White House insiders will talk about Trump’s actions on January 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Matthew Pottinger was a journalist in China, concerned about the country’s slide into authoritarianism, when he decided — at age 31 — to enlist in the U.S. Marines after the invasion of Iraq.

“Our form of government is not inevitable,” Pottinger recalled in an interview two years ago with the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute. “And that shouldn’t be taken for granted. But it is a form of government that is definitely worth fighting for.

When he first donned his military uniform, Pottinger had no way of knowing how close to home this battle for democracy would be. He became deputy national security adviser to President Donald Trump, and he resigned after the Jan. 6 attack that tried to stop the peaceful transfer of power to President Joe Biden.

On Thursday, he will be one of the key witnesses in a prime-time hearing of the House Select Committee investigating the attack. The other is Sarah Matthews, who resigned as deputy press officer the same day.

Pottinger and Matthews will join Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to Mark Meadows, Trump’s last chief of staff, in the exclusive club of Trump White House insiders who have appeared publicly. Their appearances stand in stark contrast to the cadre of Trump loyalists who have tried to defy committee subpoenas, remained silent or continued to dismiss the findings of the inquiry.

Full details of what Pottinger and Matthews will share on Thursday have been kept under wraps, but the hearing is expected to focus on what Trump did — and didn’t do — as his supporters stormed the US Capitol and disrupted the inauguration ceremony. certification of the election. .

About three hours passed between Trump’s speech at a rally near the White House and his release of a video calling the rioters “very special” but asking them to “go home now.”

Pottinger, 49, and Matthews, 27, may be able to shed some light on what was happening behind the scenes as Trump resisted calls from family, aides and Republicans to condemn the riot and urge people to leave the building.

As a member of the press office, Matthews was aware of the debates over what the White House and Trump should say publicly during the riot and what other aides advised. And although Pottinger focuses on foreign policy, his position puts him at the crossroads of national security issues.

Whatever they saw that day, they decided to step down, helping to start an exodus that included other White House staffers and various Cabinet officials.

“These are people who believed in the work they were doing, but didn’t believe in stolen elections,” said Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., a member of the select committee.

Luria added, “It’s just a key part of telling the story of this day, because we’ll be hearing from people who were in the White House, what they observed, what their reactions were.”

Alyssa Farah Griffin, the former White House director of strategic communications, said Pottinger and Matthews could make powerful witnesses, not least because of their very different backgrounds.

Pottinger, Griffin said, is someone with “enormous credibility,” who is “highly respected in the national security space” and not seen as overtly political. Matthews, on the other hand, is “a tried and true Republican” who worked for Trump’s reelection campaign and was handpicked to join the White House.

“I think their testimony will be incredibly compelling and carry a lot of weight,” said Griffin, who supported the committee’s work and discussed Matthews’ testimony with her.

Matthews began working for Republicans on Capitol Hill as an intern while still a student at Kent State University in Ohio. She was so eager to start a career in Washington that she moved to the city for her first job a month before graduation, missing her final weeks of college and completing her last online classes, it said. – she told her alma mater in an interview. two years ago.

Matthews was hired as deputy press secretary for Trump’s re-election campaign and brought to the White House by press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. She worked in the West Wing area known as the “upper press”, placing her closer to the Oval Office than others in her office.

Sometimes she joined Trump for media interviews, but most of the time she answered questions from reporters and helped prepare for White House briefings.

When Matthews stepped down on Jan. 6, she released a statement saying she was “deeply disturbed by what I saw today.” On the anniversary of the bombing, she called it “one of the darkest days in American history.”

“Make no mistake, the events of the 6th were a coup attempt, a term we would use if they had happened in any other country, and former President Trump did not managed to meet the moment,” she tweeted.

Pottinger did not release a statement when he resigned Jan. 6, but he discussed the decision in previous closed-door testimony before the committee.

While the riot was in progress, Pottinger said, a staffer brought him a printout of a tweet from Trump accusing Vice President Mike Pence of not having “the courage to do what should have been done.” ” to cancel the election.

“I read that tweet and made the decision to resign at that time,” Pottinger said. “That’s when I knew I was leaving that day once I read that tweet.”

Pottinger took a much more circuitous route to the White House than Matthews.

Her father, John Stanley Pottinger, served as Assistant Attorney General under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. He studied China in college, then moved to the country to work as a reporter for Reuters and the Wall Street Journal.

But in 2005, he joined the Marines. Explaining his unusual decision, Pottinger wrote an essay saying that “living in China also shows you what an undemocratic country can do to its citizens”.

Qualifying at 31 was not easy. He wrote that he was out of breath after running for five minutes and could only do a half pull-up. But by the time he passed his fitness test, he could do 13 pull-ups and run 3 miles in under 21 minutes.

Pottinger deployed to Iraq as an intelligence officer, and he later worked in Afghanistan with US Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. At the time, Flynn was a respected military leader, not the conspiracy theorist he has become today.

They ended up writing a report criticizing military intelligence efforts in Afghanistan. Years later, after Trump was elected, Flynn invited Pottinger to join him on the National Security Council. Flynn didn’t last long – he was kicked out after just over three weeks because of his obfuscations about his conversations with the Russian Ambassador to the United States – but Pottinger stayed.

He was promoted to deputy national security adviser in 2019. Pottinger focused on Asia during his tenure in the Trump administration and helped shape a more aggressive stance toward China, one rooted in his own experiences. journalist in the country.

He is now Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the Hoover Institution and Chairman of the China Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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Colvin reported from New York. Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.

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