Cassidy Hutchinson’s Take on Her Trump-World Lawyer—and Why It Still Matters (2024)

On Nov. 9, 2021, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitolannounced that it was issuing a new wave of subpoenas to 11 former Trump administration officials. Perhaps the most obscure name on the list was that of Cassidy Hutchinson, former special assistant to ex-President Donald Trump and his chief of staff, Mark Meadows. She was 24 years old.

Seven months later, she was no longer obscure. On June 28, 2022, the committee called her as the sole witness at perhaps the most sensational of its nine riveting public hearings that summer. As theNew York Times reported:

For two stunning hours on live television, Ms. Hutchinson described an unhinged former president who, she said, was warned that supporters were carrying weapons and expressed no concern because they were not a threat to him. She said that Mr. Trump tried to grab the steering wheel of the presidential limousine and lunged for his Secret Service agent because he wanted to go to the Capitol[.]

But the fireworks weren’t over. On Dec. 21, CNNbroke the story that members of Congress were alleging that Hutchinson’s first, Trump World-funded attorney, who had shepherded her through three interviews with the committee in early 2022, had instructed her to say “that she did not recall details that she did.” The next day, the committee issued itsfinal report and asserted in the criminal referrals section of theexecutive summary that it had “substantial concerns regarding potential efforts to obstruct its investigation, including by certain counsel (some paid by groups connected to the former President) who may have advised clients to provide false or misleading testimony to the Committee.” The report did not name names.

Hutchinson’s first, Trump World-funded attorney was Stefan Passantino, who had been deputy White House counselin the Trump administration from January 2017 to August 2018, focusing on federal compliance and government ethics. Passantino’s attorney, Jesse Binnall, declined to comment for this article but did send a statement Passantino issued in September when he filed a defamation lawsuit against former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, who had—without naming Passantino—alluded in a tweet to “the one who coached [Hutchinson] to lie.” In that statement Passantino asserted:

As with all my clients during my 30 years of practice, I represented Ms. Hutchinson honorably, ethically, and fully consistent with her sole interests as she communicated them to me (and others) while I represented her. As Ms. Hutchinson herself testified, I never counseled her to lie. I have never counseled a client to mislead anyone. Anyone who takes the time to read the transcripts in which I represent Ms. Hutchinson or to learn anything about me will know this one-sided caricature of me is false.

(Weissmann did not respond to an email seeking comment. He has not yet filed a response to Passantino’s suit, which was not served on him until December, according to court records.)

In a memoir published in September, Enough, Hutchinson describes in detail how she came to be represented by Passantino in February 2022, and why she fired him in early June 2022. This article is not a book review. It’s a close look at what the Hutchinson memoir reveals about the troubling dynamics of a distinctive form of attorney-client relationship—one that has, as we’ll see, become common during the congressional and federal criminal investigations of Donald Trump. I’m referring to the situation in which a witness in a probe is represented by an attorney selected and funded by close allies of the person or people at the center of that investigation. I will supplement Hutchinson’s account with passages from her depositions before the select committee, independent reporting about her case and the federal Trump investigations, and some observations on some of these events from a professor of legal ethics.

To be clear from the outset, no prosecutions have materialized from the committee’s criminal referral relating to alleged obstruction of its inquiry. Moreover, in both Hutchinson’stestimony and in her book, she asserts that Passantino did not counsel her to perjure herself and, indeed, urged her not to.

At the same time, Hutchinson does allege in her book that Passantino told her that saying “‘I don’t recall’ isn’t perjury.” He also told her that “the committee wouldn’t know what I could and couldn’t recall,” she writes. She alleges further that Passantino shrugged off her protestations that she had “lied” with reassurances that she had done “fine.” (She voiced virtually identical recollections in hertestimony at herfifth andsixth interviews before the committee in September 2022, three months after her live televised testimony.)

