By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A congressional panel investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol announced on Wednesday that it has subpoenaed former President Donald Trump's White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, to testify about Trump's activities on the day of the melee.
The subpoena seeking a deposition from Cipollone followed dramatic public testimony on Tuesday from a former White House aide, who told the panel that Cipollone had warned her that they could face "every crime imaginable" if Trump went to the Capitol on Jan. 6 after delivering a fiery rally speech to his supporters.
"The Select Committee's investigation has revealed evidence that Mr. Cipollone repeatedly raised legal and other concerns about President Trump’s activities on January 6th and in the days that preceded," the panel said in a statement.
"Any concerns Mr. Cipollone has about the institutional prerogatives of the office he previously held are clearly outweighed by the need for his testimony," the committee said.
Cipollone could not be reached immediately for comment.
Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to Trump's White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, told the committee on Tuesday that Trump wanted to leave the rally for the Capitol and that he grabbed the steering wheel of the armored presidential SUV when he learned that the Secret Service would not drive him to the Capitol, where thousands of his supporters rioted.
"We're going to get charged with every crime imaginable," Hutchinson said Cipollone told her if Trump were to go to the Capitol on Jan. 6.
"'We need to make sure that this doesn't happen, this would be a really terrible idea for us. We have serious legal concerns if we go up to the Capitol that day,'" Cipollone said, Hutchinson testified.
But the probe faced questions on Wednesday about what steps it had taken to corroborate Hutchinson's account of Trump's having struggled with Secret Service agents.
Hutchinson testified that Tony Ornato, a senior Secret Service official, told her that Trump, a Republican, had struggled with agents after giving a fiery speech to his supporters outside the White House that morning in which he repeatedly falsely blamed widespread fraud for his election loss to Democrat Joe Biden.
U.S. media outlets, citing Secret Service sources, said the head of Trump's security detail, Robert Engel, and the driver of the car were prepared to challenge Hutchinson's testimony that Trump had tried to grab the steering wheel.
Neither Engel nor the driver made public statements on Wednesday. Trump on Tuesday denied having grabbed the wheel.
An aide to the U.S. House of Representatives committee on Jan. 6 declined to answer questions about whether the committee already had interviewed Secret Service agents or other officials with first-hand knowledge of the incident Hutchinson described.
"Ms. Hutchinson stands by all of the testimony she provided yesterday, under oath, to the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol," her attorneys Jody Hunt and William Jordan said in a statement late on Wednesday.
Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said on Wednesday the committee had not sought to confirm details of Hutchinson's testimony in the 10 days before the hearing, which was scheduled unusually quickly. The Secret Service in a statement on Tuesday said it was cooperating with the committee.
Guglielmi did not immediately respond to questions about the significance of the 10 days or whether the committee contacted the agency previously to discuss Trump's Jan. 6 behavior.
The riot was an attempt to stop Congress, with Vice President Mike Pence presiding, from certifying Biden's election.
"If it is true the Secret Service denies the allegations against President Trump of lunging and assaulting officers, then the story is really passing along gossip that did not bear fruit," Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham said on Wednesday. "The committee, with a little bit of effort, could have told the other side of the story but they chose NOT to because they wanted sensational headlines."
The nine-member Jan. 6 committee is comprised of seven Democrats and two Republicans.
Supporters of Trump have not challenged other revelations in Hutchinson's testimony. These included Trump's knowledge - even approval - of his supporters' walking around Washington heavily armed on Jan. 6 and that he had no qualms about rioters' urging that Pence be hanged.
Hutchinson also testified that Trump was known for angry outbursts in the White House that left food being splayed onto walls and dishes upended.
Also on Wednesday, a lawyer for Virginia "Ginni" Thomas, the wife of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, demanded the committee provide a better "justification" for seeking testimony from her.
Earlier this month, Thomas told the Daily Caller that she was eager to "clear up misconceptions" about her activism in conservative political circles and her attendance at the Trump rally on Jan. 6.
As Meadows' former deputy, Hutchinson, now 26, was a constant presence among White House staff in the last several months of 2020, frequently flying aboard Air Force One, friendly with staff and with Trump’s Secret Service detail. Her office was a 10-second walk from the president's Oval Office.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Rami Ayyub, Eric Beech, Steve Holland, Doina Chiacu and Rose Horowitch; Editing by Scott Malone, Mary Milliken, Howard Goller and Leslie Adler)