By Richard Cowan and Moira Warburton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Donald Trump tried to grab the steering wheel of his presidential limousine on Jan. 6, 2021, when his security detail declined to take him to the U.S. Capitol where his supporters were rioting, a former aide testified on Tuesday.
The then-president dismissed concerns that some supporters gathered for his fiery speech outside the White House that day carried AR-15-style rifles, instead asking security to stop screening attendees with magnetometers so the crowd would look larger, the aide testified.
“Take the effing mags away; they’re not here to hurt me,” Cassidy Hutchinson, a top aide to Trump’s then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, quoted Trump as saying that morning.
Trump struggled with Secret Service agents who insisted he return to the White House rather than join supporters storming the Capitol where Congress was meeting to certify his rival Democratic President Joe Biden’s victory, Hutchinson testified.
“‘I’m the effing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,'” Hutchinson quoted an enraged Trump as saying. She said Trump tried from the back seat to grab the steering wheel of the heavily armored presidential vehicle.
It was one of several of Hutchinson’s disclosures in testimony at the sixth day of House hearings into the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol assault by Trump’s followers, roused by his false claims his 2020 election defeat was the result of fraud.
On social media Trump denied having grabbed the wheel.
“Her Fake story that I tried to grab the steering wheel of the White House Limousine in order to steer it to the Capitol Building is ‘sick’ and fraudulent,” Trump wrote on Truth Social, his social media app.
Dozens of courts, election officials and reviews by Trump’s own administration rejected his fraud claims, including outlandish stories about an Italian security firm and the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez tampering with U.S. ballots.
Four people died the day of the attack, one fatally shot by police and the others of natural causes. More than 100 police officers were injured, and one died the next day. Four officers later died by suicide.
At the end of about two hours of testimony, Representative Liz Cheney, one of two Republicans on the nine-member House panel, presented possible evidence of witness tampering and obstruction of justice.
She showed messages to unidentified witnesses advising them that an unidentified person would be watching their testimony closely and expecting loyalty.
Republican Mick Mulvaney, who served as Trump’s chief of staff before Meadows, said on Twitter: “There is an old maxim: it’s never the crime, it’s always the cover-up. Things went very badly for the former President today. My guess is that it will get worse from here.”
Hutchinson told the committee that Meadows and Trump’s former attorney Rudy Giuliani had sought pardons from Trump.
Giuliani told WSYR radio in Syracuse, New York, on Tuesday that he had not sought a pardon: “The only time a pardon came up between the president and me, there were two witnesses present including the president, and I told them I did not want a pardon because I didn’t need one.”
The hastily called hearing marked the first time this month, during six hearings, that a former White House official appeared for live testimony.
Speaking in soft but assured tones, Hutchinson painted a picture of panicked White House officials bristling at the possibility of Trump joining what was to become a violent mob pushing its way into the Capitol, hunting for then-Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers who were then certifying the victory of Biden over the Republican Trump.
‘EVERY CRIME IMAGINABLE’
Their worries focused on the potential criminal charges Trump and others could face.
“We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable,” Hutchinson said White House counselor Cipollone told her if Trump were to go to the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“‘We need to make sure that this doesn’t happen, this would be a really terrible idea for us. We have serious legal concerns if we go up to the Capitol that day,'” Cipollone said, Hutchinson testified.
Hutchinson, who sat doors away from Trump’s Oval Office, testified that days before the attack on the U.S. Capitol, Meadows knew of the looming violence that could unfold.
“‘Things might get real, real bad on Jan. 6,'” she quoted him as saying inside the White House on Jan. 2 with her boss.
She testified that Giuliani had said of Jan. 6: “‘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.'”
At that point, she told the House committee of seven Democrats and two Republicans: “It was the first moment that I remembered feeling scared and nervous of what could happen on Jan. 6.”
This month’s hearings featured videotaped testimony from figures including Trump’s oldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, and his former attorney general, Bill Barr. They and other witnesses testified that they did not believe Trump’s false claims of widespread fraud and tried to dissuade him of them.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Moira Warburton, additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Rose Horowitch and Costas Pitas; Editing by Scott Malone and Howard Goller)