In April 2023, Passantino filed an administrative “claim for damages,” the prelude to a Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) lawsuit, which he filed on Dec. 20 in the Northern District of Georgia, where he lives. The suit—for “invasion of privacy” and “civil conspiracy” with “unnamed co-conspirators, including individuals that worked at media companies”—alleges that the House select committee made false allegations against him to promote a “preordained political and legal narrative.” Passantino protests that the committee blindsided him with the accusations, never seeking his side of the story, and alleges that it “interfered with his attorney-client relationship” with Hutchinson by speaking to her privately without his knowledge or permission. In both his administrative claim and his lawsuit, Passantino asserts (using identical language) that he “engaged in proper protocols to ensure that there were no conflicts of interest” and “did not perceive Ms. Hutchinson to have an adverse interest to any other of his clients.” He further states that he “encouraged Ms. Hutchinson to comply with subpoenas and testify truthfully.” In his lawsuit, Passantino also argues that certain texts that Hutchinson wrote to an unidentified “close friend” show that he fulfilled his duties. In one undated such text, Hutchinson says, “I don’t want to comply[.] Stefan wants me to comply.” (The government has not yet responded to Passantino’s FTCA suit. The texts Passantino refers to were incorporated into his lawsuit against Weissmann filed in September.)

There is nothing improper per se about an attorney accepting fees from a third party, including in the context of investigations. On the contrary, it is theoretically desirable for innocent parties caught up in, say, the criminal investigation of an employer, not to have to bear the onerous costs of retaining a lawyer, which the employer should rightfully bear. The Model Rules of Professional Conduct—an American Bar Association template intended to guide states nationwide in regulating on the subject—permit lawyers to accept such compensation so long as the client provides “informed consent” and “there is no interference with the lawyer’s independence of professional judgment.” (The pertinent District of ColumbiaRule is nearly identical.)

At the same time, courts have cautioned that where the third-party payor is closely linked to the target of an investigation, there are obvious temptations that can taint a lawyer’s loyalty to the client, especially when the lawyer is simultaneously representing other clients involved in the probe. (In his lawsuit, Passantino notes that he did represent several witnesses before the House select committee besides Hutchinson.) In a 2006 case concerning a federal grand jury investigation into corruption by an unidentified public official, for instance, a U.S. district judgeobserved: “The structure of this financial arrangement ... imparts a desire, however subconsciously embedded, to protect ... the public official who pays the client’s legal fees.” The judge in that case disqualified a Pennsylvania law firm, paid by an entity allied with the targeted public official, which had been representing seven grand jury witnesses, including two who had become targets of the inquiry. The government had told the firm that it was willing to offer immunity to either of its two target clients, but not both. The firm, in maintaining that it still didn’t have a conflict, had argued to the judge at a hearing that “an indictment is not the end of the world.”

In the Trump investigations, representations by lawyers selected and funded by sources close to Trump have been quite common. According to theNew York Times, the Trump-aligned Save America PAC has spent more than $20 million on various Trump-probe legal bills since 2021, making payments to 30 law firms as well as to many individuals for “legal consulting.” Though most of that money has been spent on Trump’s own defense, much has been spent on representing witnesses and, indeed, co-defendants in indicted cases.

According to prosecutors for Special Counsel Jack Smith’s office, the Trump-aligned Save America PAC is currently paying the fees of lawyer Stanley Woodward Jr., who represents Trump’s co-defendant in his Florida prosecution, Waltine Nauta—Trump’s “body man,” or valet. Woodward has also represented, according to the government, seven witnesses in the same investigation, including two the government says it plans to call to testify against Nauta. Woodward still represents one of those witnesses, though he has said that if the witness is, in fact, called, Woodward’s co-counsel will cross-examine him and Woodward will find independent counsel to represent that witness. Save America isreportedly even paying Nauta’s salary as he continues to work for Trump.

In addition, Save America is reportedly paying the fees of John Irving IV, the lawyer for Trump’s other co-defendant in that case, Mar-a-Lago property manager Carlos De Oliveira. Irving previously represented three other witnesses the government says it may call in the case. Finally, the Florida indictment alleges that Trump was personally involved in the decision to provide representation for De Oliveira, which he wanted to afford only if De Oliveira’s was “loyal”:

[O]n August 26, 2022, NAUTA called Trump Employee 5 and said words to the effect of, “someone just wants to make sure Carlos is good.” In response, Trump Employee 5 told NAUTA that DE OLIVEIRA was loyal and that DE OLIVEIRA would not do anything to affect his relationship with TRUMP. That same day, at NAUTA’s request, Trump Employee 5 confirmed in a Signal chat group with NAUTA and the PAC Representative that DE OLIVEIRA was loyal. That same day, TRUMP called DE OLIVEIRA and told DE OLIVEIRA that TRUMP would get DE OLIVEIRA an attorney.

