By Sam Cabral
Donald Trump knew supporters had weapons when he urged them to storm the Capitol to overturn the 2020 election, a former White House aide has said.
Ex-aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified to the committee probing the 6 January riots that Mr Trump and his top staff knew the potential for violence.
But a planned rally, which attorney Rudy Giuliani said would make Mr Trump “look powerful”, went ahead.
The president also demanded to join the march on the Capitol himself, she said.
In a series of public hearings, the 6 January committee has sought to link the former president directly to the efforts to prevent Congress from certifying the 2020 election results.
Up until now, the congressional panel was missing a key piece of information – the testimony of someone who could offer a first-hand account of the situation in the White House in the hours before the attack.
But at its sixth hearing – hastily announced with what the committee said was the revelation of new evidence – Ms Hutchinson, 25, filled in the blanks.
As principal advisor to Mr Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, Ms Hutchinson sat less than 10 seconds from the Oval Office, spoke daily with Mr Meadows, and was the chief West Wing liaison to Capitol Hill.
She recounted that several top officials warned repeatedly that Mr Trump’s rally on 6 January could spiral out of control.
Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe told the White House the event could be “dangerous for the president’s legacy”, while counsel Pat Cipollone expressed concerns it would look like the White House was inciting a riot.
And days before the attack, Ms Hutchinson recounted Mr Meadows admitting that things “could get real, real bad”.
Yet, on the morning of 6 January, when he was informed that attendees at Mr Trump’s rally had brought guns, knives and other weapons with them, Mr Meadows barely looked up from his phone and asked “anything else”?
Ms Hutchinson claimed that Mr Trump was informed some of his supporters were being turned away by the Secret Service because they were armed and setting off security devices.
But the former president called for the security devices to be removed and the official rally space to be filled to capacity, repeatedly saying “they’re not here to hurt me” and “let them in”, she alleged.
During Ms Hutchinson’s testimony, Mr Trump issued a denial of some of her account on his Truth Social online platform, saying: “I didn’t want or request that we make room for people with guns to watch my speech. Who would ever want that?”
After supporters had marched to the Capitol, Mr Trump then insisted he wanted to join them, lunging for the steering wheel of the presidential vehicle when his staffers refused, Ms Hutchinson said she was told.
She is one in a series of Republicans and former White House staffers to co-operate with the congressional probe – but the first to provide live testimony.