As my colleague Kaila Philo reported earlier today, Secret Service Assistant Director Tony Ornato retired from the agency this week, leaving plenty of unanswered questions in his wake. The DHS inspector general’s office had reportedly been trying to get him to sit for an interview about matters related to the missing texts scandal; it’s unclear, now, whether that will happen.
There are two layers to recent intrigue surrounding Ornato. His role in whatever tf was going on with the missing Secret Service texts is, of course, one. But secondly, Ornato’s standing as a character of interest to the Jan. 6 committee increased 10-fold after Cassidy Hutchinson gave astonishing public testimony earlier this summer.
The former Mark Meadows aide alleged, among many other shocking things, that Ornato told her he had witnessed Donald Trump try to grab the steering wheel of the Beast and lunged at a member of his security detail when he realized he was being transported back to the White House instead of meeting his supporters at the Capitol on Jan. 6, just after he finished his speech on the Ellipse.
Ornato reportedly spoke with the committee at least once prior to Hutchinson’s testimony, but obviously, after Hutchinson divulged what Ornato had allegedly shared with her about Trump’s actions that day — including key details about his insistence on being part of the mob marching to the Capitol — the committee has been clamoring to ask him some follow-up questions. While anonymous sources, supposedly within the Secret Service, have tried to poke holes in Hutchinson’s testimony since she appeared as a public witness, Ornato has not met with the committee since before Hutchinson’s big reveals. A spokesperson for the agency told CBS News today that he remains open to speaking to the committee and claimed the Secret Service official has been “continuously made available” to the House panel.
While the retirement could perhaps complicate Ornato’s involvement in both congressional and DHS investigators’ current probes, it’s also worth noting another item of interest related to his actions on Jan. 6 that has gotten overlooked in the wake of all the other news surrounding the now-former official.
Washington Post reporters Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig revealed in their book “I Alone Can Fix It” last summer a small tidbit about Ornato’s reported role in pushing Vice President Mike Pence to evacuate the Capitol at the time, while the mob was actively storming the building in an effort to hunt down Pence and others.
A reminder on that, from this piece a few months ago:
There was also some speculation after the Rucker and Leonnig details came out that Pence refused to leave because he knew he’d be whisked away to safety and therefore incapable of completing his constitutional duty of certifying the 2020 Electoral College results. The Rucker and Leonnig excerpts also revealed the Veep’s security detail might’ve had some suspicions about the intentions of at least one senior Secret Service official who also served as a top aide to Trump, Tony Ornato. Ornato was reportedly part of West Wing efforts to move Pence to Joint Base Andrews at one point during the attack, as the Post reporters mentioned in their book, though Ornato has denied those reported conversations.
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