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Trump said he knew Jan. 6 crowd members had weapons, ex-White House aide testified

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The January 6 committee developed more of its case today with explosive testimony. According to a surprise witness, President Trump and some of his closest allies were willing to risk everything to overturn the 2020 election - inciting violence, breaking the law, hurting others. That witness was Cassidy Hutchinson, a top aide to former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows. She testified that former White House counsel Pat Cipollone was among those sounding the alarm to her boss.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CASSIDY HUTCHINSON: Mark, something needs to be done, or people are going to die, and the blood is going to be on your effing hands. This is getting out of control. I'm going down there.

SHAPIRO: It was part of a pattern that came to a head with the attack on the Capitol. NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales was covering today's testimony. Hi, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So we heard from Cassidy Hutchinson that there were a lot of signs that January 6 could turn violent. We've seen where that all came to a head. Lay out what the early clues were.

GRISALES: Right. The committee shared police radio traffic from the day of the attack, documenting reports of individuals at the rally carrying weapons such as assault-style rifles.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Underneath the hooded jacket, complainants both saw a stock of an AR-15. He's going to be with a group of individuals, about 5'8", 5'9", skinny white males, brown cowboy boots. They had Glock-style pistols in their waistband.

GRISALES: And this followed what Hutchinson told the committee was repeated warnings to the Trump White House that violence was expected. For example, she testified that Trump knew that members of the crowd had weapons, but that he didn't care. He said that they were not there to hurt him, and they could march to the Capitol after the rally.

SHAPIRO: We also have been wondering how much people knew in real time at the White House about the violence that was happening. And the testimony today illustrated just how aware senior administration officials were. Tell us what we learned.

GRISALES: Right. Yes. Hutchinson said that Cipollone in particular warned about this as there were discussions among allies about Trump even going to the House chamber on January 6 or joining the rioters in their march to the Capitol.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HUTCHINSON: Mr. Cipollone said something to the effect of, please make sure we don't go up to the Capitol, Cassidy. Keep in touch with me. We're going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen.

GRISALES: And this preceded a physical altercation involving the then-president that Hutchinson heard about, where he attempted to take control of the presidential vehicle to get to the Capitol but was restrained by his security detail. And then Trump lunged at this agent and towards an aide in the vehicle.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HUTCHINSON: The president reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel. Mr. Engel grabbed his arm - 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. Mr. Trump then used his free hand to lunge towards Bobby Engel.

SHAPIRO: It's just remarkable to think about the president lunging at the man driving his limousine. And we also heard this was not the first time that Trump exploded on his team like this in the run-up to the attack.

GRISALES: Yes. Hutchinson also said she came across a scene where Trump threw dishes on a wall, leaving ketchup dripping down after learning that his attorney general, Bill Barr, said there was no widespread fraud in the 2020 election. But we should note Trump has denied these claims on a social media platform he controls, despite documentation in some of these cases.

SHAPIRO: Now, Hutchinson sort of spelled out different groups or teams within the White House in the run-up to January 6. Describe what she laid out here.

GRISALES: Yes. Hutchinson said Rudy Giuliani told her days ahead of the attack that January 6 would be, quote, "great," and Trump would look, quote, "powerful." And she was worried. And she explained that he was part of one of these three groups. One group tried to intervene and get the then-president to take action to stop the attack, and that included Cipollone. Another quiet group that did not speak out comprised another. And a third that would include Giuliani was blaming others. And then another theme she touched on again and again was the inaction by her boss, Mark Meadows, and then, in turn, Trump, who received warnings and did nothing to respond to the violence even as it was unleashed on the Capitol.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Claudia Grisales, thanks a lot.

GRISALES: Thank you much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.