Olivia Troye knew when she got up on Tuesday morning that she’d be spending the day at home. This plan had nothing to do with the weather forecast, though she was preparing for a storm of sorts. Her former boss, Donald Trump, was scheduled to speak at a think tank in Washington, returning to the nation’s capital for the first time since leaving office following his failed attempt to stop the peaceful transfer of power.
“I don’t go out in public when there's a major MAGA event,” Troye said.
Such is the life of a Trump defector, for whom the decision to speak out publicly against the administration that once employed them means subjecting themselves to an onslaught of personal attacks, harassment and threats.
Troye, a former homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, first ran afoul of Trump World nearly two years ago, after she resigned over the administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. In an interview with the Washington Post at the time, Troye, who served as a senior adviser on the White House coronavirus task force, said Trump’s response to the pandemic showed a “flat-out disregard for human life,” leading her to back Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 election, despite being a lifelong Republican.
In response, the White House sought to discredit Troye, painting her as a “disgruntled” former employee and downplaying her role on the task force. Suddenly, Troye said, she was ostracized by her former colleagues, fellow Republicans and even members of her family. At the same time, she’d become the target of “descriptive and disgusting and hateful” messages on social media. Though most of the threats and vitriol she’s received have largely been confined to the internet, she says some people have even shown up outside her house, leaving her feeling wary of strangers who approach her in public.
These days, Troye told Yahoo News, she’s noticed that the online threats seem to spike whenever she speaks publicly about the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol — and she’s been doing that a lot lately.
Rather than shy away from the public eye, Troye, 45, is speaking out in support of other young women going up against Trump.
She’s part of what Politico recently described as a “secret support system” for former Trump aides like Cassidy Hutchinson, a senior aide to Trump’s final chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and former White House deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews, who have emerged as key witnesses in the select committee’s investigation of Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election and his actions on Jan. 6.
The informal network, which Troye says formed “organically,” includes fellow female Trump dissenters, including former White House communications director Alyssa Farah Griffin and former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham (who resigned on Jan. 6), as well as other Republican women who have also paid a price for speaking out against Trump, like former Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock.
While some may have once fiercely defended the former president’s attacks on those who crossed him, they’ve each since been the target of the kinds of personal insults, threats and professional isolation that come with opposing Trump. Knowing exactly what Hutchinson and Matthews would be up against when they agreed to testify publicly before the Jan. 6 committee this summer, they’ve all rallied together to try to counteract it.
“Having worked w/Cassidy Hutchinson, I know she was very dedicated to her role while working for Mark Meadows in the Trump White House,” Troye tweeted, days before Hutchinson delivered her explosive live testimony before the committee at a surprise hearing in late June. “She has nothing to hide & no reason to lie about those who knew what they were doing was wrong & sought pardons. Americans should believe her.”
The day of Hutchinson's congressional testimony, Griffin and Matthews commended her on her bravery, and pushed back on the attempts to discredit Hutchinson, which began before she’d even finished speaking.
“Anyone downplaying Cassidy Hutchinson’s role or her access in the West Wing either doesn’t understand how the Trump WH worked or is attempting to discredit her because they’re scared of how damning this testimony is,” Matthews tweeted.
Matthews, who resigned from the White House on Jan. 6, received the same treatment when it was her turn to testify the following month, at a primetime hearing focused on Trump’s failure to intervene for more than three hours as a violent mob of his supporters ravaged the Capitol.
“I think it’s a testament to this young woman's bravery [that she’s] stepping forward, unlike so many men in leadership at the White House and in Congress,” Grisham said of Matthews ahead of her testimony, during an appearance on CNN alongside Troye and Griffin. When Matthews took her seat at the witness table that night, Troye was in the hearing room, as she had been for Hutchinson’s testimony.
“Once you have done the right thing and spoken out, I think you sort of get used to the playbook that Trump World uses,” Griffin, 33, told Yahoo News. Since resigning from the White House in December 2020, she has been called a “clown” and a “nobody” by the former president.
“I think there’s a level of protectiveness that we have over these women and wanting to offer them the support that we all felt like we didn’t have at the various times that we spoke out,” she said.
Griffin and Troye both described the fierce backlash that they and other Trump defectors have encountered as part of a deliberate strategy — or what Troye called a “coordinated machine” — designed to intimidate and discourage others from speaking out. And they noted that attacks on former Trump allies tend to adhere to a familiar pattern, starting with the often easily disprovable denial of ever having known the person, followed by a series of vicious and personal digs at their credibility, character, mental health and sometimes appearance.
