The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot put former President Donald Trump’s false election-fraud claims front and center in the second public hearing detailing the probe’s initial findings.
The narrowly focused hearing, which wrapped after just over two hours, sought to establish that Trump knew he lost the 2020 election to President Joe Biden, but nevertheless worked to convince swaths of the public that the race had been stolen from him through widespread fraud.
The panel showed extensive footage of Trump’s former aides and officials, especially ex-Attorney General William Barr, testifying to the committee about their conversations with Trump and those close to him. Numerous witnesses said that they told Trump at the time of the election that his claims of fraud were false. The committee also heard in-person testimony from former Fox News political editor Chris Stirewalt, Republican election lawyer Benjamin Ginsberg and others.
Here are some of the main takeaways from the second hearing:
Barr ripped ‘crazy’ election fraud claims, questioned Trump’s grip on reality
Former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr is seen on video during his deposition for the public hearing of the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 9, 2022. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
Barr, who served as U.S. attorney general until late December 2020, emerged as a main character in making the committee’s case that Trump had been repeatedly told there was no evidence for the claims of fraud that he was peddling.
In his interviews with the committee’s investigators, the former head of Trump’s Department of Justice repeatedly slammed those election-fraud conspiracy theories as “bulls—” and “crazy,” among other terms. He testified that he said as much to the then-president’s face.
In one clip, Barr recounted an Oval Office meeting a few weeks after the Nov. 3, 2020, election, in which he had to tell Trump that the DOJ “is not an extension of your legal team” and can’t be used to “take sides in elections” by investigating fraud claims.
“We’ll look at something if it’s specific, credible, and could have affected the outcome of the election, and we’re doing that and it’s just not meritorious, they’re not panning out,” Barr recalled saying to Trump.
The former head of the DOJ also said he told Trump “that the stuff that his people were shoveling out to the public was bulls—. I mean, that the claims of fraud were bulls—. And he was indignant about that.”
“I reiterated that they’d wasted a whole month on these claims on these Dominion voting machines, and they were idiotic claims,” Barr said.
Barr said he found those claims, that Dominion voting machines were rigged to flip votes to Biden, “disturbing” in that “I saw absolutely zero basis” for them. But “they were obviously influencing a lot of members of the public” even though they were “complete nonsense,” Barr said.
He added: “I told him that it was crazy stuff and they were wasting their time on that and it was doing a grave disservice to the country.”
Barr said Trump gave him a copy of a report filled with election fraud claims. Trump said the report showed that he would get a second term, but “to be frank, it looked very amateurish to me,” Barr said.
“I was somewhat demoralized, because I thought, boy, if he really believes this stuff, he has lost contact with — he’s become detached from reality if he really believes this stuff,” Barr said.
When Barr would tell Trump how “crazy” some of these claims were, “there was never an indication of interest in what the actual facts were,” the former attorney general said, laughing.
Rudy Giuliani ‘definitely intoxicated’ on Election Night, pushed for Trump to declare victory, campaign aide said
Former Trump campaign Lawyer Rudy Giuliani, is displayed on a screen during a hearing by the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the US Capitol on June 13, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images
In another clip of witness interviews, ex-Trump campaign aide Jason Miller said that former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was “definitely intoxicated” on Election Night 2020 when he said at the White House that Trump should simply declare victory.
Miller said that he noticed Giuliani was inebriated when he and other officials, including former campaign manager Bill Stepien and then-chief of staff Mark Meadows, gathered at the White House to listen to what Giuliani wanted to tell Trump to say.
“The mayor was definitely intoxicated, but I did not know his level of intoxication when he spoke with the president, for example,” Miller said as part of an interview with the select committee, clips of which were played in the hearing.
“There were suggestions by, I believe it was Mayor Giuliani, to go and declare victory and say that we’d won it outright,” Miller said. Giuliani was effectively saying, “‘We won it, they’re stealing it from us, where’d all the votes come from, we need to go say that we won,’ and essentially anyone who didn’t agree with that position was being weak,” Miller told the investigators.
