaced over a lie."

During the Watergate scandal a half-century ago, another obscure surprise witness blew open the investigation. White House assistant Alexander Butterfield testified that the Oval Office had a taping system, an explosive opening to find out exactly what President Richard Nixon had said before Democratic offices were broken into and afterward, when officials tried to cover it up.

Cassidy Hutchinson, former assistant to President Donald Trump, is sworn in June 28 at a hearing by the House committee investigating the riot Jan. 6, 2021.
Cassidy Hutchinson, former assistant to President Donald Trump, is sworn in June 28 at a hearing by the House committee investigating the riot Jan. 6, 2021.

Hutchinson's testimony was immediately devastating for Trump – no need to wait for the tapes. She was there. She said Trump was told about the risk of violence beforehand and about the reality of violence as it unfolded. He resisted pleas from top aides and family members to speak out and calm the crowd.

The testimony spotlights the question ahead for Attorney General Merrick Garland: Should Trump be charged with a criminal violation in the insurrection?

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In Hutchinson's telling, Trump sometimes seemed out of control.

She said he was determined to go to the Capitol to join the protesters even after the headof his security detail told him it was too dangerous. “The president said something to the effect of, ‘I'm the … president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, relaying what she was told immediately after the incident by deputy chief of staff Anthony Ornato. Trump allegedly tried to grab the steering wheel but was stopped by Secret Service agent Robert Engel.

"Mr. Trump then used his free hand to lunge towards Bobby Engel," she said, motioning that the president tried to choke the agent who was tasked with the job of protecting his life.

Committee chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., closed the hearing with a renewed request to those who have refused to testify to come forward after the latest revelations. Perhaps they have "discovered some courage you had hidden away somewhere," he said with an edge. Meadows has defied a committee subpoena.

Deputy chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., disclosed that investigators were told that some close to Trump issued barely veiled threats against those who were about to give depositions to the committee. An unidentified witness in a deposition recounted being "reminded" that "Trump does read transcripts and just to keep that in mind

Cassidy Hutchinson, it seems, wasn't swayed by that.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jan. 6 inquiry ignited by Trump aide testimony of a president unhinged