WASHINGTON (AP) - Former President Donald Trump dismissed the presence of armed protesters headed to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and even endorsed their calls to "hang Mike Pence," a key former White House aide told House investigators Tuesday, describing chaotic scenes inside and outside the executive mansion as Trump argued to accompany his supporters.
Trump was informed that some of the protesters in the crowd outside the White House had weapons, but he told officials to "let my people in" and march to the Capitol, testified Cassidy Hutchinson, who was a special assistant to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.
Hutchinson depicted a president flailing in anger and prone to violent outbursts as the window to overturn his election loss closed and as aides sought to rein in his impulses. Told by security officials that it wasn't safe to go to the Capitol after he addressed his supporters, he lunged toward the steering wheel of the presidential SUV.
Hutchinson said she was told of the altercation in the armored vehicle - dubbed "The Beast" - by Meadows' deputy shortly after it happened.
It wasn't clear what Trump would have done at the Capitol as a violent mob of his supporters was breaking in. But there were conversations about him "going into the House chamber at one point," Hutchinson said.
As his supporters laid siege to Congress, both Trump and Meadows appeared unconcerned about cries in the crowd to "hang Mike Pence!" The president tweeted during the attack that Pence didn't have the "courage" to object to President Joe Biden's victory as he presided over the joint session of Congress that day.
Hutchinson quoted Meadows as saying that Trump "thinks Mike deserves it."
And as for the rioters, Meadows said, "He doesn't think they're doing anything wrong."
Hutchinson's explosive testimony – featured in a surprise hearing announced just 24 hours earlier -- came as the House committee investigating the Capitol insurrection holds a series of hearings to inform the public about what happened as Trump's supporters beat police, broke in through windows and doors and interrupted the certification of Biden's victory.
"As an American I was disgusted," Hutchinson told the committee, reacting to Trump's tweet about Pence. "It was unpatriotic, it was un-American, and you were watching the Capitol building get defaced over a lie."
"I still struggle to work through the emotions of that," she added.
Hutchinson quoted Trump as directing his staff, in profane terms, to take away the metal-detecting magnetometers that he thought would slow down supporters who'd gathered in Washington. In videotaped testimony played before the committee, she recalled the former president saying words to the effect of: ""I don't f-in' care that they have weapons."
"They're not here to hurt me. Take the f-in' mags away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here," Hutchinson testified.
Before they left the Ellipse, where Trump had addressed them between the White House and the Washington Monument, she said, she received an angry call from House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, who had just heard the president say he was coming to the Capitol. "Don't come up here," McCarthy told her, before hanging up.
In the days before the attack, Hutchinson said that she was "scared, and nervous for what could happen" after conversations with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Meadows and others.
Meadows told Hutchinson that "things might get real, real bad," she said. But she described him as unconcerned as security officials told him about the people at Trump's rally who had been caught with weapons - including people wearing armor and carrying automatic firearms.
Giuliani told her it was going to be "a great day" and "we're going to the Capitol."
As a White House insider, she told stories of a raging president who was unable to acknowledge his defeat. At the beginning of December, Hutchinson said, she heard noise inside the White House around the time an Associated Press article was published in which then-Attorney General William Barr said the Justice Department had not found evidence of voter fraud that could have affected the election outcome.
She said she entered a room and noticed ketchup dripping down a wall and broken porcelain. The president, it turned out, had thrown his lunch at the wall in disgust over the article and she was urged to steer clear of him.
The 25-year-old, who was a special assistant and aide to former Trump chief of staff Meadows, had earlier provided a trove of information to congressional investigators and had sat for interviews behind closed doors. The committee called the surprise hearing this week after she agreed to give public testimony.
In excerpts of her closed-door testimony, Hutchinson told the committee in recent months that she was in the room for White House meetings where challenges to the election were debated and discussed, including with several Republican lawmakers.
She revealed that the White House counsel's office cautioned against plans to enlist fake electors in swing states, including in meetings involving Meadows and Trump lawyer Giuliani. Attorneys for the president advised that the plan was not "legally sound," Hutchinson said.
During her separate depositions, Hutchinson also testified about her boss' surprise trip to Georgia weeks after the election to oversee the audit of absentee ballot envelope signatures and ask questions about the process.
The panel has held five hearings so far, mostly laying out Trump's post-election campaigning to various government institutions in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 6 joint session of Congress.
The committee has used the hearings to detail the pressure from Trump and his allies on Pence, on the states that were certifying Biden's win, and on the Justice Department. The panel has used live interviews, video testimony of its private witness interviews and footage of the attack to detail what it has learned.
Lawmakers said last week that the two July hearings would focus on domestic extremists who breached the Capitol that day and on what Trump was doing as the violence unfolded.
Associated Press writers Nomaan Merchant and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.