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MSNBC downplayed NBC News’ own scoop regarding the pushback the January 6 committee’s star witness is facing about her claim that former President Trump had a physical altercation with Secret Service the day of the Capitol riot.
Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, offered bombshell testimony to the House Jan. 6 Select Committee on Tuesday in a hearing that was not originally on the schedule.
One of the major claims Hutchinson made was when she recounted a conversation she had with former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Tony Ornato in the wake of then-President Trump’s Jan. 6 rally at the Ellipse during questioning from Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo. According to Hutchinson, Ornato told her Trump still thought when he left the stage that his security detail would take him to the Capitol, where his supporters had already broken in as Congress counted electoral votes.
When Trump’s top Secret Service agent Robert Engel told the former president that he could not go to the Capitol for security reasons, Trump exploded at him, according to Hutchinson, grabbing at the steering wheel and lunging at Engel. Trump has called the story “sick and fraudulent.”
However, NBC News Chief White House Correspondent Peter Alexander broke the news Tuesday evening about the denials both Engel and the driver are willing to make under oath.
“A source close to the Secret Service tells me both Bobby Engel, the lead agent, and the presidential limousine/SUV driver are prepared to testify under oath that neither man was assaulted and that Mr. Trump never lunged for the steering wheel,” Alexander tweeted.
Several news outlets, including Fox News, confirmed Alexander’s reporting.
Hutchinson’s anecdote of the former president engaging in a physical altercation with the Secret Service was widely seen as one of the most shocking revelations from the Jan. 6 hearings to date. If the alleged denials were repudiated under oath, however, it could tarnish the credibility of the House Select Committee in some eyes and deepen the cynicism of many Republicans toward the anti-Trump lawmakers.
MSNBC, NBC’s left-wing cable arm, both hyped the disputed story and buried NBC News’ own scoop.
Rachel Maddow led MSNBC’s primetime special Tuesday recapping the day, playing lengthy clips of Hutchinson’s remarks and highlighting the biggest revelations alongside several of her MSNBC colleagues. However, NBC News’ reporting was left unmentioned in the entire first hour of the program.
Instead, “The Beat” host Ari Melber went all-in on the story, even before Maddow addressed Hutchinson’s claims at length.
“[Trump] intended to join what he knew to be an armed march at the Capitol and that intention – he acted on to the point of clashing with an agent to a degree that if any other civilian or government official did that, you would be stopped, removed from the motorcade, arrested on the spot,” Melber said. “But when the protectee is the danger, that is the constitutional crisis territory.”
Maddow waited roughly 40 minutes to discuss the claims, declaring the story “the single most insane thing we learned today” and calling it the “strangest and most lurid [thing] we have ever heard about the personal behavior of a sitting president of the United States.”
“Absolutely unprecedented, lurid, bizarre, shocking, I mean, we all turn into Mad Libs trying to cover revelations like this,” Maddow said.
Maddow then brought on “Deadline: White House” host Nicolle Wallace, who said the Hutchinson clip is “so important.”
“When she described the, you know, the way people interacted inside the West Wing and the way that discussions and arrangements were made about presidential movements and motorcades and that kind of the nuts and bolts on logistics of what it is to work in the White House as a staffer at that kind of a level. Did it ring true to you or did any of it not ring true?” Maddow asked.
“She is the most credible person perhaps that we’ve heard from,” Wallace firmly responded.
In the second hour of the special, Melber further hyped the story as if it were a matter of fact.
“We are seeing how the plan that Donald Trump had was to take himself and his guards, who still protect him personally, to bring his people with guns to the Capitol. And he ended up in a physical altercation with them,” Melber said. “They were trying to protect him from the danger and bring him back to the White House for safety. He was trying to bring them, to put them in danger.”
He continued, “And so the fact that we have now, for the first time as far as I see it… had Trump aides put under oath that we got to that point that you have seen in other countries where coups are physically practiced, where there are guns on both sides. That’s a terrible place to be. It is what Donald Trump wanted. It is why he went for – the word of the day is clavicle – it’s why he went for the clavicle, the throat of an agent who risked his own life for Trump over who was going to bring guns to the Capitol and that’s why it’s so bad legally for criminal culpability for Trump.”
It wasn’t until an hour and 40 minutes into the special that Maddow acknowledged to viewers “we can’t confirm these allegations” and that NBC News reported both Engel and the driver are willing to testify under oath to deny Hutchinson’s story, something Maddow said was “weird too.”
To discuss the dustup, Maddow invited on-air Washington Post reporter Carol Leonnig, who had also confirmed NBC News’ reporting.
Leonnig began by saying it would have been “possible” for Trump to lunge towards the steering wheel since the car he was actually riding in on Jan. 6 was a Suburban and not “The Beast,” which she said would have been difficult for the president to do.
The Post reporter went on to herald Hutchinson “as one of the most credible witnesses as possible” while labeling Engel and Ornato “enablers and yes men” of Trump who sought to “please” the president.
“So both of these individuals lose a little credibility because of how closely they have been seen as aligned to Donald Trump,” Leonnig told Maddow. “However, if they testify under oath… I think that’s going to be important because Cassidy Hutchinson can only say what she heard happened.”
Fox News’ Tyler Olson and Kelly Laco contributed to this report.