Jan. 6 Hearing Opens With Trump's AG William Barr Calling Stolen Election Claim 'Bullshit'

The bipartisan panel has been raising expectations of new information that puts Donald Trump "at the center" of the scheme to overturn his election loss.

WASHINGTON ― Donald Trump’s own attorney general told the then-president that his claims of a “stolen” election were “bullshit,” according to videotaped testimony revealed Thursday night at the House Jan. 6 select committee’s first public hearing.

“I told the president it was bullshit, and I didn’t want to be a part of it,” Barr told committee investigators during his deposition.

Committee chair Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, said in his opening remarks that the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol was the culmination of a “conspiracy” to hold on to power. “Jan. 6 was the culmination of an attempted coup. The violence was no accident.”

The two-hour presentation recapped a year’s worth of investigative work by the committee, tying together numerous strands that have been known to the public into a story as well as offering nuggets of new information.

Vice chair Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, said in her opening remarks that Americans would hear how Trump resisted calls by his own staff to take action as the violent unfolded on his television screen.

“You will hear testimony that, ‘The president did not really want to put anything out calling off the riot or asking his supporters to leave.’ You will hear that President Trump was yelling and ‘really angry’ at advisers who told him he needed to be doing something more,” she said.

“And aware of the rioters’ chants to hang [Vice President] Mike Pence, the president responded with this sentiment, ‘Maybe our supporters have the right idea.’ Mike Pence ‘deserves it,’” Cheney added.

She also offered a preview of the coming hearings. Monday’s hearing will lay out evidence of how early Trump knew, his lies notwithstanding, that he had actually lost the election, using testimony from his own campaign staff.

The third hearing, set for Wednesday, will showcase Trump’s attempt to fire the acting attorney general who refused to help him overturn the election and replace him with an official who would. Cheney said they would hear evidence of how Trump allies in the House, including Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Scott Perry, requested Trump for pardons before he left office. “Multiple other Republican congressmen also sought presidential pardons for their roles in attempting to overturn the 2020 election,” she said.

Subsequent hearings would cover Trump’s attempt to pressure Vice President Mike Pence to declare Trump the winner during the certification ceremony; Trump’s fake elector scheme to generate pro-Trump slates in states he had actually lost; and finally Trump’s work to summon his mob for the express purpose of attacking the Capitol to pressure Pence and lawmakers to do as he wanted.

“The attack on our Capitol was not a spontaneous mob,” she said.

The committee also began linking the actual breach of the Capitol to encouragement by Trump, starting with his statement during one of the 2020 presidential debates: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.”

A video by committee investigator Marcus Childress said membership in the group tripled after Trump’s statement, and that when Trump told his followers to come to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, the Proud Boys saw in it more than just encouragement. “The extremists, they took it a step further. They took it as a call to arms,” Childress said.

U.S. Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards, who suffered a brain injury when she became the first officer injured in the attack, said the west front of the Capitol was turned into a “war zone,” something she thought she would never see. “I’m not combat trained. That day, it was just hours of hand-to-hand combat. I saw my friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people’s blood.”

U.S. Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards testifies Thursday evening as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds its first public hearing.
U.S. Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards testifies Thursday evening as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds its first public hearing.
Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

Many of the details in the presentation had been reported over the previous months, but some information has never been disclosed publicly. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley, for example, told investigators that while Mike Pence spoke to him multiple times to demand the deployment of troops to the Capitol, Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows had a different concern. “We have to kill the narrative that the vice president is making all the decisions. We need to establish the narrative ... that the president is still in charge and that things are steady,” Milley said he told him.

Thursday’s prime-time hearing, carried live by all three major broadcast networks, is the first of a half dozen sessions the committee plans to hold before the end of the month. Committee members hope to show Americans how Trump was at the center of a scheme to remain in power despite having lost reelection.

Trump and his allies spent the days leading up to the hearing trying to delegitimize it by calling it partisan — even though it has two GOP members, including Cheney — and saying it’s out to get him.

House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, who, according to newly released audio, favored a committee to investigate Jan. 6 before he spoke extensively to Trump and changed his mind, said at a Thursday morning news conference: “It is the most political and least legitimate committee in American history.”

And Trump himself, in a series of posts on his own social media platform, repeated his lie that the 2020 election had been “rigged” and “stolen” from him, and he insulted what he called the “unselect” committee.

President Joe Biden, who called on Trump’s mob to disperse on Jan. 6 and called on Trump to ask them to do so, praised the hearing while appearing at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles. “A lot of Americans are going to see for the first time some of the details,” he said.

The committee has been working for nearly a year, having interviewed and taken depositions from more than 1,000 witnesses and collected 140,000 pages of documents.

It will expire with this Congress and, if Republicans win control of the chamber as expected, will almost certainly not be renewed.

It was created when Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi decided to move ahead with a “select” committee after Republicans blocked a resolution to create an independent commission, similar to what was done after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. She then nixed McCarthy’s attempt to place election-result denying Trump supporters like Ohio’s Jim Jordan on the committee, which led to McCarthy pulling all of his selections.

Pelosi responded by appointing two Republicans to the committee: Illinois’s Adam Kinzinger and, as vice chair, Cheney. Both were among the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 attack, and both have been vocal critics of other Republicans who downplay the seriousness of that day or claim that Trump had not done anything wrong.

Trump, despite losing the election by 7 million votes nationally and 306-232 in the Electoral College, became the first president in more than two centuries of elections to refuse to hand over power peacefully. His incitement of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol ― his last-ditch attempt to remain in office ― led to the deaths of five people, including one police officer, the injury of 140 more officers and four police suicides.

Nevertheless, Trump remains the dominant figure in the Republican Party and is openly speaking about running for the presidency again in 2024.

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