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Former White House ethics lawyer faces provocative allegations

Did a former ethics lawyer in the Trump White House advise a key Jan. 6 witness to offer incomplete testimony?


Among the most striking moments from this week’s Jan. 6 committee meeting had little to do with the attack on the Capitol itself. Instead, Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren alerted the public to an alleged effort to influence the testimony of key witnesses.

“[O]ne lawyer told a witness, the witness could in certain circumstances tell the committee that she didn’t recall facts when she actually did recall them,” Lofgren said. “That lawyer also did not disclose who was paying for the lawyer’s representation, despite questions from the client seeking that information.” The unnamed client was told, “We’re not telling people where funding is coming from right now.”

There was no shortage of questions about this, and a CNN report yesterday appeared to fill in the gaps.

Though the committee declined to identify the people, CNN has learned that Stefan Passantino, the top ethics attorney in the Trump White House, is the lawyer who allegedly advised his then-client, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, to tell the committee that she did not recall details that she did, sources familiar with the committee’s work tell CNN. Trump’s Save America political action committee funded Passantino and his law firm Elections LLC, including paying for his representation of Hutchinson, other sources tell CNN. The committee report notes the lawyer did not tell his client who was paying for the legal services.

CNN's reporting has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News.

If Stefan Passantino’s name sounds at all familiar, it’s not your imagination. The lawyer, who used to represent former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, was the lawyer in Donald Trump’s White House who was responsible for policing ethics rules.

He also worked for the Trump Organization and spent some time trying to help the Republican keep his tax returns hidden.

But it now appears some of his most important work related to the Jan. 6 committee.

According to allegations from the Jan. 6 committee, Passantino not only represented Hutchinson, he also tried to steer her into providing incomplete testimony. While the lawyer insists he did nothing wrong, The New York Times reported overnight that Passantino has taken a leave of absence from his law firm because, as he put it, the situation with the committee had become a “distraction.”

It’s difficult to say with confidence what will happen next with this controversy, but let’s not forget key details that we already know. As we learned over the summer, Hutchinson, while represented by Passantino, sat down with congressional Jan. 6 investigators to discuss what she knew.

The former White House aide soon after said she had additional information she wanted to share — at which point she changed her legal representation and became even more forthcoming with the committee.

Watch this space.