The reaction to testimony given by Trump's former White House staffers, and Hutchinson in particular, was no exception.
“I hardly know who this person, Cassidy Hutchinson, is, other than I heard very negative things about her (a total phony and “leaker”), Trump posted on his social media platform, Truth Social, during Hutchinson’s testimony. He went on to suggest in the same post that she was now speaking out against him only because he personally turned down her request to join other members of his team in Florida after leaving the White House. The next day, Trump denied several of Hutchinson’s most damning claims in an interview with the conservative cable network Newsmax, and dismissed the former aide — who he referred to simply as “this lady” and “the woman” — as a “total disaster” and “train wreck” with serious “mental problems.”
Trump similarly took to Truth Social during Matthews’s testimony to claim he did not know her yet was aware of “nice things” she’d said about him “long after January 6th.”
In Hutchinson’s case, there have also been signs of more overt attempts at intimidation.
During her initial meetings with the select committee, Hutchinson had been represented by a Trump-aligned attorney who was paid by the former president's political action committee. Even then, leaked details that emerged from those early depositions made clear that Hutchinson, who effectively served as Meadows’s right hand during the final weeks of the Trump presidency, would be a valuable witness for the select committee. But it was only after replacing her Trump-backed attorney with Justice Department veteran Jody Hunt that she divulged even more damning details and agreed to testify in public.
Hutchinson also reportedly told the committee about a call she received from someone in Trump’s inner circle encouraging her to be “loyal” and “to do the right thing’” before her fourth closed-door deposition. This, along with security concerns, reportedly contributed to the urgency and secrecy around her public testimony.
This week it was reported that Hutchinson is among the former Trump administration officials now cooperating with the Justice Department’s criminal probe of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Griffin, who has herself cooperated with the Jan. 6 probe, has said she is the one who connected Hutchinson with Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the panel’s vice chair, after Hutchinson reached out following her initial depositions and expressed a desire to share more than her Trump-backed counsel would allow. She attributes the bravery she says her former colleagues have shown to what she called “the Cheney factor.”
Cheney, who is one of just two Republicans appointed by Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to serve on the Jan. 6 committee, is perhaps more familiar than anyone with the consequences faced by women who dare to criticize Trump in public. Within a matter of months after she broke with the rest of her party and voted to impeach Trump for inciting the violent riot on Jan. 6, Cheney went from being the highest-ranking GOP woman on Capitol Hill to getting ousted from her leadership role as the No. 3 House Republican. Now she risks losing her seat to a Trump-backed challenger in Wyoming’s Republican primary next month.
Where others have chosen to either get in line with Trump or decide not to seek reelection, Cheney has forged ahead undeterred, vowing to hold Trump accountable while campaigning to remain in office.
“From the outset, how bold Congresswoman Cheney has been has both inspired and empowered people to come forward,” Griffin said. “I think there is something that really resonates about a political figure being willing to put their political future on the line to do what they think is right.”
Comstock agreed, telling Yahoo News that the select committee’s investigation would not have been nearly as successful as it has been if the panel were made up entirely of Democrats.
“But for Liz being on this committee, I don’t know that some of the women would have felt comfortable coming forward,” she said.
Comstock, an outspoken Trump critic who has been called a “RINO loser” by the former president, said she’s known Cheney for 20 years and has gotten to know Troye and Griffin over the past year. In addition to her public support of Hutchinson and Matthews, the other women who spoke to Yahoo News described Comstock as the “big sister” of the group, offering legal advice and places to stay to those in need.
“When I was in office, and as a public official, I just had so many people help me,” Comstock said. “So now I’m in a position where I can help other people. To me, that’s just what you do.”
For Hutchinson, 27, and Matthews, 26, whose careers were just getting started when they were hired to work in the Trump White House, the decision to risk their careers, friendships and personal safety is particularly striking in light of the fact that many of their older, more established male colleagues have been unwilling to do the same.
Cheney highlighted this imbalance in her closing remarks at the July 21 hearing, thanking the former Trump aides for having the courage to testify knowing that they would “be attacked by President Trump, and by the 50-, 60- and 70-year-old men who hide themselves behind executive privilege.”
