First lawyer who advised Jan. 6 witness Cassidy Hutchinson should face ethics probe, group tells regulators
Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, testifies in summer 2022 during a hearing of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Photo by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via the Associated Press.
A group called Lawyers Defending American Democracy is asking ethics officials to investigate the lawyer who originally represented Cassidy Hutchinson, a former White House aide who testified before the Jan. 6, 2021, committee about events regarding the U.S. Capitol attack.
The group filed an ethics complaint seeking an investigation of lawyer Stefan C. Passantino with ethics regulators in Washington, D.C., Georgia and New York, according to a March 6 press release and coverage by the New York Times.
Hutchinson had testified that Passantino, a former lawyer in the White House counsel’s office, told her to downplay her knowledge of events before the attack and told her that: “The less you remember, the better,” according to prior coverage by Reuters, which obtained a transcript of the testimony.
Passantino did not tell Hutchinson to lie, but he told her not to volunteer information and not to try to refresh her memory, according to Hutchinson’s testimony. Hutchinson was a former aide to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.
Hutchinson obtained a new lawyer before providing damaging testimony about former President Donald Trump, including an assertion that he was so focused on wanting to accompany his supporters to the Capitol that he lunged at the steering wheel while riding in the presidential limousine.
Among the officials signing the request for an ethics probe is former ABA President Martha Barnett, who is also a board member of Lawyers Defending American Democracy.
“Attorney Passantino tried to keep a pivotal witness from providing credible information to a governmental body investigating one of the most consequential events in our nation’s history,” Barnett alleged in the press release. “His attempt to interfere with the administration of justice in the ways that he did undermine the carefully crafted rules guiding the attorney-client relationship and even cross lines into possibly criminal behavior.”
The letter requesting an investigation alleges that Passantino provided advice that was contrary to Hutchinson’s best interests and instead was intended to protect Trump. The letter also alleges that Passantino told Hutchinson that she would get a good job in “Trump world” when her testimony was over. Hutchinson also learned later in the representation that Passantino’s fees were being paid by “Trump world,” the letter claims.
Passantino’s law firm was also representing Hutchinson’s former boss, Meadows. The complaint alleges that Passantino did not present Hutchinson with a formal engagement letter, and it is unclear whether Passantino’s then-firm, Michael, Best & Friedrich, had entered his representation of Hutchinson into its conflicts system.
According to prior reporting by CNN, the firm said Hutchinson wasn’t a firm client. Bloomberg Law reported in December that the firm said it had “separated” its relationship with Passantino.
Passantino has said he represented Hutchinson “honorably, ethically and fully consistent with her sole interests as she communicated them to me.”
Ross Garber, a lawyer for Passantino, noted in a response provided to the New York Times that Hutchinson had not filed the complaint.
“Anyone can write a letter to the bar complaining about any lawyer,” the response says.
Garber noted Hutchinson’s testimony that Passantino told her not to lie and not to perjure herself. Passantino’s legal fees were paid by the Save America Leadership PAC after Hutchinson emailed a contact connected to the political action committee, requesting a referral to a lawyer and financial assistance, Garber said.
Garber also said Passantino produced documents gathered by Hutchinson to the Jan. 6 committee. And Passantino provided “customary advice” about Hutchinson’s “obligation to tell the truth, the importance of listening carefully to and answering the question posed, the advisability of being precise, the need to be clear about what she did and didn’t recall, and the advisability of avoiding unintentional speculation or conjecture,” Garber said.
Another group, the 65 Project, is also seeking an ethics investigation of Passantino in Georgia.