4 takeaways from day 2 of the Jan. 6 hearings
By Michael D. Shear
The one big theme on the second day of hearings by the Jan. 6 committee was that former President Donald Trump was told repeatedly — including by his own attorney general — that his “big lie” about a fraudulent election was baseless. But he made the fake claim on election night anyway and hasn’t stopped since.
As they did during the opening hearing, committee members on Monday used video testimony from some of Trump’s closest friends and advisers — including blunt comments from former Attorney General William Barr — to show that the president must have known that his claims were baseless.
Here are some other takeaways from the second day of the hearings.
Trump was described as ‘detached from reality’ after the election.
Barr’s video testimony was some of the most compelling of the morning, with the former attorney general describing Trump as increasingly “detached from reality” in the days after the election. In his testimony, Barr said he told the president repeatedly that his claims of fraud were unfounded but that there was “never an indication of interest in what the actual facts are.”
The unvarnished portrait of Trump is a linchpin of the argument that the committee is trying to make: Trump knew his claims of a fraudulent election were not true and made them anyway. Barr said that in the weeks after the election, he repeatedly told Trump “how crazy some of these allegations were.”
The committee is making the case that Trump was a knowing liar. But Barr’s testimony offered another possible explanation: The president actually came to believe the lies he was telling.
“I thought, ‘Boy, if he really believes this stuff, he has, you know, lost contact with, with — he’s become detached from reality, if he really believes this stuff,’” Barr told the committee.
Two groups surrounded Trump: ‘Team Normal’ vs. ‘Rudy’s Team.’
One thing that came across clearly Monday was that there were two different groups of people around Trump in the days and weeks after the election.
Bill Stepien, Trump’s campaign manager, characterized his team as “Team Normal,” as opposed to the team led by Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer.
A veteran Republican operative, Stepien was among the campaign aides, lawyers, White House advisers and others who urged Trump to abandon his unfounded claims of fraud. Giuliani’s team was feeding the president’s paranoia and pushing him to back unsubstantiated and fanciful claims of ballot harvesting, voting machine tampering and more. “We call them kind of my team and Rudy’s team,” Stepien told committee investigators in interviews. “I didn’t mind being characterized as being part of ‘Team Normal.’”
Committee members are hoping that the description of the two competing groups in Trump’s orbit is evidence that Trump made a choice — to listen to the group led by Giuliani instead of to those who ran his campaign and worked in his administration. Trump chose, in the words of “Team Normal,” to listen to those spouting “crazy” arguments instead.
A picture emerges of election night at the White House.
Monday’s hearing opened with a vivid portrait of election night at the White House, describing the reaction from the president and those around him when Fox News called Arizona for Joe Biden. Using video testimony of Trump’s closest advisers and some members of his family, the committee showed how Trump rejected the cautionary advice he received.
Stepien said in the video that he had urged the president not to declare victory prematurely, having already explained that Democratic votes were most likely to be counted later in the night. Trump ignored him, Stepien and others said. Instead, he listened to Giuliani, who aides said was drunk that night and was urging the president to claim victory and say the election was being stolen.
Chris Stirewalt, a Fox News political editor who was fired after his network’s on-air call for Arizona, told the committee that the shift in returns that night that prompted the president’s claims of voter manipulation were no more than the expected results of Democratic votes being counted after Republican ones. He expressed pride that his team was first to accurately call the Arizona results and said there was “zero” chance that Trump would have won that state.
Millions of dollars were sent to a nonexistent ‘Election Defense Fund.’
It wasn’t just the “big lie,” according to the Jan. 6 committee. It was also “the big rip-off.”
In a video presentation that concluded its second hearing, the committee described how Trump and his campaign aides used baseless claims of election fraud to persuade the president’s supporters to send millions of dollars to something called the “Election Defense Fund.” According to the committee, Trump’s supporters donated $100 million in the first week after the election, apparently in the hopes that their money would help the president fight to overturn the results.
But a committee investigator said there was no evidence that such a fund ever existed. Instead, millions of dollars flowed into a super PAC that the president set up Nov. 9, just days after the election. According to the committee, that PAC sent $1 million to a charitable foundation run by Mark Meadows, Trump’s former chief of staff, and another $1 million to a political group that is run by several of his former staff members, including Stephen Miller, the architect of Trump’s immigration agenda.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., summed up the discoveries this way: “Throughout the committee’s investigation, we found evidence that the Trump campaign and its surrogates misled donors as to where their funds would go and what they would be used for. So not only was there that big lie, there was the big rip-off. Donors deserve to know where their funds are really going. They deserve better than what President Trump and his team did.”