January 6 committee rallies around Hutchinson amid Trump World attack

« There seems to be a common thread here…Tony Ornato likes to lie », Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) tweeted Thursday after another former Trump White House official, Alyssa Farah, questioned Ornato’s honesty.

Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Florida), another Jan. 6 committee member, said in an interview Wednesday with NBC that Ornato « didn’t have as clear memories of that time » as Hutchinson.

Their comments, echoed by other lawmakers and select aides, came as the committee began to rally around Hutchinson after his testimony painted a picture of an out-of-control Trump raising new questions about his culpability for the January 6 events.

His appearance also drew strong reactions from Trump and his allies. And one of them, former Trump White House aide Keith Kellogg, said Ornato’s sworn testimony should be trusted.

“Like all USSS agents, he was very professional, circumspect in daily action and trustworthy,” tweeted Kellogg, who met with investigators in December. « I will take his testimony under oath to the bank. »

Ornato, a veteran Secret Service agent of more than two decades with stints in the Presidential Protection Division under former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, was seconded to the White House by Trump in late 2019 and named Chief of deputy cabinet, an unusual arrangement for a law enforcement officer. He interviewed the select committee twice – once in January and once in March, according to two people familiar with his appearances.

In his January interview, according to a person who described the exchanges, Ornato recounted various memories of Jan. 6, including several that drew skepticism from the committee. Among them:

– Ornato told the restricted panel that Trump may not have been aware that then-Vice President Mike Pence was still inside the Capitol when he attacked Pence on Twitter at 2:24 p.m. on January 6. That tweet came minutes after rioters stormed into the Capitol and, according to many accounts from the scene, escalated the crowd’s fury. Ornato told the committee that he initially informed then-chief of staff Mark Meadows — incorrectly — that Pence had been evacuated from the Capitol to his residence at the time of that tweet. It’s unclear why Ornato initially believed Pence was removed from the Capitol or how long it took for the report to be corrected.

— The panel also asked Ornato about a tweet from 3:13 p.m. of Trump on January 6 asking the rioters – who had violently attacked police for hours – to “remain peaceful”. Investigators asked if he thought Trump should have issued a stronger order for the rioters to go home. Ornato told the committee there was nothing more Trump, or anyone else, could have done to call off the attack. A slew of other witnesses gave testimony contradicting Ornato’s, saying Trump was in a unique position to persuade the rioters to leave the Capitol as the siege dragged on.

The panel called Ornato back to complete his testimony in March. It is unclear what he discussed with investigators during his subsequent interview.

Ornato came under scrutiny this week after Hutchinson testified that he told her about Trump’s behavior inside his presidential vehicle after speaking at a ‘Stop the Steal’ rally. of his supporters on the morning of January 6. Trump intended to go to the Capitol to rally. supporters who were challenging the election results, Hutchinson recalled telling Ornato, and became enraged when his then-secret service chief told him they would return to the White House instead of joining the protest.

Hutchinson testified that Ornato told him that Trump was so angry that he made a physical movement toward the steering wheel as well as the collarbone of his detail’s chief.

Her second-hand account was one of many searing portrayals she offered to a furious president’s committee in an attempt to subvert his loss to Joe Biden. Hutchinson also provided granular details on Trump’s pre-January. 6 meetings and efforts to overturn the election. She also testified that on the morning of January 6, Trump knew that some of his supporters were armed and intended to march to the Capitol.

Hutchinson said Ornato described the vehicle incident during a small group with her and Trump’s retail chief Robert Engel after the rally. Engel, she says, did not contradict any aspect of Ornato’s story at the time.

But within hours of his public testimony, reports emerged suggesting that both Ornato and Engel were willing to appear under oath and contradict Hutchinson’s account. Neither man has spoken publicly since Tuesday, but the promise of future conflicting testimony sparked fury among Trump allies, who argued it discredited Hutchinson’s entire appearance.

Other questions have also since emerged about Hutchinson’s testimony. A spokesperson for former White House attorney Eric Herschmann said Herschmann — not Hutchinson — wrote a memo on Jan. 6 reflecting a proposed statement Trump was to make amid the riot, unlike to Hutchinson’s account.

Hutchinson’s attorneys, Jody Hunt and William Jordan, say she stands by her sworn testimony.

A Secret Service spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, declined to respond to details of Ornato’s testimony in January or the criticisms members of the select committee began leveling at him.

“I spoke to Mr. Ornato and we will share our first-hand account with the Committee under oath and officially,” Guglielmi said. « It is not appropriate to comment in the media before we have this chance to formally address members of Congress. »

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), vice chair of the select committee, did not criticize Ornato by name, but broadly defended Hutchinson’s credibility during an interview Wednesday with ABC’s Jonathan Karl.

“I am absolutely confident in his credibility. I am confident in his testimony,” Cheney said. « The committee is not going to sit idly by and watch his character be murdered by unnamed sources and by men claiming executive privilege. »

Betsy Woodruff Swan and Nicholas Wu contributed to this report.


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