The first time that she received a call from attorney Stefan Passantino, then-Mark Meadows aide Cassidy Hutchinson recalled being a young staffer on Capitol Hill who never heard of him — or even had occasion to retain a lawyer.
“He had called and let me know that he was my attorney. And it was a really brief call,” Hutchinson recounted in the transcript. “And that — in that — on that call, though, I had asked him who — well, I had asked him about signing the engagement letter, because I had said, ‘This would be great if we can meet in person soon.'”
The date of the call was Feb. 7, one day shy of her document deadline from the Jan. 6th Committee.
As Hutchinson recounts it, when she pressed the matter of the engagement letter, Passantino responded: “No, no, no. We’re not doing that. Don’t worry. We have you taken care of.”
In nearly 200 pages of transcripts, spread out over the course of two interviews from September, the Committee shines more light on a controversial attorney-client relationship first cast into focus in a CNN report that Passantino may have told Hutchinson to mislead lawmakers by telling them she did not recall events that she did.
The Sept. 14, 2022, transcript shines a light on those exchanges.
Hutchinson told the Committee that Passantino instructed her that she could respond “I don’t recall” to events that she broadly remembered — but perhaps not in minute detail.
“But, if I do recall something but not every little detail, Stefan, can I still say I don’t recall?” Hutchinson recalled asking, adding that he replied: “Yes.”
Hutchinson said that she remained uneasy: “But if I do remember things but not every little detail, and I say I don’t recall, wouldn’t I be perjuring myself?”
According to Hutchinson, Passantino responded: “The committee doesn’t know what you can and can’t recall, so we want to be able to use that as much as we can unless you really, really remember something very clearly. And that’s when you give a short, sweet response. You don’t want to get ahead of their questioning. Let them ask the questions. And you’ll know.”
Hutchinson said that Passantino discouraged her from looking at calendars to make sure she could accurately recall certain dates, particularly as they related to the planning behind the march of Trump supporters to the Capitol.
“And that’s when he had said, ‘We’re not putting together timelines. The less you remember, the better,'” Hutchinson recalled.
She was firm, however, that Passantino never explicitly told her not to be truthful.
“I want to make this clear to you,” Hutchinson told the committee. “Stefan never told me to lie. He specifically told me, ‘I don’t want you to perjure yourself, but ‘I don’t recall’ isn’t perjury. They don’t know what you can and can’t recall.'”
“He didn’t tell me to lie,” she later said of the attorney. “He told me not to lie. But ‘I don’t recall’ is not a lie” to Passantino, Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson also told the Committee that Passantino tried to keep her in the dark about who was bankrolling her legal representation.
According to Hutchinson, Passantino told her: “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.”
During her depositions, Hutchinson tended to refer to Passantino by his first name Stefan, which appeared 180 times in the two transcripts.
When she delivered her watershed public testimony, Hutchinson alleged that then-Secret Service assistant director Tony Ornato told her that former President Donald Trump tried to wrest the steering wheel of the presidential limo, known as the Beast, from his drivers to join his supporters at the Capitol. The driver refused to turn over the wheel to the then-president and went back to the West Wing, she said.
In her deposition, Hutchinson told the committee that Passantino told her to keep that to herself.
“I remember he, like, sat back in his chair, and he’s like, ‘No, no, no, no, no. We don’t want to go there. We don’t want to talk about that,'” Hutchinson said.
She ultimately recounted the alleged incident involving the Beast to Congress on live television.
“If Hutchinson’s testimony is truthful and can be proven through corroborating evidence, it presents a very strong case for prosecutors,” New York University law professor Ryan Goodman, the co-editor-in-chief of the website Just Security, told Law&Crime on Thursday. “Encouraging a client to tell a congressional committee that they do not recall, when in fact they do recall, is a clear violation of legal ethics and violates federal criminal law.”
Following the CNN report, Goodman had noted that the fact that Passantino’s law firm Michael Best & Friedrich LLP reportedly removed his bio from their website could be read as the “kinds of smoke signals that often indicate a lawyer in deep, deep legal trouble.”
Read the transcript from the Sept. 14 interview here. Read the transcript for the Sept. 15 interview here.
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