Trump’s White House chief of staff burned documents before Capitol riot, witness says

Staffer Cassidy Hutchinson told the investigating panel that her boss Mark Meadows destroyed official papers around a dozen times

Donald Trump and Mark Meadows leave the White House for the presidential helicopter in October 2020.
Donald Trump and Mark Meadows leave the White House for the presidential helicopter in October 2020.ALEXANDER DRAGO (REUTERS)
Iker Seisdedos

The US House committee that investigated the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol still had aces up its sleeve. After publishing its monumental 814-page report last Thursday, the result of 18 months of investigation, its nine members have been sharing raw transcripts of interviews given by some of the witnesses with the media. These include revelations buried within the hundreds of pages that occupy the four conversations held with Cassidy Hutchinson, a young White House staffer. In May testimony, she told Liz Cheney, vice-chair of the investigative panel, that she had seen her boss, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, burn documents “in a fireplace” in the presidential residence during December and early January.

The exchange comes on page 42 of the first of the documents shared on Tuesday. In it, Cheney questions Hutchinson, who later starred in one of the committee’s most widely-commented televised hearings: on June 28, she provided testimony about the 187 minutes that elapsed between then-president Donald Trump’s arrival at the White House – he had summoned thousands of supporters to Washington for a rally that ended in a violent attack on Congress while Joe Biden’s electoral victory was being certified – and the moment when he finally asked the mob to go home. In her televised testimony, Hutchinson provided a powerful image of Trump’s anger, including scenes of ketchup dripping down the wall of the White House dining room.

Cassidy Hutchinson
Cassidy Hutchinson declared under oath on June 28 before the January 6 investigative panel.STEFANI REYNOLDS (AFP)

The May 17 interview, as reflected in the document shared on Tuesday, includes the following exchange:

—”Did you ever see Mr Meadows destroy documents in his fireplace?

—Yes, ma’am.

—And do you know what the documents were?

—I don’t know.

— How frequently did you see him do this?

— It’s hard, I want to say once a week or twice [...] Maybe just over a dozen, but this is over a period of December through mid-January, which is when we started lighting the fireplace.

— Did he explain what he was doing?

— I never asked.

In her deposition, Hutchinson noted that she did not know whether those documents were originals or copies, and said it was possible they might have been duplicates that there was an original or digital copy of.

These statements, which were partially disclosed before the summer in reports by Politico and The New York Times, also allude to Republican congressman Scott Perry. Hutchinson recalled that the burning of papers occurred on several occasions after Meadows had met with Perry, a representative from Pennsylvania who was decisively involved in Trump’s efforts to invalidate the election results that made Biden president. Despite the fact that the courts have dismissed the theory of election fraud on more than 60 occasions, Trump and his followers are still insisting on it more than two years later.

Last week it also emerged that Hutchinson told the committee that she felt pressured by her former boss and others so that she would not testify.

With a new session of Congress due to begin on January 3, with the swearing-in of dozens of new lawmakers, the US House select committee that investigated the Capitol riot has its days numbered. But it is widely assumed that members will use their last days to continue sharing information that was left out of the final report made public last week. Meanwhile, half a dozen publishers were racing against the clock to publish the report in book format. By late Friday, three editions were already in the top 30 on Amazon, AP reported.

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