The Jan. 6 committee on Tuesday will meet with a key subject in its two-year-long investigation: Tony Ornato, former President Donald Trump’s deputy chief of staff for operations.
Ornato transitioned from a long-time stint at the Secret Service to a role in the White House under Trump and retired from the Secret Service in August. He became a focus for investigators after Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, testified that Ornato was present during an explosive moment on Jan. 6 when Trump threw a temper tantrum because his security detail would not take his motorcade directly to the Capitol to meet the growing mob.
Under oath, Hutchinson said Ornato invited her into his office at the White House on Jan. 6 along with Bobby Engel, the head of Trump’s Secret Service detail. She told investigators that Ornato asked her if she had yet caught wind of Trump’s freakout in the motorcade. Ornato then recounted to her how Trump “lunged” at Engel as Engel sat in the driver’s seat of the president’s armored vehicle. Trump, Hutchinson recalled Ornato saying, tried to forcibly grab at the steering wheel.
“As the president got into the vehicle with Bobby, he thought they were going to the Capitol. When Bobby said ‘we’re not, we don't have assets to do it, it’s not secure,’ the president had a very strong, very angry response to that.
Tony described him as being irate and the president said something to the effect of ‘I'm the f-ing president take me up to the Capitol now’ to which Bobby responded, ‘Sir we have to go back to the West Wing.’”
“The president reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel. Engel grabbed his arm and said, ‘Sir you need to take your hand off the steering wheel. We’re going back to the West Wing.”
“Trump then used his free hand to lunge at Bobby Engel and when [Tony Ornato] had recounted this story to me, he had motioned towards his clavicle,” she said, gesturing towards her neck.
Anonymous sources cited in the press initially disputed Hutchinson’s testimony and a spokesperson for the Secret Service, Anthony Guglielmi, sought to throw cold water on her remarks as well.
Guglielmi claimed the committee failed to “reach out” to the Secret Service for more than a week before Hutchinson testified publicly. Guglielmi was finally interviewed by the panel on Nov. 1, The Washington Post reported. He fielded questions about his remarks as spokesman that seemed to diminish Hutchinson’s sworn account.
As for Engel, he never publicly denied Hutchinson’s account of Jan. 6. Engel met with the committee privately once this summer and CNN reported on Nov. 17 that he met with the probe for a second time this month.
A committee subpoena issued to the Secret Service in July produced over 1.5 million electronic records and other correspondence—though no text messages from agency personnel—from days before and after Jan. 6.
The New York Times reported that some of those records demonstrate how the Secret Service tried to find an alternate route to take Trump to the Capitol before finally abandoning the idea altogether due to overwhelming security concerns.
Per the Times:
“The Secret Service staff initially tried to accommodate Mr. Trump’s wishes, but supervisors at the agency expressed alarm, and the District of Columbia police declined to block off intersections for his motorcade as a mob of his supporters began attacking and injuring dozens of police officers, according to the communications, which were described by two people familiar with their contents.
Ornato’s closed-door appearance comes one day after the committee interviewed Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s former adviser, for roughly five hours.
She did not appear under a subpoena, and according to NBC News, she spoke to the select committee “on the record” and did not invoke her Fifth Amendment right.
The committee’s final report should be released before the end of the year.
On Sunday, committee member Adam Schiff told CNN he wanted the final product to be as “broad and inclusive as possible.”
Ahead of Schiff’s network appearance, it was reported by The Washington Post that there was dissension in the committee’s ranks over the final committee report’s focus.
There was “too much” emphasis on Trump because of committee vicechair Liz Cheney, one former staffer alleged, and Cheney was turning the committee’s final product into a “Cheney 2024 campaign affair,” the anonymous source added.
Schiff denied any break in the committee’s dynamic, and Cheney also pushed back on the reporting as well as complaints that the final report would not feature information about intelligence failures by law enforcement around the Capitol insurrection.
“That’s simply not true,” Cheney said.
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