Trump, in the early hours of Nov. 4, 2020, falsely claimed, “frankly, we did win this election.”
A spokesperson for Giuliani, who also sent along a conspiracy theory and typo-ridden statement from the former Trump lawyer, denied Giuliani was drunk on Election Night.
Star witness drops out
Campaign manager Bill Stepien stands alongside US President Donald Trump as he speaks with reporters aboard Air Force One as he flies from Manchester, New Hampshire to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, August 28, 2020, following a campaign rally.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images
Stepien was set to appear under subpoena during Monday’s hearing. But his wife went into labor earlier that morning, keeping him from testifying and forcing the select committee to delay the proceedings by 45 minutes.
Instead of hearing in-person testimony from Stepien, the committee played a smattering of video and audio clips from his interviews with investigators.
In one video clip, Stepien told the committee that on Election Night, he took the view that it was “far too early” for Trump to claim he won the election, as Giuliani allegedly pushed him to do, since ballots were still being counted.
Stepien said he recommended that Trump should say the race was too early to call, but that they are proud of the campaign and will have more to say later. Trump disagreed with that message, Stepien said.
“He thought I was wrong, he told me so,” he said.
Trump officials pushed back on fraud claims again and again
Video featuring Eric Hershman, White House lawyer under former President Donald Trump, is played during a hearing by the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol in the Cannon House Office Building on June 13, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images
The panel showed clip after clip of ex-Trump officials testifying that they had not seen any evidence of fraud in the 2020 election that could have changed the outcome of the race.
Former Trump campaign general counsel Matt Morgan, for example, recalled assessing “whether the [fraud], if aggregated and read most favorably to the campaign, would that be outcome determinative. And I think everyone’s assessment in the room at least amongst the staff … was that it was not sufficient to be outcome determinative.”
Former White House lawyer Eric Herschman, discussing the claims about rigged Dominion voting machines, said “I never saw any evidence whatsoever to sustain those allegations.”
“What they were proposing, I thought was nuts,” Herschman said in a later clip, referring to fraud conspiracy claims being put forward by Giuliani and pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell.
In another clip, former Trump campaign lawyer Alex Cannon said he talked to White House advisor Peter Navarro in mid-November about Dominion voting machines and other allegations of voter fraud.
“I remember telling him that I didn’t believe the Dominion allegations because I thought the hand recount in Georgia would resolve any issues with the technology problem,” Cannon said, adding that federal cybersecurity director Christopher Krebs had recently said the election was secure.
“I believe Mr. Navarro accused me of being an agent of the deep state working with Chris Krebs against the president. And I never took another phone call from Mr. Navarro,” Cannon said.
Trump’s “own campaign advisors, the Department of Justice, and his cybersecurity experts all told him the same thing,” committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said in the hearing.
Former deputy acting Attorney General Richard Donoghue told the committee that he tried to tell Trump “in very clear terms” that “the major allegations are not supported by the evidence developed.”
“We’ve looked at Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nevada. We’re doing our job. Much of the info you’re getting is false,” Donoghue said. Donoghue told the panel that when he went into detail to debunk one fraud claim, Trump said, “OK fine, what about the others?”
“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 on to another allegation,” Donoghue said.
Trump’s failed court claims
To drive the point home, the committee displayed statistics showing how the dozens of lawsuits by Trump’s legal team and his allies played out in court.
Between Election Day 2020 and the date of the Capitol riot, 62 lawsuits were filed challenging results in nine key states and Washington, D.C., the committee said. Trump’s side lost 61 of those cases.
A graphic displayed by the committee noted that 22 of the judges who oversaw those cases were appointed by Republican presidents. Trump appointed 10 of those judges himself.
What will happen next
The committee is expected to hold five more public hearings in June. The panel’s main message, as articulated in the first hearing last week, is that Trump was “at the center” of a conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election outcome.
The next hearings will “move on to President Trump’s broader planning for January 6, including his plan to corrupt the Department of Justice, and his detailed planning with lawyer John Eastman to pressure the vice president, state legislatures, state officials and others to overturn the election,” Cheney said at the end of Monday’s presentation.