Exclusive: Sources tell Trump’s former White House ethics attorney Cassidy Hutchinson to give misleading testimony to Jan 6 committee


Washington
CNN

The January 6 committee made a startling claim Monday that there was evidence that a Trump-backed lawyer had urged a key witness to mislead the committee about the details they remembered.

Although the committee refused to reveal the individuals’ identities, CNN learned that Stefan Passantino, the top ethics attorney at the Trump White House, was the attorney who advised his then client, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, to tell the committee that he was his. Sources familiar with the committee’s work told CNN he did not remember the details he made.

Trump’s Save America political action committee funded Passantino and his law firm Elections LLC, including representing Hutchinson, other sources told CNN. The committee report notes that the attorney did not tell his client who was paying for legal services.

Over the summer, Hutchinson appeared as a blockbuster witness for the committee, providing key insights into Trump’s mood and actions that led to the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. Hutchinson left Passantino before his public statement and hired a new attorney.

When asked about the pressure on Hutchinson after Monday’s hearing, Committee member Representative Zoe Lofgren told CNN: “When she remembers something, she was advised to say she doesn’t remember. So this is pretty serious stuff.”

The incident is just one of several instances where the committee has accused members of Trump’s orbit of trying to obstruct the panel’s investigation.

Two sources familiar with the situation told CNN that Hutchinson had discussed the incident with the Justice Department. CNN previously reported that Hutchinson cooperated with the Justice Department’s January 6 investigation after he became a key public witness in the House investigation.

CNN reached out to the Justice Department for comment.

Passantino was not charged with a crime. House said investigators never reached out to him for an interview.

In a statement to CNN, Passantino said he did not advise Hutchinson to mislead the committee. “I have represented Ms. Hutchinson with dignity, ethics, and fully consistent with her sole interests which she has communicated to me. I believed that Ms. Hutchinson was honest and cooperative with the Committee during the few interview sessions I represented her.

Stefan Passantino is seen in a photo from law firm Michael Best.

Passantino pointed out that it is not unusual for people to change lawyers “because their interests or strategies have changed”, according to a statement. He also said that political committees sometimes cover customer fees “at the customer’s request.”

In response to the accusation that he shared his testimony with other lawyers and the press, although the delegation told him not to do so, he said, “The external correspondence made on behalf of Ms. Hutchinson when I was her lawyer was made with her statement. authority.”

On Tuesday, Passantino’s professional biography was removed from the website of a Midwest-based law firm of which he is a partner, and Passantino admitted in a statement that he was on leave from the firm “due to a distraction from this topic.” That firm, Michael Best & Friedrich LLP, said on Tuesday that it was not involved and that Hutchinson was not a customer.

Passantino said he remains a partner in Elections LLC.

The House January 6 committee said it was concerned about potential witness tampering during hearings over the summer. CNN reported that the witness was Hutchinson.

The committee summary noted that the panel was “aware of the numerous efforts President Trump has made to contact Elected Committee witnesses. The Ministry of Justice is aware of at least one of these conditions.”

President Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS) speaks as members of the House Elections Committee hold their final public hearing on December 19, 2022

Then, in the executive summary of the final report on Monday, the committee reconsidered the matter while handing over the investigation to the Justice Department.

According to the report, “the lawyer advised the witness that in certain circumstances the witness could tell the Committee that he remembered the facts but did not remember the facts.”

According to the synopsis, “When the witness expressed concerns to his lawyer about this approach,” the lawyer said, “they don’t know what you know. [witness]. They don’t know that you can remember some of these. So it’s perfectly acceptable to say ‘I don’t remember’.”

“The lawyer instructed his client on a specific issue that would illuminate President Trump: ‘No, no, no, no, no. We don’t want to go there. “We don’t want to talk about that,” the report said.

At the Committee’s final public hearing, Lofgren said: “The witness believed this was an effort to influence his testimony, and we are concerned that these efforts may be a strategy to prevent the Committee from finding the truth.”

Lawyers must adhere to comprehensive codes of ethics as part of their profession, including avoiding conflicts of interest that could endanger their ability to represent a client. According to legal ethics experts, a lawyer’s misdirection of a client’s statement that is not entirely correct can be seen as a potential obstruction to an investigation.

Elections LLC, the other Trump attorneys formed after Passantino and Trump left the White House, received regular payments from Save America PAC and other Trump-backed groups, according to FEC filings. For legal advice, Save America PAC distributions to the firm total more than $150,000 in 2021 and nearly $275,000 in 2022. The firm has also worked on major Republican congressional campaigns.

This year, Trump’s Save America PAC made payments to several law firms that represented witnesses in the January 6 and Mar-a-Lago investigation. Legal experts and professional code say that a problem arises only if the lawyer does not comply with his client’s wishes.

In its summary Monday, the committee cited several other examples of “evidence suggesting specific efforts to hinder” its work. They noted that, along with Trump’s efforts to contact some witnesses, there were numerous Secret Service agents hiring private attorneys rather than agency-provided lawyers to represent them for free. According to the committee, a Secret Service driver’s lawyer admitted to writing notes about what was said to the driver while testifying.

The committee also said it believes some witnesses, such as Trump’s former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and the former president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, were not as “outspoken or direct” as others.

The report also said the committee believed that White House staffer Anthony Ornato “gave testimony consistent with the miscalculation” in a book written by Mark Meadows, downplaying Trump’s request to go to the Capitol on January 6.

The committee said it plans to release transcripts that will shed more light on witness testimony they find questionable.

In its summary Monday, the committee gave several other examples of “evidence suggesting specific efforts to hinder” its work. They noted that, along with Trump’s efforts to contact some witnesses, there were numerous Secret Service agents hiring private attorneys rather than agency-provided lawyers to represent them for free. According to the committee, a Secret Service driver’s lawyer admitted to writing notes about what was said to the driver while testifying.

The committee also said it believes some witnesses, such as Trump’s former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and the former president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, were not as “outspoken or direct” as others.

The report also said the committee believed that White House staffer Anthony Ornato “gave testimony consistent with the miscalculation” in a book written by Mark Meadows, downplaying Trump’s request to go to the Capitol on January 6.

The committee said it plans to release transcripts that will shed more light on witness testimony they find questionable.


This story has been updated with other examples of potential blocking identified by the committee.

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