A prominent Georgia attorney is seeking $67 million in damages from the U.S. government, saying the House Jan. 6 committee spread false information about his representation of a star witness.
Stefan Passantino represented Cassidy Hutchinson, the former White House aide who provided some of the most sensational testimony during last summer’s hearings on then-President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
In an interview transcript released in December, Hutchinson said Passantino advised her to avoid providing information to the committee, which was investigating Trump’s actions. She also said Passantino offered to find her jobs as she prepared to testify and said she would be “taken care of” if she remained loyal to Trump.
Passantino, who led the White House Counsel’s ethics office under Trump, has said he represented Hutchinson honorably and ethically. On Tuesday he filed a claim for damages with the U.S. House of Representatives. The claim says the Jan. 6 committee sought to “destroy his reputation and career in support of a pre-ordained political and legal narrative” against Trump. The complaint singled out former U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, the Wyoming Republican who co-chaired the committee.
“Liz Cheney and her collaborators on the Jan. 6 Committee decided to peddle a false tale about Mr. Passantino and his relationship with his client without any regard for the truth or whether they were destroying the reputation of a good man — a reputation built over decades,” his attorney, Jesse Binnall, said in a statement released Tuesday.
The Jan. 6 committee’s final report detailed Trump’s effort to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia and other states. The report concluded that those actions led directly to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. The attack injured some 140 police officers and disrupted congressional certification of the election results until early the following morning.
At a hearing last summer, Hutchinson testified that Trump wanted to go to the Capitol himself after a rally that preceded the attack. She said Secret Service agents refused to take him because it wasn’t safe, and Trump became so angry that he lunged at one of the agents and tried to grab the steering wheel of the vehicle he was sitting in. Other witnesses said Trump was angry about not being allowed to go to the Capitol, but they did not confirm he lunged at an agent.
But it was Hutchinson’s testimony about Passantino that drew attention when the committee’s report and supporting documents were released in December.
Hutchinson said he discouraged her from telling investigators too much, saying, “the less you remember the better.” One example was Trump’s anger about not being taken to the Capitol — a story she said she heard secondhand from a Secret Service agent. She said Passantino urged her not to repeat the story, even if investigators asked about it.
“I want to make this clear to you: Stefan never told me to lie,” Hutchinson told investigators. “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.”
She also said she suspected but didn’t know for sure that Passantino was being paid to represent her by Trump associates, and Passantino declined to tell her who was paying her legal bills.
In the claim filed Tuesday, Passantino said Hutchinson never told him she wanted a “non-Trump” lawyer and expressed no reservations about him being paid by a Trump-related political action committee. Instead, he said Hutchinson solicited the funding herself from Trump’s Save America PAC and said she didn’t want to provide any information that was harmful to Trump.
Passantino said he never used job offers to shape Hutchinson’s testimony. And he offered Hutchinson “standard lawyering instructions that she should testify honestly to what she recalls and nothing else.”
He said the committee improperly interfered in his relationship with his client by communicating with Hutchinson without his knowledge. And he said the committee never interviewed him or gave him a chance to respond to allegations against him.
Passantino also accused the committee of leaking Hutchinson’s testimony and correspondence to CNN and other news organizations, causing him “significant economic, reputational and emotional harm.”
Passantino also faces a complaint. In February a legal watchdog filed an ethics complaint against him with the State Bar of Georgia. Citing Hutchinson’s testimony, the complaint alleges that Passantino violated professional rules by encouraging her to be less than forthcoming with investigators. The complaint is still pending.
Staff writer Tia Mitchell contributed to this article.
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