Ex-White House lawyer advised Jan 6 witness to give misleading testimony, report says

‘She was advised to say that she didn’t recall something when she did. So that’s pretty serious stuff’

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Wednesday 21 December 2022 17:25 GMT
Related video: Mike Pence says Jan 6 charges would be ‘terribly divisive’

The House Select Committee investigating the January 6 Capitol riot has alleged that a former Trump White House ethics lawyer told a witness to give misleading testimony, advising her to say she didn’t recall things that she could, in fact, remember.

While the panel hasn’t named the attorney and witness, CNN reports that Trump White House ethics attorney Stefan Passantino told witness Cassidy Hutchinson, who served as an aide to ex-Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, to avoid telling the panel everything she knew. Mr Passantino rejects that allegation.

Former President Donald Trump’s political action committee Save America paid Mr Passantino as well as his law firm, Elections LLC, which included funding related to him representing Ms Hutchinson.

A report summary from the January 6 panel states that Mr Passantino didn’t tell Ms Hutchinson who was paying him to represent her.

Ms Hutchinson was a key witness for the panel, which dedicated a full hearing to her testimony outlining Mr Trump’s thoughts and actions ahead of the insurrection.

Ahead of her appearance before the public, Ms Hutchinson switched attorneys.

“She was advised to say that she didn’t recall something when she did. So that’s pretty serious stuff,” panel member and California Democratic Representative Zoe Lofgren told CNN. Ms Hutchinson has discussed the issue with the Department of Justice, the outlet reported.

The panel has accused Trump allies of attempting to derail their investigation on several occasions.

Mr Passantino hasn’t been accused of any criminal actions. He has said that investigators from the House never contacted him to request an interview.

He also told CNN that he didn’t tell Ms Hutchinson to mislead the panel.

“I represented Ms 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 in a statement.

He added that it’s not rare for people to switch attorneys “because their interests or strategies change”. Mr Passantino said that PACs sometimes pay for attorneys “at the client’s request”.

The panel accused Mr Passantino of sharing Ms Hutchinson’s testimony with fellow lawyers and the press despite her request that he refrain from doing so.

Responding to that allegation, he told CNN that “external communications made on Ms. Hutchinson’s behalf while I was her counsel were made with her express authorization”.

He said in the statement that he was on leave of absence from the law firm Michael Best & Friedrich LLP “given the distraction of this matter”.

The firm said on Tuesday that they weren’t a part of this situation, adding that Ms Hutchinson wasn’t a client of theirs.

Ms Passantino added that he’s still a partner at Elections LLC.

In the executive summary of the final report from the January 6 committee, the panel wrote that “the lawyer had advised the witness that the witness could, in certain circumstances, tell the Committee that she did not recall facts when she actually did recall them”.

“When the witness raised concerns with her lawyer about that approach,” the attorney said that “they don’t know what you know. They don’t know that you can recall some of these things. So you saying ‘I don’t recall’ is an entirely acceptable response to this,” the summary stated.

“The lawyer instructed the client about a particular issue that would cast a bad light on President Trump: ‘No, no, no, no, no. We don’t want to go there. We don’t want to talk about that,’” the document said.

On Monday, during the panel’s final public meeting, Ms Lofgren said that “the witness believed this was an effort to affect her testimony, and we are concerned that these efforts may have been a strategy to prevent the Committee from finding the truth”.

The committee said in its summary on Monday that there were a number of other examples of “evidence suggesting specific efforts to obstruct” the probe.

They mentioned attempts by Mr Trump to speak to some witnesses, and several Secret Service agents hiring private lawyers instead of attorneys provided by the agency for no cost.

One lawyer representing a Secret Service driver admitted to writing notes to the agent during their testimony about what was under discussion, the committee alleged.

The panel also said that some witnesses, such as Mr Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, weren’t as “frank or direct” as other witnesses.

The committee added that they think a White House staffer, Anthony Ornato, “gave testimony consistent with the false account” in Mark Meadows’s book soft-pedalling Mr Trump’s wanting to go to the Capitol on the day of the insurrection.

The committee said that they plan on making public transcripts from testimony they found debatable.

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