Two former Trump White House staff members accuse a top Secret Service official and key defender of the then president’s actions during the Jan. 6 Capitol uprising as a political loyalist with a history of lying.
Former aides Olivia Troye and Alyssa Farah Griffin have criticized Secret Service official Anthony Ornato amid reports he disputes an angry Donald Trump grabbed the wheel of his presidential SUV limousine and jumped out that day to a Secret Service agent in the front seat. Those explosive accusations were leveled out last week by another ex-Trump aide, Cassidy Hutchinson, before the select committee investigating the attack on the Capitol.
Hutchinson testified that Trump wanted to join thousands of his followers who marched to the Capitol after a speech he delivered near the White House, and that he became “furious” after his Secret Service told him to be driven back to the White House for security reasons. On the way back, Hutchinson testified, the president physically addressed an agent and tried to send the limousine to the Capitolaccording to what Ornato told her immediately after the incident†
At the time, Ornato was the White House deputy chief of staff in charge of operations. Trump had personally appointed Ornato to that position in December 2019, a clear first for a Secret Service official, for his loyalty to the president. Ornato, a 25-year veteran of the Secret Service, is back to the agency now as its Deputy Director responsible for the Office of Training.
Hutchinson’s testimony came under scrutiny last week after both Ornato and Robert Engel — the agent allegedly accosted by Trump — told Secret Service that the president angrily demanded to be taken to the Capitol, but that he told Engel or never grabbed the steering wheel.
Hutchinson testified that Engel, who was in charge of Trump’s protective security detail, was also in the White House room when Ornato told the story and never attempted to correct his version of events.
Troye, the adviser on Homeland Security and Counterterrorism to then-Vice President Mike Pence, told USA TODAY on Saturday that Ornato has a history of changing his story when things get politically tricky for Trump.
‘There seems to be a pattern here’
“There seems to be a pattern here of conversations happening that are uncomfortable conversations for Tony and then he comes back and says they never happened,” Troye said. “That really speaks to Tony’s character and credibility, and whether he has a history of doing it [Trump’s] offer, and then refuse to protect him.”
In compelling testimony last week, Hutchinson – a former top aide to the Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows — said Trump wanted to allow armed supporters into his rally because he knew “they are not here to hurt me† †
She also revealed for the first time that Trump demanded to be driven to the Capitol, saying it was
because he reportedly wanted to deliver a second speech outside the Capitol or perhaps inside the complex as lawmakers certified Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 election.
When Engel first told him no, Trump yelled, “I’m the effing president, take me to the Capitol now,” Hutchinson quoted Ornato telling her. †
When again told they were returning to the White House, “the president reached out to the front of the vehicle to grab the wheel,” Hutchinson testified. “Mr. Trump then used his free hand to lunge at Bobby Engel. And when Mr. Ornato told me this story, he gestured at his collarbones,” described a choking motion.
Denying the story of Trump’s alleged confrontation
While Hutchinson’s testimony was full of other equally explosive revelations, the image of Trump physically assaulting a top security officer in an attempt to reach the Capitol immediately went viral.
But within hours, Secret Service officials began telling reporters that Ornato and Engel both denied any part of Hutchinson’s account of the events.
Both are willing to testify that Trump did indeed demand to be taken to the Capitol, a Secret Service official told USA TODAY. But that official also said both men would deny that Trump grabbed Engel or the steering wheel in an attempt to change course.
Neither Ornato nor Engel have spoken publicly so far, and the Secret Service official suggested that they – and the Secret Service itself – reserve comment until both officials could speak “under oath and officially” before the committee.
Hutchinson and a spokesperson for the commission stuck to her comments. Trump himself has denied most if not all of Hutchinson’s testimony. And many of his supporters have used the controversy to try to undermine her overall credibility as a witness.
A former Trump White House official, retired Army Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg, came to defend Ornato on Twitter: “Relating to January 6 and for the record. I was privileged to know Tony Ornato, USSS Special Agent. Like all USSS agents, he was very professional, observant in everyday dealings and trusted. I would take his sworn testimony to the bank.”
But in social media posts, both Troye and Farah said it was Ornato’s credibility that should be questioned. And they told him to testify under oath about what happened in the presidential limousine and about the actions of the Secret Service that entire day.
In that episode, Ornato planned to have the Secret Service take Pence out of the Capitol on January 6 when rioters came looking for him, only to be told Pence had to stay and fill out the voting certification, according to the book “I Alone Can Fix It.” .”
Ornato, through a spokesperson, denied talking to Kellogg, Pence’s national security adviser, according to one of the book’s co-authors, Washington Post reporter Carol Leonnig.
And “now he’s denying the story he told Cassidy Hutchinson,” Troye said.
Ornato ‘must testify under oath’
“Those of us who have worked with Tony know where his loyalties lie.” Troye added. “He must testify under oath.”
Shortly after, Farah Griffin, a former Trump White House communications director, said, weighed in with her own tweet†
“Tony Ornato also lied about me. During the protests in Lafayette Square in 2020, I told Mark Meadows & Ornato to warn the press before cleaning up the square,” she said. Meadows replied, ‘We don’t. Tony later lied, saying the exchange never happened. He knows it happened.’
Leonnig also questioned Ornato’s veracity on Saturday when it comes to incidents involving Trump. She said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that Ornato lied to her and other reporters about the Lafayette Square incident, and said Trump officials weren’t clearing the crowded park so he could walk to a nearby church and snap a picture with a Bible. in his hand.
“That’s not true. He took center stage there,” says Leonnig, who also wrote the best-selling 2022 book, “Zero Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Secret Service.”
“This is a person who worked as President Trump’s security detail leader, the number one protecting the boss, and the boss liked him so much that he installed him in a political job in the White House,” Leonnig said. “That broke any Secret Service tradition in the book because he stayed as a Secret Service employee, but Trump essentially had him run the Secret Service to make sure all of his campaign events, all of his photo ops , everything he wanted to do to get reelected went without a hitch.”
And while most Secret Service agents leave their politics behind protecting the president and other top officials, Leonnig said of Ornato on Saturday: “Trump White House staff and Secret Service agents have repeatedly told me that he is a Trump acolyte. . He will defend the president to the end and he will stay in touch with Trump’s world.”
“So I want to stress that Tony Ornato has indicated to his bosses that this story Cassidy Hutchinson told didn’t happen. Well, Tony Ornato said a lot of things didn’t happen,” Leonnig said. †
Both Ornato and Engel have already testified privately before the House committee, but the full details of what they said have not been released.
On Saturday, Troye said they should both testify in response to Hutchinson’s allegations so that the commission — and the American public — can understand what they know about what happened on Jan. 6.
“What really matters isn’t whether he actually lunged and touched the handlebars or not,” Troye said. “What keeps getting lost in this is that no one disputes that the president wanted to go to the Capitol and that he felt safe even though all these people had guns.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Two former White House employees say top Secret Service official is lying to protect Trump