File this one under utterly unsurprising: Former Trump White House lawyer Stefan Passantino allegedly advised former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson to mislead the probe when she appeared for testimony before the Jan. 6 committee.
Passantino was the senior ethics attorney at the White House during Trump’s presidency. The allegations were first reported by CNN on Tuesday.
Hutchinson, who served as an aide to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, was reportedly pressured to “say that she didn’t recall something when she did,” according to Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat who sits on the soon-to-be-dissolved Jan. 6 committee.
Hutchinson and the committee disclosed Passantino’s alleged conduct to the Justice Department already. The Fulton County District Attorney’s office, which is investigating Trump’s attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election, also has the information. To be clear: Passantino has not been charged with any crimes or accused of any crimes at this time. It is unclear whether the committee spoke to Passantino directly.
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“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,” Passantino said in a statement late Monday.
The committee claims that the former Trump White House lawyer shared Hutchinson’s testimony with reporters and other attorneys despite her requests that he keep them private. Passantino denied this in his statement to CNN, saying that any external communications made on Hutchinson’s behalf were done with her “express authorization.”
Passantino has since taken a leave of absence from Michael Best & Friedrich, a Wisconsin-based law firm where he is a partner. His biography was not available on the company’s website as of Tuesday morning.
As the Jan. 6 probe wore on, Hutchinson ultimately replaced Passantino with another attorney. Notably, his attorney's fees were being paid by none other than former President Donald Trump’s Save America PAC.
The initial summary of the committee’s final report notes that Hutchinson fired Passantino after she learned who was paying him. Per the report, Hutchinson told the committee that he advised her to recall facts when she did not and instructed her not to “cast a bad light” on the former president.
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“No, no, no, no, no, we don’t want to go there. We don’t want to talk about that,” Hutchinson recalled Passantino telling her after a “particular issue” arose during her testimony. It is unclear what issue prompted the lawyer to allegedly say this specifically.
Per the select committee’s executive summary:
“The lawyer refused directions from the client not to share information regarding her testimony with at least one and possibly more than one member of the press.
The lawyer shared the information with the press over her objection
The lawyer did not disclose who was paying for the lawyers’ representation of the client, despite questions from the client seeking that information, and told her ‘we’re not telling people where funding is coming from right now.’
The client was offered potential employment that would make her ‘financially very comfortable’ as the date of her testimony approached by entities apparently linked to Donald Trump and his associates. Such offers were withdrawn or did notmaterialize as reports of the content of her testimony circulated. The client believed this was an effort to impact her testimony.”
More details are expected once the committee publishes the transcripts that will accompany its final report.
Passantino, along with a handful of other Trump-connected attorneys, formed their own law practice, Elections LLC, in 2021 and raked in cash from the Save America PAC.
The PAC paid Passantino’s firm more than $150,000 last year for legal consulting. Public records from the Federal Election Commission show in 2022, Save America PAC paid Elections LLC roughly $275,000.
When public hearings were underway in June, the select committee aired its concerns about attempts by Trump-backed figures to tamper with witnesses. In July, Committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney divulged that Trump tried to call someone she had identified as a witness but had not yet appeared at the committee’s hearing.
It is illegal to pressure someone to lie to federal investigators.
When Cheney disclosed this information at the time, Jason Miller, Trump’s longtime adviser, told The Washington Post that Cheney was orchestrating a “classic political misdirection play.”
The select committee says that it has “substantial concerns” over efforts to obstruct its investigation and urged the Justice Department in its executive summary to “examine the facts to discern whether prosecution is warranted.”
Hutchinson’s testimony was some of the most jaw-dropping to emerge from the probe’s public hearings.
The young White House aide testified that deputy White House chief of staff and Secret Service agent Tony Ornato told her—in the presence of Bobby Engel, the head of Trump’s Secret Service detail—that Trump lunged at Engel in the presidential SUV following Trump’s speech at the Ellipse on Jan. 6.
Trump, she recalled Ornato telling her, was irate that he would not be driven to the Capitol to join the throngs of his supporters. Hutchinson also disclosed that Trump knew people in the crowd were armed but he ignored that fact and urged that people be allowed past magnetometers.
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The “lunge” was denied by the Secret Service but several witnesses told the committee Trump was “heated” during the exchange.