Train Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien and train Atty. Gen. Bill Barr recounted in video depositions with the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection their repeated admonitions to form President Trump that his election fraud claims were groundless, testimony that set the tone for a hearing Monday focused on the former president’s decision to spread false allegations of election fraud.
At Monday’s hearing, the congressional panel began laying out what happened behind the scenes with the Trump campaign on election night that led to his decision to declare victory that evening — even though he was repeatedly told the results did not back his assertion.
“It was far too early to make any calls like that. Ballots were still being counted, ballots were still going to be counted for days. It was far too early to be making any proclamations like that,” Stepien told the committee. He said that Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was pushing Trump to announce that he had won anyway.
In video testimony released Monday, former Trump aide Jason Miller testified that a “definitely intoxicated” Giuliani spoke to the president several times on the evening of the election and was the only one in the Trump campaign circle advocating for a victory declaration before the night ended.
“Indeed, Mayor Giuliani was saying, ‘We won it. They’re stealing it from it. Where did all the votes come from? We need to go say that we won.’ And essentially that anyone who didn’t agree with that position was being weak,” Miller testified.
At 3 am on election night, Trump gave a speech claiming he’d won and that there was an attempt to steal the election from him.
Stepien, who was Trump’s final campaign manager, had a family emergency and withdrew from testifying shortly before the hearing began. The panel used clips from Stepien’s deposition recorded in February during the committee’s investigation.
During its June 9 hearing, the committee touched on whether Trump knew he had lost the lost the election. That hearing featured clips of Barr and other high-ranking Trump campaign officials telling the committee of how and when they had informed Trump he had lost. Depositions the committee included as exhibits in a court case show the campaign had determined in mid-November that Trump’s claims were false, and Trump had largely handed proving fraud over to his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani rather than people with election experience.
Similar to the first hearing, Monday’s presentation heavily relied on records and clips of testimony from depositions. Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) led the hearing with Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose).
The first witness who spoke in person Monday was former Fox News political editor Chris Stirewalt, who was involved in the network’s decision to announce that Joe Biden won Arizona on election night.
Stirewalt explained the so-called “red mirage,” an election phenomenon in which Republicans appear to be in the lead in early returns because they tend to vote in person, while Democrats tend to vote by mail or absentee vote if available, so ballots are counted later.
Trump would have been better off “to play the Powerball” than betting on winning the election after losing Arizona, Stirewalt said.
Stepien told the committee in his deposition that he had warned Trump in 2016 and again in 2020 of the red mirage and said that by Nov. 7 the chances of him winning the presidential election were “very, very, very bleak.”
The committee also played clips of Stepien saying the Trump campaign couldn’t verify the fraud claims the president was making in public, and by the second week after the election, Trump had largely given over responsibility for proving fraud to Giuliani.
Barr also said in his deposition that the Justice Department looked at many of the claims being made but did not find evidence of fraud that would change the election results. He recalled a Nov. 23 conversation with Trump in the Oval Office in which Trump asked why the Justice Department wasn’t doing more.
Barr said he told Trump that it was the campaign’s responsibility to raise concerns about fraud and that the “Department doesn’t take sides in elections and the department is not an extension of your legal team.”
On Dec. 1, Barr told an Associated Press reporter that there was no evidence of election fraud.
“It was time for me to say something,” Barr said. Afterward, he went to a meeting at the White House expecting to be fired.
“The president was as mad as I’ve ever seen him, and he was trying to control himself,” Barr said. He paraphrased Trump as saying, “Well, this is, you know, killing me. You didn’t have to say this. You must’ve said this because you hate Trump.”
“I told him that the stuff that his people were shoveling out to the public was bullshit, I mean, that the claims of fraud were bullshit. And, you know, he was outraged about that,” Barr said.
The second panel of witnesses included conservative election attorney Benjamin Ginsberg, former US Atty. for the Northern District of Georgia Byung J. “BJay” Pak, and former Republican Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt.