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Trump aides at heart of Jan. 6 claims said to have hired lawyers

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U.S. Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) speaks through the second public hearing of the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the USA Capitol, at Capitol Hill, in Washington, U.S. June 13, 2022.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

U.S. Secret Service agents at the middle of an explosive allegation about then-President Donald Trump’s demand to go to the Capitol on Jan. 6 have retained private counsel, based on a member of the House committee investigating the riot.

“A number of the officers said that they might be coming and talking under oath,” select committee member Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., told reporters Thursday night after the panel’s latest public hearing.

“They’ve not are available, and so they recently retained private counsel, which is unusual but they’ve a right to do this,” Lofgren said.

She specified that those officers are Tony Ornato, then a top Trump aide who was also a Secret Service agent, and Robert Engel, the previous head of Trump’s security detail. The motive force of the vehicle that took Trump back to the White House after a rally that preceded the Capitol riot has also retained private counsel, Lofgren said.

Those officials were cited by former White House official Cassidy Hutchinson in jaw-dropping sworn public testimony before the select committee last month.

Hutchinson described hearing from Ornato on Jan. 6, 2021, that Trump lunged at Engel inside a presidential vehicle after being told that the Secret Service wouldn’t drive him to the U.S. Capitol following his rally.

“Tony described him as being irate,” she testified, adding that Trump had apparently said something like, ‘I’m the effing president, take me as much as the Capitol now!'”

Trump had grabbed for the steering wheel of that vehicle, Hutchinson said Ornato told her, at which point Engel grabbed Trump’s arm and told him to stop. Trump “then used his free hand to lunge toward Bobby Engel,” Hutchinson testified.

She noted that Engel was within the room when Ornato relayed this account, and that he didn’t deny it on the time and has not done so since.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump acknowledges people as he gets in his SUV outside Trump Tower in Latest York, March 9, 2021.

Carlo Allegri | Reuters

But Trump quickly denied Hutchinson’s testimony, calling it “fake” and claiming it will have been not possible for him to achieve for the steering wheel.

Unnamed sources related to the Secret Service then appeared to forged doubt on Hutchinson’s testimony through statements to quite a few reporters.

NBC News, citing a source near the agency, reported that Engel and the driving force of the vehicle were prepared to testify under oath that Trump never reached for the wheel. CNN reported one other Secret Service official saying that Ornato denied telling Hutchinson that Trump lunged for the wheel or for Engel.

Hutchinson’s lawyer, Jody Hunt, responded on Twitter that his client “testified, under oath, and recounted what she was told. Those with knowledge of the episode also should testify under oath.”

Up to now, they’ve not done so, based on Lofgren.

In an announcement Friday, Secret Service Director James Murray didn’t address the controversies surrounding his agency’s erasure of communications or its involvement within the events of Jan. 6. But he did reiterate his commitment to supporting the select committee’s work, and said he has directed Secret Service personnel “to cooperate fully and completely.”

The agency is coordinating dates and times to satisfy with the investigators “for follow up inquiries,” Murray added.

The committee member’s latest comments on the investigation got here after the panel’s eighth public hearing on the initial findings from the yearlong investigation into the Jan. 6 riot, when a violent mob of Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol and delayed Congress from confirming President Joe Biden’s electoral victory.

The hearing focused on Trump’s inaction for greater than three hours through the riot, at the same time as his staff, allies and relations begged him to call off the mob.

Committee members argued that Trump’s refusal to stop the riot was not only a “dereliction of duty” but a deliberate selection by a president who refused to confess he had lost the election and was determined to stop or disrupt the transfer of power.

The prime-time hearing also revealed more testimony from witnesses who described a “heated argument” that an “irate” Trump engaged in after being told he wouldn’t be driven to the Capitol on that day.

The committee said it is going to hold more hearings in September because it continues to collect evidence.

The hearing also got here hours after NBC News and other outlets revealed that the the Department of Homeland Security’s internal watchdog has opened a criminal investigation into the erasure of Secret Service communications from across the time of the riot.

The Secret Service has said that some data was lost following a “system migration process” that began in January 2021 but was planned well upfront.

The select committee said Wednesday that the Secret Service’s deletions “may represent a possible violation of the Federal Records Act.”

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