Moreover, the special counsel’s prosecutors have repeatedly raised concerns as to whether witnesses and defendants in their probes, who were, like Hutchinson, represented by attorneys paid for by Trump-related third parties, were or are receiving conflict-free counsel. They have filed atleastthreemotions before two judges seeking to have independent counsel appointed to discuss potential conflicts with such defendants and witnesses. According to one such motion, one government witness in the Florida prosecution, Trump Employee 4—reportedly Yuscil Taveras, the information technology director at Mar-a-Lago—reversed his testimony and inculpated Trump and others after switching from a lawyer funded by Save America PAC to an independent counsel, appointed by the court, after the government raised concerns about conflicts. (His Trump-funded lawyer was not accused of wrongdoing, however—either by Taveras, his subsequent counsel, or the court.)

Against this backdrop, let’s look at what Hutchinson’s experience, as she relates it, tells us about the dynamics of this challenging genre of representation. (Hutchinson, through her counsel, declined comment for this article.)

In November 2021, when Hutchinson first learned she might be getting a subpoena, she was unemployed. Her parents were of modest means, and her father, a Trump supporter, did not want to help her pay for a lawyer from outside the Trump orbit, she writes. She reached out to lawyers in Washington, Maryland, and Virginia and asked if they could take her case on a pro bono or reduced-fee basis or, failing that, if they could offer a long-term payment plan. None would.

At last, she located an apparent exception in Baltimore. Her understanding was that he’d take her case pro bono if she was ever actually served with a subpoena—which the attorney doubted would come to pass.

On Jan. 20, 2022, however, she was served. Her prospective lawyer then presented her with an engagement letter requiring up-front payment of a “six-figure retainer,” she writes. Crushed, Hutchinson resumed her attorney search, but in vain. She then “resigned” herself to reaching out to her “contacts in Trump World,” she writes. She hoped to find a conservative legal defense fund that would reimburse her for the costs of an attorney of her choice. But that didn’t happen.

In late January, former Trump White House lawyer Eric Herschmann told her to expect a call. A few days later, Alex Cannon called. Cannon, whom Hutchinson describes as “a former Trump Organization and Campaign attorney,” told her that someone would contact her shortly. On Feb. 7, 2022, Passantino called. “I’m your new attorney,” he told her.

In that initial phone conversation, Hutchinson writes, she asked if she’d be signing an engagement letter when they met. To her surprise, he told her that wouldn’t be necessary, she writes. Much later, in aninterview with the House select committee in September 2022, after Hutchinson had fired Passantino, Hutchinson described her first exchange with him in more detail than she does in the book:

So then I had asked him, “... Would you mind letting me know where the funding for this is coming from? I want to thank them. ...”
And he said, “If you want to know at the end, we’ll let you know, but we’re not telling people where funding is coming from right now. Don’t worry, we’re taking care of you. Like, you’re never going to get a bill for this, so if that’s what you’re worried about.”
I was like, “Okay. That’s what I was worried about.” Wasn’t the only thing I was worried about.

I asked Bruce Green, a legal ethics professor at Fordham Law School, about this exchange. “The client is entitled to know who is paying her legal fees, so that she knows precisely to whom the lawyer may be beholden, and so that she can ultimately make a fully informed decision whether the lawyer is likely to represent her with undivided loyalty,” Green wrote back in an email. “Passantino’s refusal to tell her suggests that he felt a paramount duty of loyalty and confidentiality to someone else. That’s troubling.”

