The House panel investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection systemically made the case in its second hearing Monday that Trump and his advisers knew that his claims of fraud in the 2020 election were false.
The argument is key to the committee’s investigation as the nine-member panel details its evidence about what led to the violent insurrection. The rioters who broke into the Capitol that day and interrupted the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory were echoing Trump’s falsehoods that he, not Biden, had rightfully won the election.
Takeaways from Monday’s hearing:
A witness pulls out, but video tells the story
The hearing began with a scramble as Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Bill Stepien, the panel’s top Monday witness, said he would not appear due to a ‘family emergency.’ Committees chairman Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson said Stepien’s wife was in labor.
But the committee had a plan B – hours of Stepien’s previous interview with the panel that was recorded on video. The committee aired multiple clips of that interview, along with others, as the hearing unfolded.
Stepien told investigators that Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani was urging Trump to declare victory on election night, despite Stepien’s warnings that it was ‘way too early’ to make a prediction like that.
‘My belief, my recommendation, was to say that votes were still being counted, it’s too early to tell, too early to call the race,’ Stepien said in one clip.
Trump went to the podium in the White House press room on election night and said that the early results were ‘a fraud on the American public’ and that ‘frankly, we did win this election.’
Trump’s mind ‘was made up’ on election fraud and anyone who disagreed was ‘weak’
Trump’s advisers told him repeatedly that he should wait on the results and should not declare that there was widespread election fraud. But Trump would not listen, and increasingly relied on wild claims that were pushed by Giuliani and Trump attorney Sidney Powell, among others, according to testimony.
The panel showed video from Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump, her husband, Jared Kushner, and campaign aide Jason Miller. Ivanka Trump told the panel that ‘it was clear’ the election wouldn’t be called on election night, and Kushner said he had told Trump at one point that Giuliani’s advice was ‘not the approach I would take.’
Trump responded that he had confidence in Giuliani.
Miller said there was a meeting on election night in which he told Trump that they shouldn’t declare victory until they had a better sense of the numbers. But Trump told a room of advisers that anyone who didn’t agree with Giuliani was being ‘weak.’
Stepien said his group of advisers was dubbed ‘team normal’ in contrast to the legal team pushing election fraud.
Former Attorney General William Barr, who declared publicly at the time that there was no evidence behind Trump’s fraud claims, said the president was increasingly becoming ‘detached from reality.’
Trump pushed multiple Attorneys General to pursue election fraud
The committee made clear that Trump’s quest to undermine the presidential election ran through two Justice Departments – one headed by Bill Barr, the other by Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen.
Trump had attempted to have Rosen replaced with a loyalist who would have directed election officials in states narrowly won by Joe Biden to send in an alternate slate of electoral votes.
Barr’s videotaped testimony suggests he told Trump that Giuliani and Powell’s election fraud claims were ‘crazy stuff,’ singling out the Dominion Voting Systems allegations as ‘among the most disturbing allegations.’
‘Disturbing in the sense that I saw absolutely zero basis for the allegations. But they were made in such a sensational way that they obviously were influencing a lot of people,’ Barr said. ‘Members of the public, that there was this systemic corruption in the system and that their votes didn’t count and that these machines controlled by somebody else… which was complete nonsense.’
And after his departure, then-Acting Attorney General testified to the committee that he had to tell Trump that his legal teams’ claims that there was rampant voter fraud in Fulton County, Georgia were ‘just not true.’
‘I told the president myself that – several times in several conversations – that these allegations about ballots being smuggled in – in a suitcase, and run through the machine several times, it was not true,’ Rosen said.
A monthslong campaign seeding doubt in the 2020 election
Trump’s claims of fraud did not start after election day. The committee showed clips where Trump previewed his strategy in speeches throughout his 2020 campaign. In August of that year, he told an audience that fraud was the only way he would lose.
Stepien told the committee that he and House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy had met with Trump in the summer of 2020 and made a two-pronged case for why he should stop criticizing mail-in voting. He and McCarthy told Trump that he was leaving ‘a lot to chance’ and that there were GOP party workers on the ground who could help get mail-in votes for Trump.
McCarthy, who has declined to cooperate with the Jan. 6 panel despite a subpoena, was ‘echoing the same argument,’ Stepien said.
‘But the president’s mind was made up,’ Stepien said.
The election night ‘Red Mirage’
Chris Stirewalt, a former political editor for Fox News Channel, testified in person at the hearing. Stirewalt made the election night call that President Joe Biden won Arizona – a moment that prompted ‘anger and disappointment’ in Trump’s circle at the White House, Miller said.
Stirewalt explained that the network, along with others, had expected that there would be a so-called ‘red mirage’ at the beginning of the evening as in-person Republican votes came in, and many of the mail-in votes that would be counted later on would lean Democratic. He noted it happens every election.
Trump had not only exploited that pattern to make false claims of fraud, but contributed to it in his campaign to call mail-in voting into question.
‘We had gone to pains, and I’m proud of the pains, we went to, to make sure that we were informing viewers that this was going to happen because the Trump campaign and the president had made it clear that they were going to try to exploit this anomaly,’ Stirewalt said.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press