During Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony this week before the Jan. 6 committee, Donald Trump lashed out wildly against her by way of his social media platform. The former president’s tirades covered a fair amount of ground, though at one point, he complained bitterly about the fact that the former White House aide had changed attorneys.
At the time, it seemed like a pointless complaint in the midst of a larger tantrum. But it soon took on a greater significance.
Alyssa Farah Griffin, who served as the director of strategic communications in the Trump White House, broke some news on CNN yesterday morning, explaining that Hutchinson, who’d already spoken to Jan. 6 investigators, reached out to her directly. As Griffin explained, Hutchinson had more information to share — insights she hadn’t previously been asked about — so she put the former aide in touch with Republican Rep. Liz Cheney.
Griffin added yesterday that she believes Trump World decided to cover the legal expenses of many Jan. 6 witnesses.
In fact, as MSNBC’s Ali Velshi explained last night, Hutchinson’s original lawyer, Stefan Passantino, had come from Trump’s team. Did the former president pay Passantino to represent Hutchinson? At this point, we don’t know that for sure, though we do know that Passantino’s firm has been getting regular payments from Trump’s Save America PAC.
Maybe these payments are unrelated to Hutchinson — we sought comment from Passantino, who didn’t respond — but the overall dynamic is obviously interesting. If you’re a witness speaking to Jan. 6 investigators, you have information Trump may prefer to keep under wraps, and your lawyer is getting regular payments from Trump’s political operation, it creates an awkward situation.
It was against this backdrop that Hutchinson changed her legal representation — and became even more forthcoming.
But this isn’t just about one witness. As Ali Velshi added, FEC records show payments from the Save America PAC to law firms representing several other Jan. 6 witnesses, which is understandably of interest to the bipartisan committee.
And right around the time Ali’s report was reaching viewers last night, The New York Times published this related report:
Former President Donald J. Trump’s political organization and his allies have paid for or promised to finance the legal fees of more than a dozen witnesses called in the congressional investigation into the Jan. 6 attack, raising legal and ethical questions about whether the former president may be influencing testimony with a direct bearing on him.
The Times added, “The episode raised questions about whether Mr. Trump and his allies may, implicitly or explicitly, be pressuring witnesses to hold back crucial information that might incriminate or cast a negative light on the former president. Mr. Trump and his advisers have been accused before of trying to influence witnesses in past investigations involving him.”
Remember, this isn’t just a passing curiosity. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Democratic member of the Jan. 6 committee, explained on the show this week, “We know that large amounts of money have been spent out of the fund that was amassed by the former president and is being used to pay for lawyers to various witnesses. The potential for coercion in that case is pretty obvious.”