Along with Hutchinson and Matthews, Cheney called out the other women who testified at this summer’s public hearings: Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards and Georgia election workers Wandrea "Shaye" Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, calling them “an inspiration to American women, and to American girls.”
In addition to the testimony by women who have appeared in public, the committee’s recent hearings have featured clips of videotaped depositions given by several other young women who worked in Trump’s White House and have so far remained on his good side, including former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, Trump’s executive assistant Molly Michael and his daughter Ivanka. While these women have yet to be the source of any shocking revelations — that we know of — the committee has still been able to use parts of their interviews to corroborate some of the details that others have brought to light about Trump’s behavior on Jan. 6 and in the aftermath of the insurrection.
Of course, women aren’t the only ones who have been cooperating with the committee’s investigation, nor have the men who have come forward been exempt from attacks. Arizona’s Republican House Speaker Rusty Bowers, for example, testified this summer about the threats and harassment he and his family endured after he refused to comply with a request from Trump to declare that the 2020 election had been rigged in the Arizona state Legislature in order to replace legitimate Biden electors with fake, pro-Trump electors. He’s now at risk of losing the Republican primary for an open state Senate seat to a Trump-endorsed opponent. Former Attorney General William Barr, who testified about telling Trump there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election, told the New York Times that he gets “a lot of vitriol from the right.”
But women have borne the brunt of the attacks. This dynamic was perhaps most starkly illustrated by a since-deleted tweet posted by the official account of the House Republican Conference during the committee’s primetime hearing on July 21. The tweet, which a spokesperson later said was unauthorized, singled out Matthews, who currently works as a communications director for House Republicans on the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, calling her “just another liar and pawn in Pelosi’s witch hunt,” while making no mention of Matthew Pottinger, the former Trump national security adviser who was testifying alongside her.
“When women are in the public eye, they get way worse and different and sexist attacks that men never would,” said Griffin. “I know for a fact that Sarah and myself and Cassidy and Olivia have all gotten attacks that are violent, they’re sexually violent, and they’re the kind of things that no man in our position would get.”
While it is true that high-profile women are typically subject to more intense public scrutiny than their male counterparts, the gender dynamics that have emerged in the Jan. 6 committee’s investigation have a particularly Trumpian quality.
A former beauty pageant proprietor who has racked up dozens of sexual assault allegations dating back to the 1970s, Trump also has a long and well-established history of making crude and demeaning comments about women, whether he’s bragging about grabbing them by the genitals or calling them “ugly” and “pigs.”
His penchant for hurling particularly vicious insults at his female critics, often focused on their physical appearance or intelligence, continued once he was in the White House, where he surrounded himself overwhelmingly with men.
“I think it’s no secret that the Trump administration was a bit of a misogynistic enterprise, from top to bottom,” said Comstock, who suggested that the women hired to work in the Trump White House were “of a much higher caliber” than the men who greatly outnumbered them.
Troye also described a “Barbie doll culture in the Trump administration,” in which remarks about female staffers’ physical appearances were a regular occurrence.
“That’s who Donald Trump is,” she said. “At times, you weren’t judged on your capability, you were judged on your looks.”
Troye said she thinks the sexist environment inside the Trump White House “likely played a role in women finding our voices.”
“The things that they say, it tells you exactly the way they view women,” she said of Trump and his allies. “That was the culture in the White House.”
“President Trump has done nothing but empower women throughout his extremely successful career in business and his historic first term as president,” Trump spokesperson Liz Harrington said in an emailed statement to Yahoo News. “It’s sad, however, some who had the privilege to work in the White House are mere swamp social climbers, chasing their less than 15 minutes to be used by political hacks and the Fake News Media, and spread yet more baseless lies about a man who was most certainly the best boss they ever had.”
While Trump World is responsible for the vast majority of the backlash against these women, they’ve also faced criticism from some on the left and in the “Never Trump” wing of the GOP, who argue that those who previously enabled Trump should not be celebrated, or who question their motives for speaking out now.
“We get it from all sides,” Troye said. She said she’s accepted the fact that there will be people who judge her for having worked in the Trump administration, and there will also likely be those who will never hire her because she spoke out.
“I think you have to be at peace with it,” she said. “There’s absolutely nothing to be gained from coming forward, except for knowing that you did the right thing.”
Moreover, she said she thinks the American people need to hear about what happened during Trump’s presidency from the people who lived it. And she’ll continue to speak out in hopes that others will be encouraged to do the same.
“I refuse to be silenced,” she said.