In Passantino’sclaim for damages and his lawsuit against the committee, he asserts (in identical language) that he believed Hutchinson knew that Save America PAC was paying:

At the time of Mr. Passantino’s first meeting with Ms. Hutchinson, he was aware and operating upon the knowledge that Ms. Hutchinson had contacted Save America PAC in the hopes the PAC would retain counsel on her behalf. Mr. Passantino was further aware and operating upon the knowledge that members of his own firm had engaged in communications with Ms. Hutchinson about Save America PAC’s agreement to pay the fees associated with his representation of her.

Aside from the third-party payment arrangement, Passantino’s representation of Hutchinson may have implicated other potential conflicts. In her book, for instance, Hutchinson mentions that Passantino, in his conversations with her, sometimes told her he wanted to discuss her situation with his “law partners” Alex Cannon and Justin Clark. But it’s not clear from her book if Hutchinson understood that Cannon and Clark had very recently been—and possibly still were—acting as attorneys for ex-President Trump himself. Under both theModel Rules and theD.C. Rules of Professional Conduct, “a firm of lawyers is essentially one lawyer” for purposes of conflicts analysis.

During that time, Cannon and Clark were actually doing work with Passantino at two different law firms, according toBloomberg: the Michael Best & Friedrich firm as well as a second firm, called Elections LLC, which Passantino and Clark founded in 2019. In her book and committee interviews, Hutchinson always recounts meeting Passantino at the Michael Best firm.

When Passantino’s representation of Hutchinson became the subject of public scrutiny in December 2022, however, Passantino took leave from Michael Best and that firmtold CNN that Hutchinson had never been a client of the firm. Passantino’s relationship with Michael Best has since ended, as he mentions in his lawsuit against the House select committee. The managing partner of the Washington office of Michael Best did not return an email or phone message seeking comment for this article. Clark did not return an email or phone message seeking comment. Cannon could not be reached for comment.

In her fifth committee interview, in September 2022, Hutchinson did indicate an at least vague awareness of Elections LLC. “[Passantino] was involved with Elections, LLC, and tangentially, I guess Trump’s PACs, he had law partners,” she said. “And unless I was extremely unwilling for him to share, he said it would be natural for him to have to share that information with the people that he works with that are his partners that are involved in Trump world.”

Indeed, Passantino’s Elections LLC did a lot of work for Trump World, including some for Trump himself. Throughout 2022, Elections LLC received regular monthly payments for “legal consulting” totaling $540,000 from the Trump-alignedMake America Great Again PAC and $295,000 from the Trump-aligned Save America PAC, for a total of $835,000 for that year alone, according to Federal Election Commission data.

Based on other public records, we also know that in October 2021—just four months before Passantino began representing Hutchinson—Clark, through Elections LLC, was serving as Trump’s lawyer in instructing former Trump administration officialsStephen Bannon,Mark Meadows, andDaniel Scavino Jr. on Trump’s position vis-a-vis their subpoenas from the committee. (Congress later held all three men in contempt. Bannon was prosecuted and convicted and is now appealing.)

Toward the end of that month, Passantino’s current lawyer, Jesse Binnall,moved for Clark to beadmitted pro hac vice to serve as his co-counsel representing Trump in Trump v. Thompson, an ultimately unsuccessful federal suit to quash the select committee’s subpoena to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) seeking Trump’s presidential records. In November 2021, the judge in that casepermitted Clark to represent Trump in open court but not to file documents, because he wasn’t admitted to practice before the federal courts in the District of Columbia. Since Clark was not permitted to enter a formal appearance in the case, it’s unclear how long he continued working on the case, but that litigation lasted through at least December 2022.

Meanwhile, from late 2021 through at least mid-February 2022, Passantino’s other law partner, Cannon, was acting as Trump’s representative duringnegotiations with the Archives over the return of the presidential documents Trump took with him when he left the White House, according tomultiplemediaaccounts. Sometime in February, according to those accounts, Cannon angered Trump by refusing to falsely certify to NARA that he had returned all of Trump’s presidential documents that January. (The individual described as “Trump Representative 1” in the federalindictment against Trump in Florida isreportedly Cannon.)

