Anthony Ornato, a former deputy White House chief of staff in the Trump administration as well as a longtime ex-Secret Service official, has repeatedly saidthat he had no recollection of a heated interaction between former President Donald Trump and US Secret Service agents, according to a transcript of his testimony, released Friday.
The details of the alleged meeting first came to attention in June, when former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson told the committee of Trump’s desire to go to the Capitol with his supporters, recounting the alleged demand for explosive public testimony.
Hutchinsonthat she spoke with Ornato in a room with Robert Engel, the Secret Service special agent in charge on January 6. According to Hutchinson, during the meeting, Ornato indicated that the president became “irritated” in his vehicle when he was told he couldn’t go to the Capitol, saying something like, “I’m the effing president, take me to the Capitol now.”
When told he had to return to the West Wing, Trump reached for the front of the vehicle to grab the steering wheel, prompting Engel to grab his arm, Hutchinson said Ornato told him to the time. The president then used his free hand to lunge at Engel, she said, noting that Ornato “beckoned to his collarbones” as he described the incident.
“I don’t recall being made aware of anything that happened with the president in his motorcade from the Ellipse to the White House,” Ornato said Nov. 29 – according to the transcript just released. to be published – when faced with his Account conflict.
“So Mr. Ornato, you’re stating that the meeting itself wasn’t even really a meeting. The way you described it, Mr. Engel stuck his head in your office, you had a brief exchange and, as you described it, that was the end,” countered Rep. Liz Cheney, vice chair of the committee. “That’s not consistent with the testimony we’ve received, as I have said, of several other witnesses.”
Following Hutchinson’s testimony, sources close to the Secret Service also questioned Hutchinson’s testimony, noting that Secret Service officials were prepared to testify under oath that neither man had been physically attacked or assaulted by Trump, and that the former president had never rushed behind the wheel. of the vehicle.
Ornato, a 25-year veteran of federal law enforcement who served under five presidents,secret service in August.
In several appearances before the committee, Ornato’s account diverged from that of Ms. Hutchinson and several other interviewees.
“I don’t recall any conversation having taken place about the president’s possible trip to Capitol Hill,” Ornato told committee members during his Nov. 29 sworn interview.
Earlier this month, the committeedescribing Trump’s efforts to get to the Capitol after his rally on the Ellipse.
According to the summary published by the committee. The committee went on to say it was “skeptical” of Ornato’s account and obtained evidence from multiple sources regarding a “furious interaction” in Mr Trump’s SUV, following his speech to supporters.
“Mr. Ornato remained cooperative throughout the committee’s investigation and testified honestly before the committee on three occasions,” Ornato’s attorney Kate Driscoll said in a statement to CBS News. “It is clear from the introductory material of the final report that the committee did not fully appreciate or understand Mr. Ornato’s role and responsibilities as Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations. Most questions of the committee dealt with emails he neither sent nor received.. It is also clear that they did not fully appreciate or ignore Mr. Ornato’s testimony regarding the President’s request to visit Capitol Hill.
The select committee has now released 142 transcripts, totaling thousands of pages.
“The vast majority of witnesses who testified before the Select Committee on this matter, including several members of the Secret Service, a member of the Metropolitan Police and National Security officials in the White House, described President Trump’s behavior as ‘furious’, ‘furious’, ‘insistent’, ‘profane’ and ‘heated'”, according to the summary.
During an interview with the committee in March 2022, Ornato also told committee members and staff that he did not recall if he had notified the president of a group coming to Washington, D.C., on January 6. , but that he would have been responsible for ensuring that the president was “followed by the [demonstrations.]”
“I don’t remember,” Ornato said, according to an excerpt from his interview released by the committee. “However, in my position, I would have made sure he was following the demos, which he was getting a daily briefing from, a presidential briefing. So he was most likely getting all of that in his daily briefing as well. I wouldn’t know what was in his intelligence file that day, but I would have made sure he was tracking those things and I would have just mentioned, “Hey, are you tracking demos?” If he said “yes” to me, I don’t m I don’t remember today, but I’m sure it was something that happened.”
According to the committee, “Ornato had access to intelligence suggesting violence on Capitol Hill on January 6, and it was his job to inform Meadows and Trump.” Although Ornato told congressional investigators he did not recall doing so, the committee “found several portions of Ornato’s testimony questionable.”
“The select committee finds it hard to believe that neither Meadows nor Ornato briefed Trump, as was their job, on the information that was emerging in the run-up to the Jan. 6 rally,” the committee wrote in its summary. “Hours before the January 6 Ellipse rally, it was widely known that the assembled crowd was prepared for potential violence.”
According to the committee, the Secret Service produced almost a million new internal documents in August and September of this year. The members wrote in a footnote to the executive summary that “the committee has enormous respect for the United States Secret Service and recognized that testimony regarding their work is sensitive for law enforcement, security beneficiaries and national security”.
CBS News reached out to the Secret Service to comment on Friday’s testimony.
Ornato’s interview with congressional investigators also revealed that Secret Service and White House officials were briefed on a visit to the White House for Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio on December 12, 2020. , in the. On December 12, 2020, a thread from a Secret Service agent in the Washington Field Office to a group of USSS officials, forwarded to Ornato, indicated that Enrique Tarrio had received a visit from the White House, according to communications submitted to the Committee.
“For your knowledge, the [Joint Operations Center] was informed that the person below was part of a tour of the White House this morning. The individual is the leader of the Proud Boys. There is no known media coverage at this point,” the email read.
A follow-up email from Secret Service official Ron Rowe to Engel reads: ‘Can we get details of who submitted him for the tour? Why haven’t we resumed his role/belonging to the Proud Boys?”
During his testimony, Ornato told the committee that he did not recall telling then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows or anyone else about the Tarrio’s foray into the White House, but that he would have relayed this type of information up the chain of command. Ornato speculated that he was alerted because “there would have been negative media coverage”.
At the time, a White House spokesman, Judd Deere, told CBS News that Tarrio attended a public Christmas tour at the White House and “did not have a meeting with the President, and the White House had not invited him”.
The former leader of the Proud Boys and four lieutenants have since been charged with seditious conspiracy, namely conspiring to prevent the peaceful transfer of presidential power by storming the Capitol on January 6 and attempting to prevent Congress from certify the election. Jury selection for the trial is set to resume on January 3 after a holiday break, according to court records.
Rob Legare contributed to this report.