Former Meadows Aide: Trump Lunged at Secret Service Agent, Tried to Grab Steering Wheel on Jan. 6

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Former President Donald Trump attempted to grab the steering wheel of his presidential vehicle and lunged toward his security detail when he was informed that he would not be taken to the Capitol following his Jan. 6 rally, according to a former top White House official whose comments Tuesday raised the prospect of new testimony from the individuals involved who sources say are willing to testify under oath to pushback on that account.

Cassidy Hutchinson, a former top aide to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, recalled in testimony before the House committee investigating the insurrection that Trump was desperate to join supporters at the Capitol and became irate when his security team informed him that he could not go due to safety concerns.

Hutchinson detailed a conversation she had with Tony Ornato, White House deputy chief of staff for operations, and Bobby Engel, who headed Trump’s security detail, at the White House following Trump’s speech at the Ellipse, in which he told rallygoers that he would be marching to the Capitol with them as Congress completed its formal tally of the 2020 election results.

“I looked at Tony, and he had said, ‘did you f-ing hear what happened in the Beast?’” Hutchinson recalled, using the nickname for the presidential vehicle. “I said, ‘no Tony, I just got back, what happened?’ Tony proceeded to tell me that when the president got in the Beast, he was under the impression that the off-the-record movement to the Capitol was still possible, and likely to happen, but that Bobby had more information.”

“So once the president had gotten into the vehicle with Bobby, he thought that they were going up to the Capitol, and when Bobby had relayed to him, ‘we’re not, you don’t have the assets to do it, it’s not secure, we’re going back to the West Wing,’ the president had a very strong, very angry response to that.”

Hutchinson said Ornato described Trump “as being irate.”

Trump “said something to the effect of, ‘I’m the f-ing president, take me up to the Capitol now,’” Hutchinson testified. “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. Mr. 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. We’re not going to the Capitol.’”

Hutchinson added that Trump “then used his free hand to lunge towards Bobby Engel, and when Mr. Ornato had recounted this story to me, he had motioned toward his” collarbone.

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., then asked Hutchinson if Engel disagreed with any part of the story Ornato relayed. Hutchinson said he did not.

A source close to Ornato told NBC News that Trump’s former deputy chief of staff for operations first heard the account involving the steering wheel during Hutchinson’s testimony Tuesday, and that Ornato is willing to testify under oath that it is not true.

NBC News has reached out to Ornato for comment.

Separately, a source close to the Secret Service told NBC News that Engel also heard the steering wheel account and the account of Trump lunging toward him in the SUV for the first time Tuesday. Engel, the source said, is willing to dispute the accounts under oath.

As NBC News previously reported, Ornato and Engel have testified before the Jan. 6 committee behind closed doors. NBC News has learned, according to a source familiar with their testimony, that both men testified about their exchange with Hutchinson inside the White House, but, according to this source, neither man was asked about the steering wheel account or Trump allegedly grabbing Engel. The source said the two men do not deny that Trump was angry and wanted to go to the Capitol on Jan. 6 — but, the source said, he did not become physical inside the SUV.

NBC News has reached out to both Ornato and Engel for comment; neither has responded.

Image: Cassidy Hutchinson, former aide to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, listens as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds a hearing at the Capitol on June 28, 2022. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)
Image: Cassidy Hutchinson, former aide to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, listens as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds a hearing at the Capitol on June 28, 2022. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)

Secret Service spokesman Anthony Gugliemi told NBC News that the Secret Service has communicated to the Department of Homeland Security that any and all personnel requested by the Jan. 6 committee are available to testify under oath, responding to Tuesday’s allegations. The Secret Service is part of DHS.

When reached for comment, a Jan. 6 committee aide told NBC News in a statement: “The Select Committee found Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony to be credible. The committee welcomes anyone who wishes to provide additional information under oath.”

Cheney, the vice-chair of the committee, later noted during the hearing that the physical altercation Hutchinson testified to was not the only time Trump “had become very angry about issues relating to the election.” She said Hutchinson was present when Trump found out on Dec. 1, 2020, that then-Attorney General William Barr had said in an interview that the Department of Justice was not aware of any voter fraud that would have changed the results of the presidential election.

Hutchinson then testified that soon after The Associated Press article went live, she heard a noise come from down the hallway at the White House. She said she went into the dining room to see what happened and that she saw “ketchup dripping down the wall and a shattered porcelain plate on the floor.” Hutchinson added that staff was also changing the tablecloth off the dining room table.

Hutchinson said it was her understanding that the mess was because Trump was “extremely angry” about Barr’s interview with The Associated Press and “had thrown his lunch against the wall.” She said she grabbed a towel and assisted in the cleanup.

Cheney asked if that was the only time in which Trump “threw dishes.” Hutchinson testified it was not, saying there were other times he either threw dishes or flipped the tablecloth, causing its contents to fall on the floor and break.

Responding to Hutchinson’s testimony on his Truth Social platform, Trump said he “hardly” knew her, “other than I heard very negative things about her (a total phony and ‘leaker.’)”

“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, very much like the Unselect Committee itself — Wouldn’t even have been possible to do such a ridiculous thing,” Trump wrote. “Her story of me throwing food is also false … and why would SHE have to clean it up, I hardly knew who she was?”

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