If Passantino’s partners were representing Trump at the same time he was representing Hutchinson, according to ethics professor Green, the Model Rules would call for him to have had Hutchinson “confirm[] in writing” her waiver of the potential conflict (or for him to have confirmed her waiver in an email or letter to her). The pertinentD.C. Rule does not require such a writing, but the commentary to it still counsels that “[i]t is ordinarily prudent for the lawyer to provide at least a written summary of the considerations disclosed and to request and receive a written informed consent.”

Neither Hutchinson’s book nor Passantino’s claim for damages or lawsuit against the committee mention anything about any written disclosures having been provided to Hutchinson or waivers obtained from her. Though attorneys sometimes lay out such potential conflicts in the engagement letter and have the client waive them there as well, in Passantino’s representation of Hutchinson, as noted, there was no engagement letter, according to Hutchinson.

Let’s resume our narrative at Hutchinson’s first meeting with Passantino in mid-February at the Washington office of the Michael Best law firm. As Hutchinson began to recount to him her relevant memories from the period covered by the subpoena, she writes, she asked for a calendar “to make sure I’m getting the dates right with these things.” Passantino allegedly responded, “No, no, no. We want to get you in and get you out.” They were going to “downplay” her role, he told her. “The less you know, the better.”

In the course of this conversation, Hutchinson related to Passantino, she writes, what would later prove to be, four months later, the two incidents that the New York Times would highlight most prominently in its story about her live testimony: Trump’s remarks about the magnetometers at the Ellipse and his alleged actions in the presidential limousine—the Beast—immediately after his Ellipse speech.

As she recounted each of these memories to Passantino, Hutchinson alleges in her book, her lawyer responded:

“No, no, no. … We do not want to talk about that.”
“But what if they ask about it?” I asked.
“They won’t. They’d have no way of knowing that. Have you told anyone about that?”
I assured him I had not. He doubted [Deputy Chief of Staff Anthony Ornato, who played a role in both incidents] had either. “That’s one of those stories that’s just going to give the committee a headline,” he explained. “It’s not important to anything that actually happened that day.”

Passantino then added, according to Hutchinson, that since she heard the story “secondhand, it was not [her] responsibility to share it with the committee.”

According to Green, of Fordham Law School, it is true that Hutchinson had no obligation to volunteer this story to the committee. But if asked about it directly, she was obliged to answer truthfully. “Hearsay rules and other rules of evidence don’t apply,” he writes, “and even if they did, she couldn’t invoke them.”

Passantino’s comment about “secondhand” knowledge prompted this follow-up exchange, according to Hutchinson:

“Do I never say anything I overheard?” I asked him. I had overheard a lot of things.
Stefan never told me to lie to the committee. “I don’t want you to perjure yourself,” he insisted. “But ‘I don’t recall’ isn’t perjury.”
“The goal is to get you in and out,” he repeated. “Keep your answers short, sweet, and simple, seven words or less. The less the committee thinks you know, the quicker it’s going to go.”

Hutchinson then remembers pressing Passantino further about when she could properly use the phrase “I don’t know.”

If I remembered something but not every detail, “Can I still say that?” I asked him.
“Yes.”
“Wouldn’t I be perjuring myself?”
He assured me that the committee wouldn’t know what I could and couldn’t recall. If I didn’t have a complete memory of something, it wasn’t perjury to plead that I had no recollection.

In Passantino’sclaim for damages and his lawsuit against the select committee, he avers that he “did NOT advise her that she could state she does not recall in response to any questions where she does not recall all the details. Rather,” he continues, he “gave her standard lawyering instructions that she should testify honestly to what she recalls and nothing else.” He adds: “Given Ms. Hutchinson’s youth and inexperience in legal matters, it is perhaps not surprising that she may not have precisely recalled the instructions that she was given.”

Hutchinson’s firstinterview with the committee took place on Feb. 23, 2022. On that occasion, she testified by WebEx—a Zoom-like app—from Passantino’s office. Seeing that she was nervous before it started, Passantino tried to calm her down, she writes. “It’s not fair that Mark put you in this position,” he told her. “We just want to protect the president. We all know you’re loyal. Let’s just get you in and out of this.”

