Former President Donald Trump’s decision to lie about the nature of the 2020 election came after his top advisers told him there was no reason to pretend he had won, witnesses told the House Select Committee on January 6.
The panel’s second hearing focused on what a committee aide described as ‘Trump’s big lie’ – the collection of outrageous theories and accusations Mr Trump and his allies have floated to substantiate his claim. victory on election night.
While Mr Trump’s former campaign manager Bill Stepien was due to give evidence on Monday, he did not show up because his wife went into labor shortly before the hearing began.
Instead, the select committee presented a collection of videos illustrating statements made by Mr. Stepien and other Trump campaign and administration officials in sworn depositions during the investigation of a year of the select committee.
Each of the witnesses said Mr Trump was told he was not the winner of the 2020 election when he visited the East Room of the White House in the early hours of November 4, the morning after the 2020 elections.
At the time, Mr Trump claimed: ‘Frankly, we won this election, actually’, and argued that last-minute votes for Joe Biden – the result of mail-in ballots that were counted late in the evening – were fraudulent.
But at the time, he and his closest aides knew he hadn’t, according to testimonies.
In a pre-recorded testimony segment, Mr. Stepien recalled how he had previously told Mr. Trump that election night would be “a long night”, just as it had been in 2016.
“I told him in 2020 that, you know, there was – it was going to be a process again because, you know, the early feedback is going to be, you know, positive, and we’re going to be, you know, watching the feedback ballots as they come in thereafter,” he said. “I told him it was going to be a process. It was going to be, you know – you know we’re going to have to wait and see how it goes.”
However, Mr. Trump did not wait, opting instead to repeat an argument he had made for weeks on the campaign trail, namely that the Democrats were planning to steal the election using ballots by fraudulent correspondence.
The former president had been advised against such an argument by Mr Stepien, who told the select committee he had even gone so far as to seek the help of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to explain to Mr. Trump how mail-in ballots could be a boon to his re-election hopes.
Mr. Stepien told the panel that he and Mr. McCarthy told the then-president that the GOP’s strength in organizing on the ground could translate into an advantage in mail-in voting if Mr. Trump began to tell his supporters to vote by mail.
But the veteran Republican operative said Mr Trump’s decision “is made”, and the idea that he was encouraging mail-in ballots has been dropped.
Mr. Trump was also told that the traditional strength of the GOP on election day, contrasted with the traditional strength of the Democrats in mail-in voting, would cause a phenomenon known as the “red mirage”, in which election results advance notices would appear to give him a significant advantage, but that advantage could be wiped out when the mail-in ballots were opened and tabulated. He was also told that such an effect would be even more pronounced in states like Pennsylvania, where state law prohibits election officials from even opening mail-in ballots before the polls close on polling day.
His decision to claim victory on election night appears to have puzzled then-Attorney General William Barr, who said Mr Trump had raised the specter of fraud “before there was the slightest potential evidence”.
“It seemed to be based on the dynamic that – that at the end of the night a lot of Democratic votes came in, which changed the vote count in some states. And that seemed to be the basis for this general claim that there had been major fraud,” Barr recalled.
He added that he “didn’t think much” about Mr. Trump’s fraud allegations at the time “because people had been talking for weeks, and everyone understood for weeks that this was going to happen on the evening of the elections”.
The adviser Trump listened to the most on election night was a ‘drunk’ former New York mayor
When Mr Trump’s campaign manager advised him not to claim victory while the ballots were still counted, he instead chose to take the advice of his personal lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani .
According to another Trump campaign aide, Jason Miller, Mr. Giuliani showed up at the White House residence inebriated and began pushing campaign officials to tell Mr. Trump to come forward. winner that night.
“The mayor was definitely drunk, but I don’t know his level of drunkenness when he spoke to the president,” Mr Miller said. “There were suggestions, I believe it was Mayor Giuliani to go and declare victory and say we won it out of hand.”
“Mayor Giuliani was saying we won it, they’re stealing it from us…we have to say we won,” he recalled, adding that Mr Giuliani was “essentially” saying that “anyone who wasn’t d agreement with this position was weak.
The former New York mayor’s insistence that Mr Trump has become the first US president to lose his re-election bid in decades went against what senior US Department of Justice officials Justice – including Mr. Barr – had already determined.
In pre-recorded testimony, the former attorney general recalled a contentious meeting with the then-president in which he bluntly explained that there was no truth in what he and Mr. Giuliani were claiming.
“I told him the stuff his people were offering to the public was bull *** — I mean the allegations of fraud were bull ***,” he said. He also called the claims “stupid” and “complete nonsense”.
Mr. Barr also told the select committee that he felt “demoralized” by the former president’s insistence that his loss was due to fraud, as he believed that Mr. Trump had “detached himself from reality if he really believed in these things”. He added that Mr. Trump “never” showed “an indication of interest in what the real facts [were]”.
But Mr. Giuliani’s wholehearted acceptance of the baseless fraud allegations endeared him so much to Mr. Trump that he allowed Mr. Giuliani to resume his campaign’s efforts to challenge the election in court. .
Along with another attorney, Sidney Powell, they began claiming that voting machines made by Dominion Voting Systems – the voting machines used in a number of states that Mr Trump had lost – had been used to rig the election changing the votes from Mr. Trump to Mr. Biden. They even went so far as to claim the machines were developed at the behest of late Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez for the express purpose of rigging the election.
Other allegations put forward by Ms Powell included an even more outlandish theory which postulated that servers in Germany had been used to cover up how Dominion machines reversed votes in favor of Mr Biden.
Nothing they claimed was true.
An assistant White House counsel for the Trump administration, Eric Herschmann, described his assessment of the claims made by Mr. Giuliani and Ms. Powell in particularly blunt terms.
“What they were offering, I thought was crazy. The theory was also completely crazy, right? A combination of Italians, Germans, different things floating around to find out who was involved,” he said.
Despite reservations from the original Trump campaign legal team, Mr. Giuliani has continued to press the false allegations of fraud in several lawsuits, including a late 2020 appearance in a Pennsylvania courtroom, his first in decades. But he failed to persuade a judge to take the allegations seriously, and in 2021 a New York state court suspended his license for repeatedly making false statements in court.
Mr. Giuliani, who also testified before the select committee in recorded deposition, addressed his being drunk on election night during an appearance Monday on ex-Trump adviser Steve Bannon. Crisis unit podcast.
He said that Mary Cheney, an LGBT+ rights activist and conservative, was “completely hysterical”, apparently mistaking her for her sister, select committee vice-chair Liz Cheney (who had described him as “seemingly in a state of disrepair”. ‘drunk’ in his introductory remarks).
The disgraced former mayor also offered a non sequitur by suggesting that Ashli Babbitt, a pro-Trump rioter who was shot and killed by a Capitol police officer while trying to break into the lobby of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, had been killed by “Antifa” instead of the police.
The committee also heard evidence that Mr Trump raised $250m (£206m) in donations from small donors for his ‘official election defense fund’ – but the fund did not exist and ‘most of that money ended up being given to his own politics. action committee.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren said, “Throughout the committee’s investigation, we found evidence that the Trump campaign and its surrogates misled donors about where their funds were going and what they would be used for. So not only was there the big lie, there was the big scam.
The next in the committee’s series of televised public hearings on Jan. 6 will be Wednesday at 10 a.m. Eastern Time. It is expected to focus on allegations that Mr. Trump sought to pressure the Justice Department into supporting his bogus claims of voter fraud.
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