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Secret Service: Agents would testify about ride

By AI HEPING in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-06-30 10:44

Text messages between Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations at the White House Tony Ornato and Cassidy Hutchinson, who was an aide to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, are displayed as she testifies during a public hearing of the US House Select Committee to investigate the Jan 6 Attack on the US Capitol, on Capitol Hill in Washington, US, June 28, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

The US Secret Service has said that two agents are willing to testify under oath to dispute that President Donald Trump tried to grab the steering wheel of a vehicle he was in or that he struck one of the agents when they refused to take him to the Capitol as it was being attacked by rioters on Jan 6, 2021.

The Secret Service notified the committee Tuesday that agents Tony Ornato and Bobby Engel are prepared to say that the incident described earlier Tuesday in testimony by Cassidy Hutchinson — former aide to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows — to the House select committee investigating the riot didn't occur.

Secret Service officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told CNN that the two men wouldn't dispute that Trump wanted to be driven to the Capitol as the pro-Trump protesters, some of them armed, headed in that direction, and Congress was meeting to ratify that Joe Biden had won the election.

After the hearing, a Secret Service official familiar with the matter told CNN that Ornato denies telling Hutchinson that the former president grabbed the steering wheel or an agent on his detail.

It is unclear when the committee first heard the story about Trump's actions in the vehicle from Hutchinson. But the committee didn't reach out to the Secret Service before Hutchinson testified, according to an agency spokesperson.

Anthony Guglielmi, the service's chief of communications, told Politico that select committee investigators didn't ask Secret Service personnel to reappear or answer questions in writing in the 10 days before asking Hutchinson about the matter at the hearing.

"[W]e were not asked to reappear before the Committee in response to yesterday's new information and we plan on formally responding on the record," he wrote in an email. "We have and will continue to make any member of the Secret Service available."

Hutchinson testified she had been told that when Trump was informed by security that he wouldn't be going to the Capitol on Jan 6, 2021, after giving a speech to supporters at the Ellipse in front of the White House, he lunged to the front of his vehicle and tried to turn the wheel with one hand while using his other hand to "lunge" at Robert Engel, the Secret Service agent in charge that day. Hutchinson testified that she had been told this by Ornato, then-White House deputy chief of staff, and that Engel had been in the room where the story was told. Trump wasn't in the armored limousine known as "the Beast", as Hutchinson implied, but in an SUV that presidents sometimes ride in.

Both Engel and Ornato have appeared in private before the committee. It is unclear when the committee first heard the story about Trump's actions in the vehicle from Hutchinson.

Trump's allies are now pointing to Hutchinson's testimony about the car incident as a misstep by the committee and using it to undermine the credibility of her testimony.

In this file photo taken on Jan 06, 2021, US then president Donald Trump speaks to supporters near the White House in Washington, DC. [Photo/Agencies]

Hutchinson's legal counsel said in a statement Wednesday to CNN that she "stands by all the testimony she provided yesterday, under oath, to the Select Committee to Investigate the Jan 6 attack on the United States Capitol'', according to counsel Jody Hunt and William Jordan.

According to CNN, Ornato is known to have a strong relationship with Trump and his team, having been granted an unusual waiver to suspend his time on the Secret Service to serve as Trump's deputy White House chief of staff.

Engel had previously testified before the committee and described interactions with Trump on Jan 6, including the former president's desire to travel to the Capitol, but Engel wasn't asked about an altercation or being assaulted, the official said. His testimony hasn't been released.

Hutchinson testified for nearly two hours on Tuesday as well as giving recorded depositions in advance of the hearing, describing her experience at the White House close to Meadows and Trump during the days leading up to and including the Capitol Hill riot.

She described how Trump and Meadows had been repeatedly warned on the day of the attack about the possibility of violence, including from armed individuals at the rally.

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