Hutchinson then describes the subjective impact these words had on her:

Stefan had planted the seeds of old allegiances with his references to my loyalty. We know you’re loyal. We know you’re on Team Trump. We know you’re going to do the right thing. Phrases I heard throughout my tenure in the White House, phrases I had spent a year trying to separate myself from. And here I was back in their grip, taking care to protect the president, with a lawyer from Trump World.

During this firstinterview, Hutchinson writes, her “objective was to be truthful and honest, but I felt like my objective clashed with that of my counsel. ... I tried to balance the ‘I don’t know’ responses while giving the committee threads to tug on that might help them in their investigation.”

Members asked Hutchinson questions about discussions she’d overheard concerning Trump’s desire to go to the Capitol after his Ellipse speech, she writes. Asked who had told Trump he couldn’t go, she eventually told them it had been Bobby Engel, the head of Trump’s security detail. Before reviewing her next responses, let’s review what Hutchinson says she knew about that incident in her book—an incident she says she related to Passantino in her first meeting with him.

According to her book, when Hutchinson got back to the White House on Jan. 6, immediately after Trump’s Ellipse speech, Deputy Chief of Staff Anthony Ornato, who had previously been the head of Trump’s Secret Service detail, motioned her into his nearby office. Once inside, she saw that Bobby Engel was already sitting there. Ornato closed the door and then, in Engel’s presence, recounted to her what had allegedly just happened. When Trump got into the limo, Ornato said, he had “demanded” to be taken to the Capitol. When Engel repeatedly refused, Trump became “irate” and grabbed for the steering wheel and, then, for Engel’s neck. (Neither Ornato nor Engel could be reached for comment for this article.)

During the deposition, however, Hutchinson ended up providing a highly abbreviated and sanitized account. When a member asked her how she came to know that Engel had told Trump he couldn’t go, according to the transcript, she said she’d heard Meadows tell Trump to discuss the matter with Engel. “I don’t know verbatim how Bobby phrased the verdict on this,” Hutchinsontestified, “and how [sic] Mr. Trump’s exact response in the motorcade driving back to the White House.”

Rep. Liz Cheney then pressed further. After ascertaining that Meadows had not been present in the Beast, Cheney asked, “Who relayed to you the conversation that happened in the Beast?” According to theinterview transcript, Hutchinson responded:

I just know that Mr. Engel had said that we’ll talk about this on the car ride back up or something of that iteration. ... And then once the motorcade had arrived back on West Exec, and ... I had resettled [at my] desk ... [I] walked across the hallway ... to see Mr. Ornato. And I just had a brief conversation with him, do you know if ... this issue was resolved and it’s closed, so I don’t have to follow up with Mr. Meadows about this anymore. And he said, yeah, all good. ... Him and POTUS talked about it.
Cheney: So Engel and POTUS talked about it?
Hutchinson: Correct. Mr. Ornato had relayed to me, nope, all good, [Meadows] doesn’t need to take further action on this. ... POTUS and Bobby had discussed this in the car ... [and] had closed this out.

At the next break, according to her memoir, Hutchinson told Passantino, “I’m f*cked.” Their conversation continued:

“Don’t freak out, you’re fine.”
“No, Stefan. I’m f*cked. I just lied to them.”
“You didn’t lie. They don’t know what you can and can’t recall. You didn’t lie.”
We went to the office coffee station, and I kept repeating to him, “I lied,” and he kept repeating I was fine, “You’re doing great, Cass.”

In her book, Hutchinson provides some statistics on that first interview. By my own tally—which is nearly the same as hers—she said “I don’t know” 84 times, “I don’t recall” 69 times, “I’m not sure” 39 times, and “I can’t recall” 11 times. Then she writes: “I was not, quite obviously, wholly truthful.”

At the end of the afternoon, the committee informed her that they’d resume the interview on March 7. Afterward, Hutchinson writes, she and Passantino had a glass of wine at his law firm. There Passantino mulled aloud whether he should debrief his law partners Cannon and Clark about the interview, as well as Meadows’s lawyers, John Moran and George Terwilliger III, plus Eric Herschmann, whose precise role Hutchinson never explains.

