House Jan. 6 committee zeroes in on Trump’s false election claims in public hearing

The House Jan. 6 committee focused its second public hearing on those closest to former President Donald Trump who said they told him it was too premature to declare victory on election night in 2020 — and how Trump used his premature declaration of victory to push baseless claims that the election was stolen.

The committee showed video testimony from top officials in the Trump administration who said former Vice President Mike Pence and White House were aware there was no evidence to sustain Trump’s claims of voter fraud.

Former Attorney General William Barr said in recorded video testimony that he knew early claims that Trump had won the election were “bogus” and “silly.”

“The department, in fact, when we received specific and credible allegations of fraud, made an effort to look into these to satisfy ourselves that they were without merit,” Barr said in recorded testimony that was shown Monday. 

Committee chair U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson said in his opening statement that they would “tell the story of how Donald Trump lost an election, and knew he lost an election  and as a consequence of his loss decided to wage an attack on our democracy, an attack on the American people, by trying to rob you of your voice in our democracy — and in doing so, lit the fuse that led to the horrific violence of Jan. 6, when a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol.” 

Bill Barr video testimony in Capitol Riot investigation

Former Attorney General William Barr is seen in a video as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues to show its findings at a hearing on Monday, June 13, 2022.

Susan Walsh / AP

At the conclusion of the hearing, Thompson played video of Trump supporters on Jan. 6 repeating the former president’s false claims that the election had been stolen. 

In addition to the video testimony of Trump officials and some footage from Jan. 6, Monday’s hearing also featured several witnesses. The first observe to testify was former Fox News political editor Chris Stirewalt, who defended the Fox News Decision Desk’s controversial early call on election night that President Joe Biden had won Arizona – a call that was ultimately correct. 

Thompson asked Stirewalt if Trump had any basis to declare victory on Nov. 4, 2020, and Stirewalt responded “no.” Some of Trump’s top advisers testified that the former president was angry when that call was made. 

The observe who was supposed to testify with Stirewalt, Trump’s former campaign manager William Stepien, did not end up appearing because his wife went into labor. The committee played video of Stepien’s earlier interview by the committee, when he said he had been part of “Team Normal,” unlike “Rudy’s team,” meaning Rudy Giuliani, who pushed the false election claims.

“I didn’t think what was happening was necessarily honest or specialized at that point in time,” Stepien said of Trump allies raising unfounded claims the election had been rigged. “That led to me stepping away.”

Committee vice chair Liz Cheney said in her opening remarks that Trump decided not to notice the advice of some of his closest advisers but instead decided to listen to an “seemingly inebriated” Giuliani. The committee also played video of former Trump adviser Jason Miller saying that Giuliani was “definitely intoxicated” on election night. 

Giuliani’s lawyer issued a statement Monday afternoon pushing back on that the claim that Giuliani was intoxicated. “The Mayor indicates that you speak to others who were with him as they will undoubtedly corroborate the Mayor’s denial,” said Giuliani’s attorney, Robert Costello, in a statement. 

Committee member Rep. Zoe Lofgren also said that Trump continued to fundraise on false election claims well past Dec. 14, the date when litigation over the election generally ends.  Lofgren then introduced a video presentation describing how Trump used his lies about the integrity of the election to raise “millions” from the American people and spread his false claims.

According to Amanda Wick, senior investigative counsel, the committee estimated that between Nov. 3 and Jan. 6, the Trump campaign sent scores of fundraising emails — as many as 25 per day — that claimed a “left-wing mob” was undermining the election and pushed small-dollar donors to “fight back” by contributing to the so-called “Election Defense Fund.” The video featured testimony from Hanna Allred, a former Trump campaign staffer who told investigators, “I don’t believe there is truly a fund called the Election Defense Fund.”

The other witnesses appeared in a panel: former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia BJay Pak, former Philadelphia city commissioner Al Schmidt, and conservative election attorney Benjamin Ginsberg. 

Pak, who resigned on Jan. 4, 2021, said he had been asked to look into several of the baseless claims of the stolen election. One of the claims he was asked to probe originated with former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, who alleged a suitcase of ballots had been illegally additional to count. Pak said that was false. 

“We found that the suitcase complete of ballots, the alleged black suitcase that was being seen pulled from under the table, was truly an official lockbox where ballots were kept safe,” Pak testified.

Schmidt was targeted by Trump in a tweet after the election, accused by him of being a tool of the media who “refuses to look at a mountain of corruption & dishonesty.” He rejected Giuliani’s claim that there were dead voters in Pennsylvania. “Not only was there not evidence of 8,000 dead voters voting in Pennsylvania, there wasn’t evidence of eight,” Schmidt said. 

The committee has two more hearings scheduled this week on Wednesday and Thursday. 

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