In its second public hearing, the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol delivered a relatively focused message on Monday: that Trump knew his claims of a stolen election were false but continued to push them widely, raking in hundreds of millions of dollars while seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
“This morning, we’ll tell the story of how Donald Trump lost an election and knew he lost an election, and as a result of his loss, decided to wage an attack on our democracy,” Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) told the audience in opening remarks.
Thompson characterized the effort to discredit the 2020 election as a “conspiracy” and a “scheme” that Trump oversaw and directed and that is “unprecedented in American history.”
Here are seven key moments from the hearing:
Senior staffers said Trump rejected their advice and listened to a drunk Rudy Giuliani instead.
Numerous Trump campaign staffers testified that Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was inebriated at Trump’s election night watch party and insisted on telling Trump to declare victory regardless of the actual data coming in.
Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, told investigators that Giuliani appeared to have had too much to drink. Former Trump adviser Jason Miller also said the former New York City mayor “was definitely intoxicated.”
While Stepien, Miller and others, including Trump’s daughter Ivanka, apparently believed it was too early to declare victory on election night, Trump ended up listening to a tipsy Giuliani and falsely declared victory anyway.
Stepien said he’d told Trump to deliver a speech “that the votes were still being counted, it’s too early to tell, too early to call the race, but that we were proud of the race we ran” and that he’d “have more to say about this the next day.”
“The president disagreed with that,” Stepien said. “He thought I was wrong; he told me so and that they were going to go in a different direction.”
As Giuliani’s schemes to undercut the 2020 election results became apparent, Stepien said, an internal schism formed and Stepien’s group lost Trump’s ear.
“There were 2 groups: my team, and Rudy’s team,” he said. “I didn’t mind being categorized as ‘team normal.’”
“I’ve been doing this for a long time, 25 years, and I’ve spanned political ideologies from Trump to Christie to Bush,” Stepien continued, “and I think along the way, I built up a pretty good reputation for being honest, and I didn’t think what was happening was either honest or professional at that point, so I stepped away.”
Former Fox News political editor: Trump claimed victory based on a “red mirage.”
Chris Stirewalt, a former political editor at Fox News, testified that Trump sold voters on a “red mirage” on election night before all of the votes had been counted.
Stirewalt, whom Fox News fired after he correctly called Arizona for Joe Biden, explained that early votes typically skew Republican, while others, like mail-in ballots, typically don’t. So it was very premature for Trump to declare victory based only on the early returns.
“As of Nov. 7, in your judgment, what were the chances of President Trump winning the election?” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) asked Stirewalt.
“After that point? None,” he said, shaking his head.
Stirewalt also threw cold water on the notion that any outcomes in battleground states would have been reversed in a recount.
“Normally, you’re talking about hundreds of votes, maybe 300 votes that are going to change” in a recount, he said. “So the idea that through any normal process, in any of these states ― remember, he had to do it thrice, right? ― he needed three of these states to change.”
“In order to do that, I mean, you’re at an infinite ― you’re better off to play the Powerball.”
William Barr: Claims about defective voting machines were “complete nonsense.”
Former Attorney General William Barr told the committee that Trump was increasingly “detached from reality” as he asserted, again and again, that the election was stolen.
Barr said the Department of Justice investigated any “specific and credible allegations” of fraud, but the claims “were completely bogus and silly and usually based on complete misinformation.”
Barr reserved particular scorn for the conspiracy theory pushed by Trump, Giuliani and others that Dominion Voting Systems, a voting machine company, had altered its machines to falsely tabulate votes.
“They were idiotic claims,” he said, but “they were made in such a sensational way they were influencing members of the public” and “doing a grave disservice to the country.”
“My opinion then and my opinion now is that the election was not stolen by fraud, and I haven’t seen anything since the election that changed my mind on that,” Barr said.
Bill Stepien: Trump ran a “structurally and fiscally deficient” reelection campaign.
Stepien, Trump’s campaign manager, sharply criticized the state of the then-president’s 2020 reelection effort when he was hired to replace outgoing campaign manager Brad Parscale just 115 days before Election Day.
“I inherited a campaign that was, the day I was hired, was President Trump’s low point in the daily average polling against Biden,” Stepien said. “It was structurally and fiscally deficient. There was a great deal wrong with the campaign in both those areas.”
Trump’s mind was “made up” on mail-in ballots, regardless of the evidence, Stepien said.
Stepien said he and House Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) both agreed that Trump should embrace mail-in voting during the 2020 election and encourage his supporters to do likewise, especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
The campaign manager said he told Trump that focusing on in-person turnout on Election Day risked “leaving a good deal to chance” compared to the mail-in alternative.
Trump ignored the advice and instead attacked mail-in votes as fraudulent.
Investigators said the “Big Lie” was a big windfall for Trump.
In addition to attempting to overturn the results of the election, investigators say Trump used his election fraud lies to reap a financial windfall from aggrieved voters.
Senior investigative counselor Amanda Wick said the Trump campaign raised $250 million between Election Day and the Jan. 6 Capitol attack via millions of fundraising emails alleging voter fraud.
“The Trump campaign knew these claims of voter fraud were false, yet they continued to barrage small-dollar donors with emails encouraging them to donate to something called ‘The Official Election Defense Fund,’” Wick said.
According to the select committee, no such fund existed.
The Justice Department looked into Giuliani and Trump’s fraud allegations in swing states and found nothing.
Trump allies’ allegations of vast conspiracies in swing states to add to Biden’s vote tally were all, without fail, completely baseless, numerous Justice Department officials told the committee.
In Pennsylvania, for instance, Giuliani told state legislators that 8,000 “dead people” had voted for Biden.
“Not only was there not evidence of 8,000 dead voters voting in Pennsylvania, there wasn’t evidence of eight,” said Al Schmidt, a Republican former Philadelphia city commissioner. Schmidt noted that he and his family were subjected to disturbing threats after Trump personally named him on Twitter.
Rich Donoghue, the former acting deputy U.S. attorney general, also recalled the difficulty of briefing Trump on the specific findings in the states.
“Sir, we’ve done dozens of investigations, hundreds of interviews,” he recalled telling Trump. “The major allegations are not supported by the evidence developed. We’ve looked in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nevada. We’re doing our job. Much of the info you’re getting is false.”
“There were so many of these allegations that when you gave him a very direct answer on one of them, he wouldn’t fight us on it, but he would move to another allegation,” Donoghue said.
“I told him flat-out that most of the evidence he’s getting is false.”