HomePoliticsJanuary 6 Witness Anthony Ornato is at the center of a credibility...

January 6 Witness Anthony Ornato is at the center of a credibility battle


Anthony M. Ornato had stepped down from his role as a Secret Service agent in charge of President Donald J. Trump’s protection detail in late 2019 when the culture of internal conflict Trump fostered during his tenure had the president’s top aides frantically seeking a candidate. to play a key role: White House deputy chief of staff for operations.

The title doesn’t fully capture the importance of the job, which involves ensuring continuity of government and overseeing the logistics of the president’s movements outside of the White House, security, and military office. Wanting to make sure it went to someone qualified and with few options available, the person who left office, Dan Walsh, and Lindsay Reynolds, the chief of staff to Melania Trump, the first lady, quickly settled on Mr. Ornament, who was well known. to Mr. Trump.

Ornato did not want the job, according to three former White House officials. At the time, he was happily working at Secret Service headquarters. Like many agents, he had worked in previous administrations across party lines, first protecting President George W. Bush’s daughter, Barbara, and later working in President Barack Obama’s detail. And in any case, it would be highly unusual for an official from an avowedly apolitical agency to assume a high-ranking White House position.

But when Trump called to tell him he was putting him in the job, he believed he had no choice but to accept it, according to those officials. For the rest of Trump’s presidency, Ornato was at the heart of the West Wing, occupying an office down the hall from the Oval Office and adjacent to the office of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and top adviser.

Now, Mr. Ornato is at the center of a dispute over the events that transpired during the riots on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021. He is a witness to key developments and a figure in what is a legitimate battle for credibility or, In the view of some critics, an attempt to muddy the devastating account of the actions of Trump and his aides provided to the House January 6 committee this week by Cassidy Hutchinson, another former White House adviser.

In her public testimony, Ms. Hutchinson said she learned from Mr. Ornato of a dazzling scene in the back of the presidential vehicle on January 6, shortly after a Trump speech at the Ellipse outside the House had ended. White.

She testified that Mr. Ornato told her that Mr. Trump tried to force the Secret Service to take him to Capitol Hill to join his supporters. In her account, Ornato said Trump tried to grab the steering wheel of the armored car.

Ms. Hutchinson also said that Mr. Ornato told her that the president “pounced” on his top Secret Service agent, Robert Engel. Mr. Engel, Ms. Hutchinson testified, was present when Mr. Ornato told him the story and did not correct Mr. Ornato’s account.

Secret Service officials have said that Mr. Ornato, Mr. Engel and the driver of the vehicle are prepared to testify that no such incident occurred. (The committee had already interviewed Mr. Ornato and Mr. Engel, prior to Ms. Hutchinson’s appearance this week.)

The officials do not dispute that Trump angrily demanded that he be brought to Capitol Hill. On the day of the riots, Trump administration officials told The New York Times that the president was furious while he was at the rally.

A Secret Service official, who asked that his name not be used to describe the possible testimony, acknowledged that a conversation with Ms. Hutchinson took place but said it turned out differently than what she described.

Officials from the Jan. 6 committee have tried to bolster Hutchinson’s credibility, saying they found inconsistencies in Ornato’s testimony, though they did not release the transcripts in question. A former colleague, Alyssa Farah Griffin, accused him on Twitter of lying about an encounter they had during the 2020 protests in Lafayette Square across from the White House. Representative Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois and committee member, wrote on the social network“There seems to be an important thread here… Tony Ornato likes to lie.”

But Keith Kellogg, the former national security adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, publicly vouched for Ornato, as have other former officials.

“I think the guy is a sniper,” said John F. Kelly, the former White House chief of staff who has publicly broken with Trump and who worked with Ornato when he was Trump’s special agent in charge. Trump detail. “I never twice thought that wherever we went, the job the Secret Service needed to do was done and it was done very well.”

A former senior Trump administration official recalled that Trump demanded that he be allowed to attend a major public event a day in advance, and was bluntly informed by Ornato that such a move was not possible.

In the early years of the Trump presidency, two former senior officials said, Mr. Ornato would periodically direct the chief of staff or one of his trusted aides to what was known as “limousine talk,” the kind of directives or pronouncements that Mr. Trump would say he expected people to act on or that Mr. Ornato thought the chief should be aware of.

As the current deputy director of the Secret Service Training Office, Mr. Ornato is based at Secret Service headquarters, though people close to the agency said he often traveled to training facilities in rural Maryland to Talk to potential agents. He has held various leadership positions at the agency, including in the New York field office.

While there, he was responsible for all protection operations, including the important task of ensuring officials were safe at the UN General Assembly.

Originally from a town outside of New Haven, Conn., Mr. Ornato’s family owned a tavern in town that was a generational gathering place for local police and firefighters. He worked in the New Haven Secret Service office in 2000 when Bush was running for president. When he won Bush, Ornato joined the protective detail of his daughter. He stayed with Obama and was promoted several times.

People who worked with Ornato in the Trump White House said they had never seen him speak about his political views, even when the former president sought their views, as Trump used to do with almost everyone around him.

But some officials were uncomfortable with the decision to appoint a member of the Secret Service, who has long tried to maintain an image of nonpartisanship, as White House deputy chief of staff for operations.

“I’ve never, ever heard of it,” said Rand Beers, a former acting secretary of homeland security in the Obama administration. “Although members of the Secret Service can be involved in some pretty sensitive stuff, pretty embarrassing stuff, they retain their image in the sense that people generally don’t think of them as political because of their silence.”

“All I can say,” he said, “is that it is extraordinarily unusual.”

Lucas Broadwater contributed report.





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