Secret Service: Officials willing to testify after Jan. 6 witness said Trump lunged, grabbed wheel

WASHINGTON – Two Secret Service employees are prepared to testify to a House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol after an explosive account Tuesday from a former White House aide that former President Donald Trump grabbed the steering wheel in a presidential vehicle and lunged at an agent inside the car, according to a Secret Service official.

The two employees, Bobby Engel, the former head of Trump's Secret Service security detail, and Anthony Ornato, who served as Trump's deputy chief of staff for operations, were named in Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony. Hutchinson is a former aide to Trump's chief of staff, Mark Meadows.

Anthony Guglielmi, the chief of communications for the Secret Service, said the agency has alerted all involved parties that it is willing to make any and all of its agents and officials available for further testimony before the committee.

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Engel and Ornato are prepared in their testimony to challenge aspects of Hutchinson's account of what happened in the vehicle, according tothe Secret Service official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss internal Secret Service deliberations publicly. But the official gave no specifics on what they would say.

The official said that neither Engel nor Ornato are contesting the central claim by Hutchinson that triggered Trump's alleged volatile behavior described inside the vehicle: that he wanted to lead the armed mob of rioters to the U.S. Capitol in a desperate attempt to cling to power. They also aren't disputing that Trump was angry about not being able to go to the Capitol.

Questions about Hutchinson's testimony put one of the most explosive revelations to come out of the Jan. 6 hearings under the microscope. Trump and his allies seized on the scrutiny to try to discredit the committee's star witness.

Trump, in a statement, called Hutchinson's testimony about the steering wheel "a fake story" that is "sick and fraudulent, very much like the Unselect Committee itself." He added, "Wouldn’t even have been possible to do such a ridiculous thing."

Trump did not dispute the claim that he wanted to follow his supporters to the Capitol as Congress counted electoral votes.

"Ms. Hutchinson testified, under oath, and recounted what she was told," Hutchinson's attorney, Jody Hunt, said Tuesday. "Those with knowledge of the episode also should testify under oath." Hunt followed with a statement Wednesday that said Hutchinson "stands by all of the testimony she provided yesterday, under oath," to the committee.

Both Engel and Ornato have previously testified to the committee.

A committee aide told USA TODAY the committee stands by Hutchinson and will not respond specifically to comments made by unnamed government officials. But, the aide said, "the committee welcomes anyone who wishes to provide additional information under oath."

Hutchinson made clear to the House committee that she did not witness Trump's outburst firsthand.

She testified she was told the account by Ornato on Jan. 6 after she returned to the White House from the Ellipse, where Trump gave a speech at a rally of supporters, many armed, who later stormed the Capitol. She said Engel was present and "did not correct or disagree with any part of the story."

"I looked at Tony and he had said, 'Did you f—ing hear what happened in 'The Beast'?" Hutchinson said, referring to the nickname of the presidential vehicle. "I said, no, Tony, I just got back. What happened?"

More: Who is Mark Meadows? Meet Trump's chief of staff who defied Jan. 6 committee subpoena

Hutchinson said Ornato told her that when Trump entered the president vehicle after his speech, the president was under the impression from Meadows that a plan for him to head to the Capitol was "still possible." Engel told Trump he could not go there because it was not secure, according to Hutchinson's testimony of Ornato's account.

"The president had a very strong, very angry response to that," Hutchinson said. "Tony described him as being irate. The president says something to the effect of, 'I'm the f—ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now.' To which Bobby responded, 'Sir, we have to go back to the West Wing.'"

At that point, according to Hutchinson's telling of what Ornato told her, Trump – sitting in the back of the vehicle – reached up toward the front to "grab at the steering wheel." She said Engel grabbed the president's arm and said, "Sir, you need to take your hand off the steering wheel. We're not going to the Capitol. We're going back to the West Wing. We're not going to the Capitol."

Hutchinson added: "Mr. Trump then used his free hand to lunge towards Bobby Engel. And when Mr. Ornato had recounted this story to me, he had motioned towards his clavicles."

Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison and Josh Meyer @joshmeyerdc.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Secret Service: officials willing to testify after Jan. 6 testimony

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