By MARY CLARE JALONICK
House investigators are trying to make a methodical case that President Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election led directly to his supporters’ insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
The House panel investigating the attack has held the first two in a series of hearingsproviding its initial findings after a yearlong probe and more than 1,000 interviews. The committee has shown clips not only from the violent attack on the Capitol, but also from its own closed-door interviews with Trump aides and associates who were trying to dissuade him from spreading falsehoods about an election he lost.
A rundown of what we’ve learned so far from the public hearings of the select Jan. 6 committee — and what’s next:
REBUFFED ON ELECTION NIGHT
One after one, video excerpts have been played of Trump’s aides describing their conversations with the just-defeated president as returns came in on election night and in the days afterward, as it became increasingly obvious that he had lost to Democrat Joe Biden. The committee is trying to establish that Trump pushed lies about widespread election fraud despite hearing clear evidence that it didn’t happen.
As the aides tried to be realistic with the president, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani took the opposite approach, telling him on election night that he should declare victory right away, according to the testimony. It was four more days until Biden was declared the winner.
Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, said she knew it was clear that the results would not be final on election night. Campaign aide Jason Miller said a better sense of the numbers was needed before making any declarations. Campaign manager Bill Stepien said he advised Trump to tell reporters that the race was too early to call, that he was proud of the campaign he ran and that he was in a good position to win.
But Trump didn’t listen. Miller said that Trump told the room that anyone who didn’t agree with Giuliani was being “weak.” He went out and publicly declared the election “a fraud on the American public.”
“Frankly, we did win this election,” Trump said.
FRAUD INVESTIGATIONS COME UP EMPTY
In the weeks after the election, the Department of Justice investigated Trump’s claims of widespread fraud. States and localities that had counted the votes did their own checks. None found evidence to support the claims that Trump and Giuliani were pushing.
Attorney General Bill Barr, who resigned from office after publicly declaring there was no evidence of widespread fraud, described his interactions with the president as he tried to convince him of the facts. Not only was Trump angry, but he was becoming “detached from reality,” Barr said in a videotaped deposition.
Barr said that when he would tell Trump “how crazy some of these allegations were, there was never, there was never an indication of interest in what the actual facts were.”
Two in-person witnesses at the committee’s hearing on Monday talked about Trump and Giuliani’s pressure to try and overturn the results in their states. BJay Pak, a former U.S. attorney in Atlanta who resigned as Trump pressured Georgia officials, said his office investigated Giuliani’s “reckless” claims about fraud in the state and found them to be “simply untrue.”
Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt, the only Republican on the city’s election board, said Trump’s claims about fraud in his city were “fantastical” and thorough investigations turned up nothing of the sort.
FUNDRAISING USING FALSE CLAIMS
The panel detailed Trump’s fundraising off his own falsehoods. He and his allies raised hundreds of millions after the election, the committee said, and broadly misled donors as to where some of the money was going. Some of the dollars that were advertised as going to an “election defense fund” actually benefitted groups and entities connected to Trump’s family and friends.
“Not only was there the Big Lie, there was the Big Ripoff,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., a member of the panel.
After the hearing Monday, Lofgren said on CNN that Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, was paid $60,000 for a short speech at Trump’s rally ahead of the insurrection.
A REMINDER OF THE VIOLENCE
While some of the committee’s findings are new, some of the evidence they are presenting is not. But the seven Democrats and two Republicans on the panel want to remind the public of what happened that January day – not only how violent it was, but the lies that led up to it.
At the initial hearing on June 9, the panel showed new video of police officers being beaten as Trump’s supporters broke into the Capitol and interrupted the certification of Biden’s victory. Images from body cameras and security video showed the huge and angry crowd as it surged toward the entrances and shattered windows and doors, repeating Trump’s claims about fraud.
Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards described a bloody “war scene” and hours of hand to hand combat. She was one of the first officers injured, thrown to ground as the first rioters pushed past bike racks. She suffered a head injury and still hasn’t yet returned to the same unit.
“It was carnage,” she said. “It was chaos.”
While the schedule is fluid, the committee plans up to five additional hearings to lay out its findings. While the first two hearings showed the violence of the siege and documented Trump’s resistance as his aides and allies initially tried to present the facts of his November loss, future hearings will describe how he continued to push the lies and eventually set his sights on the congressional certification of Jan. 6.
On Thursday, the panel will describe Trump’s efforts to persuade Vice President Mike Pence to illegally delay the electoral count or to object to Biden’s win as he presided over the congressional certification. In a video posted to Twitter on Tuesday, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the committee’s Republican co-chair, said the panel will examine Trump’s “relentless effort on Jan. 6, and in the days beforehand, to pressure Vice President Pence to refuse to count lawful electoral votes.”
Rep. Cheney also included a preview clip: former White House lawyer Eric Herschmann telling the committee in a video interview that he had told John Eastman, a lawyer who was working with Trump to push the false fraud claims, that he needed to “get a great effing criminal defense lawyer. You’re gonna need it.”
Other hearings will review Trump’s pressure on Justice Department officials and what was happening in the White House as the violence unfolded at the Capitol.
“The Trump campaign legal team knew there was no legitimate argument — fraud, irregularities or anything — to overturn the election,” Cheney said at Monday’s hearing. “And yet President Trump went ahead with his plans for Jan. 6 anyway.”
A CRIMINAL REFERRAL?
After the hearings, the committee says its investigation will continue. And panel members will ultimately have to make a decision about whether they have found criminal activity and, if so, whether they should refer it to the Justice Department. The department, which is conducting its own investigation, could take or leave the recommendation.
Committee members have been debating that issue, but have emphasized a referral is not their main goal.
“We’re making a report to the American people about what happened, why it happened and how we need to protect ourselves in the future,” said Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Democrat on the committee.