House panel continues Jan. 6 inquiry

WASHINGTON — The House panel investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection consistently argued in its second hearing Monday that Trump and his aides knew his allegations 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 on what led to the violent insurgency. The rioters who stormed into the Capitol that day and interrupted President Joe Biden’s certification of victory echoed Trump’s lies that he, not Biden, had rightfully won the election.

Takeaways from Monday’s hearing:

Witness stands down, but video tells the story

The hearing began with a scuffle as former Donald Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, the panel’s main witness on Monday, said he would not appear due to a “family emergency”. Committee 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 videotaped. The committee played several excerpts from this interview, as well as others, as the hearing unfolded.

Stepien told investigators that Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was urging Trump to declare victory on election night, despite Stepien’s warnings that it was “far too early” to make such a prediction.

“My belief, my recommendation, was to say the votes were still counted, it’s too early to tell, too early to call the race,” Stepien said in a clip.

Yet Trump took to the podium in the White House press room and said the early results were “a fraud on the American public” and that “frankly, we won this election.”

“Trump’s decision was made”

Trump’s advisers repeatedly told him he should wait for the results and not report that there was widespread voter fraud. But Trump didn’t listen and increasingly relied on wild claims pushed by Giuliani and Trump’s lawyer Sidney Powell, among others, according to testimony.

The panel showed video of Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, her husband, Jared Kushner, and campaign aide Jason Miller. Ivanka Trump told the panel that “it was clear” that the election would not be called on election night, and Kushner said he told Trump at one point that Giuliani’s advice was “not the approach I would take”. But Trump replied that he had faith in Giuliani.

Miller said there was a meeting on election night where he told Trump they shouldn’t declare victory until they had a better idea of ​​the numbers. But Trump told a room of advisers that anyone who disagreed with Giuliani was “weak”.

Stepien said his group of advisers was dubbed “the normal team”. Another White House lawyer, Eric Herschmann, said the fraud theories – including Powell’s claims that voting machines were rigged to change votes – were “crazy”.

Former Attorney General William Barr, who said publicly at the time that there was no evidence behind Trump’s fraud allegations, said the president was becoming increasingly “detached from reality.”

A month-long campaign

Trump’s fraud allegations did not begin after Election Day. The committee showed clips where Trump presented his strategy in speeches throughout his 2020 campaign. In August of that year, he told an audience that fraud was the only way to lose.

Stepien told the committee that he and House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy met with Trump in the summer of 2020 and discussed why he should stop criticizing mail-in voting. He and McCarthy told Trump he was leaving “a lot to chance” and that there were GOP party workers on the ground who could help secure mail-in votes for Trump.

McCarthy, who refused to cooperate with the Jan. 6 panel despite a subpoena, “echoes the same argument,” Stepien said.

“But the president’s decision was made,” Stepien said.

The “red mirage”

Former Fox News Channel political editor Chris Stirewalt testified in person at the hearing. Stirewalt called it the election night that President Joe Biden won Arizona — a moment that caused “anger and disappointment” in Trump’s inner sanctum at the White House, Miller said.

Stirewalt explained that the network, along with others, had expected there to be a so-called “red mirage” early in the evening as in-person Republican votes rolled in, and many of the votes by mail who would later be counted would lean Democratic. He noted that this happens with every election.

Trump had not only exploited this model to make false allegations of fraud, but had contributed to it in his campaign to challenge mail-in voting.

“We went to great lengths, and I’m proud of the pains, we went there, to make sure we let viewers know this was going to happen because the Trump campaign and the president made it clear they were going to try. to exploit this anomaly,” Stirewalt said.

Associated Press writers Farnoush Amiri and Kevin Freking contributed.

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