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Cassidy Hutchinson told Jan. 6 committee Trump-linked lawyer urged her to "downplay" role in testimony, transcript reveals

Jan. 6 witness says Trump allies applied pressure
Jan. 6 witness says Trump allies applied pressure 01:55

Washington — Cassidy Hutchinson, a former top aide to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, told investigators with the House select committee probing the Jan. 6 Capitol assault that a lawyer allied with former President Donald Trump urged her to "downplay" her role to the panel and tell investigators she did not recall events surrounding the attack, according to transcripts of her interviews made public Thursday.

The two transcripts released by the select committee are from two interviews Hutchinson gave to House investigators on Sept. 14 and Sept. 15. The panel is making public transcripts from all witness interviews taken during its nearly 18-month investigation and is set to release its final report Thursday.

During the Sept. 14 closed-door interview with the committee, Hutchinson answered questions about her legal representation during the course of its investigation and who was paying her fees, though her attorneys at the time of her interview said they were working pro bono.

Hutchinson walked the panel through her early efforts to secure low-cost legal representation beginning November 2021, when she became aware she would be subpoenaed to appear before the select committee. She eventually received a call from Stefan Passantino, a former White House ethics lawyer, in early February, who said he would be representing her but declined to reveal who was paying him. 

Hutchinson expressed to the committee her concern of being represented by an attorney with ties to Trump and recalled telling her mother after Passantino was brought on as her lawyer that "I'm f**ked."

"I am completely indebted to these people," Hutchinson said she told her mother, according to the transcript. "They will ruin my life, mom, if I do anything that they don't want me to do."

Hutchinson first met with Passantino on Feb. 16 at the Washington, D.C., office of the law firm Michael Best, she told investigators, and said he urged her to "downplay your role."

"'You were a secretary,'" Hutchinson said Passantino told her, according to the transcript. "'You had an administrative role. Everyone's on the same page about this.'"

Passantino also told Hutchinson, "We're going to take care of you," she revealed to the committee.

During the Feb. 16 meeting, Hutchinson said she also relayed her recollection of an incident involving Trump and the head of his security detail after his speech at a rally on the Ellipse on Jan. 6, during which she was told Trump lunged at the Secret Service agent after his demands to go to the Capitol were denied. Hutchinson revealed the alleged encounter involving Trump during her public testimony at the June 29 committee hearing.

But Passantino urged her not to share her recollection of the encounter to committee investigators.

"And Stefan said, 'No, no, no, no.' I remember he, like, sat back in his chair, and he's like, 'No, no, no, no, no. We don't want to go there. We don't want to talk about that,'" Hutchinson told the committee of the exchange.

Hutchinson stressed that he "never told me to lie," but did say Passantino instructed her to say "I do not recall" and encouraged her to "use that response as much as you deem necessary."

"I said, 'But if I do remember things but not every detail, and I say I don't recall, wouldn't I be perjuring myself?'" Hutchinson asked Passantino, she told the committee. "Stefan said something to the effect of, 'The committee doesn't know what you can and can't recall, so we want to be able to use that as much as we can unless you really, really remember something very clearly."

The select committee referenced Hutchinson's experience with Passantino in introductory materials released Monday, writing it "received a range of evidence suggesting specific efforts to obstruct the committee's investigation," though the parties involved were not named in the summary.

Passantino said in a statement to CBS News that he represented Hutchinson "honorably, ethically, and fully consistent with her sole interests as she communicated them to me."

"I believed Ms. Hutchinson was being truthful and cooperative with the Committee throughout the several interview sessions in which I represented her," he said. "It is not uncommon for clients to change lawyers because their interests or strategies change. It is also not uncommon for a third-party, including a political committee, to cover a client's fees at the client's request."

Passantino said the committee never reached out to him. He is taking a leave of absence from Michael Best, where he worked, but will continue as a partner in Elections LLC, a firm he launched in 2019 with others who worked for Trump.

Hutchinson explained in extensive detail her efforts to secure a lawyer in the early stages of the select committee's probe and the web of Trump's allies she was urged to contact for help finding representation.

In one exchange, Hutchinson revealed a conversation with Liz Horning, a former White House colleague, during which she suggested Hutchinson contact Meadows "about getting my legal fees paid for, either by him or somebody at the Conservative Partnership Institute," the organization where Meadows is a senior partner. Hutchinson eventually contacted Meadows, with no response.

Horning later suggested Hutchinson contact Matt Schlapp, a Trump ally who leads the American Conservative Union, as well as Pam Bondi, the former attorney general of Florida who was on Trump's legal team during his 2019 impeachment proceedings, and Eric Herschmann, a former Trump White House lawyer.

Passantino represented Hutchinson in early depositions before the select committee, though she eventually parted ways with him over the summer and brought on a new team led by former Justice Department official Jody Hunt, who was present for the September interviews.

Prior her first appearance before investigators in late February, Hutchinson said Passantino told her "the less you remember, the better," and urged her not to compile timelines of events. The morning of her Feb. 23 interview, he reiterated his advice that Hutchinson "downplay your position," and then suggested that he wanted to talk to her about "potential job opportunities," she told the committee.

"I was extremely nervous going into the first interview for a multitude of reasons," Hutchinson told the committee in September. "I almost felt like at points Donald Trump was looking over my shoulder. Because, one, I know how Trump world operates. Two, Stefan had already kind of planted the seeds of, we know you're loyal, like, we know you're going to do the right thing, we know you're on Team Trump, like, we want to take care of you."

In a later conversation with Passantino on March 1, Hutchinson said he told her, "We're gonna get you a really good job in Trump world," and "We want to keep you in the family."

The interview transcript also reveals Ben Williamson, another White House aide who was close to Meadows, told Hutchinson the night before her second deposition in March that "Mark wants me to let you know that he knows you're loyal, and he knows you'll do the right thing tomorrow and that you're going to protect him and the boss."

Rep. Liz Cheney, the committee's vice chair, recited this comment during Hutchinson's June public hearing, but did not reveal who made it or to whom. 

According to the transcript, Hutchinson also revealed she sought advice from an unidentified Republican lawmaker in January, as she was hunting for a lawyer, about "Trump world" paying for her legal bills. The lawmaker told her, "If you do that, just know that you're kind of making your bed, and you're getting back in Trump world, Cassidy. The lawyer isn't just going to be working for you.'" 

The GOP lawmaker also asked Hutchinson later, as she expressed regret about her initial testimony to the committee in February, whether she would be "able to live with yourself if you just move on and kind of forget about this, or do you want to try to do something about it?" according to her interview transcript.

Hutchinson told the committee she ended up cutting ties with Passantino in early June, after she became concerned she would be held in contempt of Congress if she refused to appear before the committee again.

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