(The Hill) – The House panel investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol on Monday provided damning new evidence that suggests former President Trump knew about his election defeat, but was still penetrating false claims of rampant fraud in an effort to stay in power and raise millions of dollars in campaign donations.
A key witness at Monday’s hearing, former Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien was forced to cancel his personal appearance when his wife went into labour. But after a short delay, the panel regrouped, relying on pre-recorded interviews with Stepien, former Attorney General Bill Barr and a number of other former Trump associates to support their case.
Taken together, the witnesses told the story of a chaotic post-election environment in which top White House staff, campaign workers, cabinet secretaries and congressional leaders pressured the former president to give up the fictitious story of a stolen election, only to be impeached by Trump. are ignored. and a small cadre of loyalists willing to go along with the sham.
Here are five takeaways from the panel’s second public hearing.
Trump was warned at every turn
The commission brought forward official after official of the campaign and of the Trump administration, describing how they warned Trump at every turn against declaring victory and claiming fraud.
The former president was told the increase in postal voting due to COVID-19 would slow results. He was advised not to claim victory before the results were final. And he was told time and again that his allegations of voter fraud were unfounded and unsupported by evidence.
“My recommendation was to say that votes are still being counted. It’s too early to say, too early to announce the race,” said Stepien.
“I don’t remember the specific words. He thought I was wrong. That’s what he told me. And you know they planned, he’d go in a different direction.’
Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller gave similar advice.
“There were suggestions of, I believe it was Mayor Giuliani, to declare victory and say we had won it outright,” Miller said. “I remember saying that… we shouldn’t start proclaiming victory until we had a better idea of the numbers.”
Former Attorney General Bill Barr, in particular, charged the former president, calling the claims “completely fake and foolish and mostly based on complete misinformation.”
“There was an avalanche of all these allegations of fraud piling up over a few days. And it was like playing a mole because one day something would come out and the next it would be another problem,” Barr said.
Part of building a lawsuit against Trump
Monday’s hearing was the first the committee devoted entirely to demonstrating the extent to which Trump was repeatedly warned about his allegations of voter fraud.
It is an important building block for the commission in the coming week as they look at what actions Trump took in the face of repeated warnings from staffers and even his attorney general.
That point is key to proving Trump’s guilt and would raise questions about his motivation if the committee holds hearings on the former president’s pressure campaign at the Justice Department to investigate his attempts to get Vice President Mike Pence to reject the will of the voters.
Trump campaign attorney Alex Cannon said he had a “15 second” conversation with Pence in which he said the campaign was unable to substantiate Trump’s allegations of voter fraud.
“He asked me if we found anything. And I said I didn’t believe we found it or that I personally didn’t find anything sufficient to change the results of the election. And he… he thanked me. That was our interaction,” Cannon said.
Barr also told Trump that his fraud claims should be the work of the campaign, not the Justice Department.
“The department doesn’t take sides in elections, and the department is not an extension of — your legal team,” Barr later told Trump.
“He didn’t seem to listen and I didn’t think it was, you know, I wasn’t inclined to stick around if he didn’t listen to advice from me or his other cabinet secretaries.”
Witnesses provide insight into Trump’s state of mind
The commission could not directly demonstrate that Trump himself knew there was no voter fraud and realized that he was misleading the public.
In some of the recorded testimonies, witnesses even described a president who seemed to believe his own arguments, when almost everyone around him did not.
Barr detailed a report that Trump passed on to Dominion voting machines, something the former attorney general said in previous testimonies “were made in such a sensational way that they clearly affected a lot of people.”
“And the statements were made very convincing this way — these machines are designed to, you know, commit fraud or something along those lines, but I haven’t seen any supporting information for it,” Barr said of Trump.
“And I was kind of demoralized because I thought, boy, if he really believes this stuff, he’s, you know, lost touch with it — he’s disconnected from reality if he really believes this.”
Former Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue also testified to Trump’s fixation.
“There were so many allegations that when you gave him a very direct answer to one of them, he wouldn’t fight you on it, he would switch to another,” Donoghue said.
If Trump’s claims about a stolen election are false, they are also extremely lucrative.
Home investigators found that between election day and the January 6 attack, Trump’s campaign sent out millions of emails to potential supporters — as many as 25 a day — asking for small donations to something called the Official Election Defense Fund.
In interviews with campaign staff, the researchers discovered that such a fund never existed.
“I don’t believe there really is a fund called the Election Defense Fund,” said Hanna Allred, a former Trump campaign aide.
Gary Coby, the former digital director of Trump’s campaign, acknowledged that the fund was a marketing tool: “It’s just about the subject,” he told the committee, “where money could potentially go — how money could potentially be used .”
The effort raised $250 million, researchers found, $100 million in the first week after the election alone.
But the bulk of the money didn’t go to the campaign to reverse the election results, as the requests suggested, the committee said. Instead, Trump created a separate entity, the Save America PAC, which funneled money to conservative groups run by Trump allies, including $1 million to a charitable foundation run by his former chief of staff Mark Meadows; more than $5 million to the events company that oversaw Trump’s January 6 Ellipse rally;
and over $200,000 for the Trump Hotel Collection.
“So there wasn’t just the big lie, there was the big rip off,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Caliph.). “Donors deserve to know where their money is really going. They deserve better than what President Trump and his team have done.”
Fox News predicted Trump would ‘take advantage of this anomaly’
Few news outlets have been kinder to Trump during his meteoric political rise than Fox News, where its top pundits — including Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity — have defended Trump’s post-election actions and repeatedly downplayed the January 6 violence.
Still, it was Fox News that first declared that Biden had won Arizona in 2020 — a controversial election night call that dashed Republicans’ hopes of retaining the White House. And Monday’s select committee hearing revealed that not only had network leaders expected Trump to try to skew early returns to claim a false victory, they also sent their coverage to warn viewers not to to believe.
Chris Stirewalt, former political editor at Fox News, appeared before the panel and described a phenomenon known as the “red mirage,” which predicts Republican candidates typically race for Democrats on Election Day because GOP voters prefer to vote in person. . The margins are closing, Stirewalt said, because the ballots — which are more popular with Democrats — are counted after polls close.
“So in any election—certainly a national election—you expect to see the Republican head on, but it’s not really a head start. When you’re putting a jigsaw puzzle together, it doesn’t matter which piece you put in first. It ends. with the same image. So to us, who cares?” said Stirewalt.
“But that’s because no candidate has ever tried to take advantage of this quirk in the electoral system,” he continued. “We had gone out of our way — and I’m proud of the effort we put in — to make sure we informed viewers that this was going to happen. Because the Trump campaign and the president made it clear that they would try exploit this anomaly.”
Other witnesses on Monday described Fox’s decision in Arizona as a hard blow to Trump, his aides and his relatives who watched the election return to the White House that night.
Miller said the call “completely” changed the atmosphere in the room.
†[We were] both disappointed with Fox and concerned that our data or our numbers might not be accurate,” he said.
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