Somewhat surprisingly—and maybe to Passantino’s credit—it appears that Passantino had not yet told any of these people that the first interview was slated to take place that day. He mused aloud that he might tell them now about the upcoming March 7 continuation, and let them think that was the first interview, according to Hutchinson. “If they know you went in twice, I don’t think it will make Mark happy,” he told her. Passantino added that he’d start looking for a job for her. “We want to make sure that we get you financially set up and taken care of as quickly as possible.”

On this last topic—trying to find Hutchinson a job—Passantino says this in both hisclaim for damages and his lawsuit against the select committee:

Mr. Passantino did not improperly leverage his effort to assist with Ms. Hutchinson’s search for a job in any way to shape her testimony. At no time was this job search in any way connected with Mr. Passantino’s representation of Ms. Hutchinson. In fact, Mr. Passantino has worked to assist multiple former Trump administration staffers to find work after the administration because of the difficult employment environment faced by those who served in the Trump Administration.

Hutchinson’s secondinterview, on March 7, was more wide ranging, she recounts. She didn’t say “I don’t recall” as often, but “I was still trying to walk the balance beam—protecting myself from Trump World retaliation while dropping bread crumbs the committee could follow up on in depositions with other people.” Passantino congratulated her when it was over: “It’s done. You’re good.”

About six weeks later, on April 22, the committee referenced excerpts from Hutchinson’s first two interviews in court in its motion for summary judgment in its litigation against Meadows, who had brought a civil suit to quash his subpoena. The excerpts were picked by the media.

Upon rereading what she’d said, Hutchinson felt profound disappointment in herself, she recounts. “I withheld information from the committee,” she writes. “I protected principals, not my principles. Is it too late to fix it?”

She contacted Passantino about her concerns, but he assured her that “no one in Trump World was mad at me,” she writes.

At that point, Hutchinson took her first fateful step toward escaping Trump World. She went to see Alyssa Farah, a former Trump White House communications director. Farah—now Alyssa Farah Griffin—had quit her White House job in December 2020. After Jan. 6, she publiclycalled for Trump to “seriously consider” resigning. By theend of 2021, she’d become a political contributor for CNN.

Hutchinson then asked Farah to secretly reach out to Rep. Cheney on her behalf, she writes. Hutchinson wanted the committee to ask her for a third interview. She told Farah to relay to Cheney certain subjects Cheney had failed to ask her about. One was that she’d overheard Meadows say that when Trump heard that the crowd was chanting, “Hang Mike Pence,” Trump had commented, “He deserves it.”

On April 29, Passantino told Hutchinson that the committee had asked for an unprecedented third interview. Hutchinson pretended to be surprised and disappointed. Then Passantino told her, she writes, “Trump World will not continue paying your legal bills if you don’t have a second subpoena.” Hutchinson told him she agreed, according to her book, fearing letting him or Trump World know how she really felt.

At this point Passantino also advised Hutchinson to speak to his partners Cannon and Clark about finding a job. Cannon arranged a May 10 interview for her with Red Curve Solutions, a political fundraising and financial services company run by Bradley Crate, whom Hutchinson describes as “treasurer for Trump’s super PACs.” “It’s going to pay a great salary,” Cannon allegedly told her, she writes. “We know you’re on our team. We know you’re going to do the right thing.” (Though Hutchinson doesn’t specifically mention it, Save America PAC is one of Crate’s PACs.)

After her Red Curve interview, Hutchinson was told that she’d hear back “in a few weeks,” she writes. She says she took this to mean after her next committee interview.

Hutchinson’s thirdinterview, under subpoena, took place on May 17. This one was conducted, for the first time, in person at the Cannon House Office Building. Early in the deposition, Cheneyasked Hutchinson point blank: “Did you ever hear the President—the committee has a witness who has told us that they believe you heard the President say, quote, ‘Mike Pence deserves to be f*cking hung,’ close quote.”

Hutchinson confirmed that she had heard secondhand, through Meadows, that Trump had used words to that effect. Passantino then took out a notepad, Hutchinson writes. “He hadn’t taken many notes in my previous depositions; now he began to scribble furiously,” she continues. “He wouldn’t stop for five hours.”

