Any reasonable observer already knows Trump lost the 2020 election, and that his claims of election fraud were tenuous at best. However, Monday’s January 6 committee hearing reinforced just how clear all of these facts were, or should have been, to Trump and his inner circle in the days, weeks, and months after Election Day.
The day’s testimony lacked one key witness: Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien pulled out of the hearing after his wife went into labor. Despite that, the committee, with Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) taking the lead on questions, was able to lay out a clear timeline of Trump’s decision to reject the election results and how top aides repeatedly debunked various claims of fraud.
Here are four takeaways from the second hearing of the committee investigating the circumstances around the January 6 attack on the Capitol:
An “apparently intoxicated” Rudy Giuliani wanted Trump to prematurely declare victory
Rudy Giuliani was both a key player and the comic relief in Monday’s proceedings. The committee laid out not only his role in jump-starting what Democrats call “the Big Lie” in urging Trump to prematurely declare victory on election night, but also revealed his sozzled state at the time.
Although the hearing was generally somber, the committee chuckled at vice-chair Rep. Liz Cheney’s (R-WY) characterization of Rudy Giuliani as “apparently intoxicated” on the night of the 2020 election. While the former New York mayor’s bibulousness is well documented, the committee sought to establish that he was not the only person in Trump’s inner circle that night urging him to declare premature victory, but that he did so in a “tired and emotional” state.
As top Trump aide Jason Miller (who served on Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign) testified in a deposition, “the mayor was definitely intoxicated.” While all of Trump’s other aides told him to be cautious — in a video deposition, Stepien said he’d suggested that Trump say that “it’s too early to call but we are proud of the race we ran” — members of Trump’s team told the committee that Giuliani urged the former president to give the late-night speech in which Trump famously said, “frankly we did win this election.”
Afterward, committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) told reporters, Giuliani’s sobriety “didn’t make much difference” from his perspective, but that “it does further erode whatever credibility you might have placed in his judgment.”
There were two competing factions in Trump’s inner circle and “Team Normal” lost
Stepien described Trumpworld as being divided after the election was called, between “Team Normal” — those who accepted the result of the election — and those aligned with Giuliani’s efforts to overturn the election.
In a video deposition, Stepien, a longtime aide to former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, said he was in the former camp because “I didn’t think what was happening was necessarily honest or professional.” Eric Herschmann, a Trump White House lawyer who defended the former president on the Senate floor during the first impeachment and another member of “Team Normal,” bluntly told the committee during his interview, “What they were proposing, I thought was nuts.”
He added, “I mean, it was a combination of Italians, Germans, I mean, different things floating around as to who was involved. Hugo Chavez and the Venezuelans … something with the Philippines, just all over the radar.”
“Team Normal” lost. Stepien said he essentially “stepped away” from the campaign as conspiracy theories multiplied, and that Giuliani became the de facto campaign manager. The campaign’s outside lawyers also steadily “disengaged.” As Matt Morgan, the Trump campaign’s general counsel, put it, “Law firms were not comfortable making the arguments that Rudy Giuliani was making publicly.” The result left Trump with a shrunken legal team consisting of figures like Giuliani and Sidney Powell who were willing to embrace his unfounded and fringe claims about the election.
Alex Cannon, a Trump campaign lawyer who testified in a video deposition, spoke about the backlash those who punctured Giuliani’s conspiracy theories faced. He said when he told Giuliani ally Peter Navarro that there was no evidence of fraud, he was promptly accused of being “an agent of the deep state.”
The committee’s evidence seemed to suggest that, over time, Trump’s circle was increasingly dominated by those who told him what he wanted to hear, rather than what was happening. This contributed to the situation former Attorney General William Barr described in his deposition: A lame-duck president “detached from reality.”
As time went on, Trump became “detached from reality”
Barr, along with other administration officials, described playing “whack-a-mole” with Trump’s false claims of fraud.
Every time one false claim was dispelled, they said, the former president would bring up another. Aides repeatedly intervened to tell Trump that he had lost the election, and described taking each claim seriously, investigating it until they had the facts and reporting back to Trump. Former acting Attorney General Richard Donoghue described one meeting during which Trump seemed to accept the gathered evidence, but for each conspiracy theory aides were able to explain away, he had another he’d latch onto.
Barr described one popular conspiracy theory around the 2020 election, that it had been rigged by voting machine malfeasance, as “idiotic.” Other Justice Department officials testified that they repeatedly insisted to Trump that other conspiracy theories around the election were simply “not true,” including viral claims of ballot box stuffing in Georgia promoted by Giuliani or Trump’s false claims of “big massive dumps” of illegal votes.
Essentially, the committee suggested, Trump knew or should have known that his lies about the election were, as Barr put it, “bullshit.” But he repeated them anyway, which helped lead to the violence on January 6.
Trump raised a lot of money by lying
The committee closed the hearing by chronicling how the Trump campaign raised $250 million from the false claims of election fraud, sending out a relentless stream of emails to supporters. Its last fundraising email on that topic, the committee said, was sent only a half-hour before the Capitol was breached.
The emails often touted an “election defense fund.” However, there was no such thing. The money went to Trump’s Save America PAC, which spun off million-dollar payments to two other groups with connections to Trump allies and spent over $200,000 at Trump-owned hotels. As Trump digital director Gary Coby testified to the committee in a deposition, “it was just a marketing tactic.”
Rep. Lofgren used this to characterize the Trump effort to overturn the election as not just “a big lie,” but as a “big rip-off as well.” Trump, the committee argues, not only endangered democracy with his lies, but used his lies to bolster his political future, and to enrich himself and his allies while doing so.