This third interview covered many new topics. At its conclusion, Cheney hugged her, and the senior investigative counsel told her the committee would want still another interview.

Afterward, Passantino “seemed perplexed,” according to Hutchinson’s book. He kept asking—rhetorically, apparently—“How do they know all this stuff? Who’s talking?” At dinner that evening, Passantino told her he needed to call Meadows’s attorneys, Moran and Terwilliger, to debrief them. Hutchinson objected, but Passantino told her that if he didn’t, “it’s going to look like you’re working against Mark ... and there will be a target on your back.” Before Passantino could place the call, Moran called Passantino. Telling Hutchinson, “Trust me,” he picked up and spoke to him. Afterward, Passantino also told her he wanted to tell his law partners Cannon and Clark as well as Herschmann. Hutchinson told him to do what he thought best.

About a week later, Hutchinson writes in her book, Red Curve informed her that it had no job for her. With Passantino out of town, his partner Cannon then took her out to dinner. He told her about a job opportunity working for the campaign of Harriet Hageman, who was running in the Wyoming primary in her—ultimately successful—bid to oust Cheney.

In early June, the Justice Department informed the House of Representatives that it had declined to indict Mark Meadows or Daniel Scavino for contempt of Congress. According to Hutchinson, Passantino then texted her that, in light of this news, it was now in her best interest to stop cooperating with the committee altogether. “There is a small element of risk to refusing to cooperate,” Passantino said in his text, she recounts, “but I think it’s the best move for you.”

Hutchinson did not agree, she writes in her memoir. She feared the reputational damage of having Congress criminally refer her to the Justice Department for contempt of Congress, she writes, even assuming she escaped indictment and the prospect of serving jail time.

After a couple hours of anguished reflection, she writes, Hutchinson texted Passantino that she was not willing to risk being held in contempt. Passantino immediately called her but didn’t address her text. Instead, he answered an earlier inquiry she’d sent, about whether the committee had asked for her live testimony. It hadn’t at that point.

Deciding that the time had come to “free” herself “from Trump World,” Hutchinson writes, she reached out to Cheney again—this time directly. Hutchinson asked for names of attorneys, and Cheney gave her a list. After calling several, the first to get back to her was William Jordan of Alston & Bird. His firm agreed to take the case on a pro bono basis. Due to scheduling issues, Jordan’s partner, Jody Hunt, took the lead in representing her. A longtime Justice Department attorney, Hunt had served as head of the Civil Division from 2018 to 2020 and as chief of staff to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions before that.

In a call with Hunt the day before their first visit, per Hutchinson, Hunt told her she’d sign an engagement letter when she came in the next day (which she did) and that, meanwhile, he’d compose a draft email for her to send to Passantino then, terminating his engagement. That night, before the email was sent, Passantino called Hutchinson. He advised her yet again that “not cooperating with the committee would be best for everyone,” she writes.

She fired him the next day.

I hoped Stefan wasn’t upset and wouldn’t take my decision personally. I wrestled with feelings of mercy and compassion for him. I truly believed that he wished he could have done more for me. Stefan was in a hole that he had dug for himself. But Trump had handed him the shovel. They owned Stefan—he had no way out.

Courts and ethical rules have long permitted the targets of criminal probes to, in effect, select and pay for legal counsel for witnesses in the investigations targeting them. The dynamics of such representations are intrinsically fraught, and everyone knows it. The attorney, being paid large sums of money by allies of the target, must navigate challenging ethical lines at a time when the true wishes of the client may not be easy to discern. Foreseeably, the client may fear incurring the crushing costs of retaining any other attorney and may also fear retaliation or ostracization by the people who are the focus of the inquiry and their allies.

What we do know is that the system did not work well in Hutchinson’s case. At least not until a deus ex machina arrived to rescue her. That was an independent lawyer who finally agreed to take her case free of charge.

There aren’t many of those to go around, unfortunately. Many witnesses will have to make do with attorneys funded by the likes of Save America PAC.

Which is good news for Donald Trump.

Cassidy Hutchinson’s Take on Her Trump-World Lawyer—and Why It Still Matters (2024)
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