By Mike Dorning, Mark Niquette and Billy House
Jun 13, 2022, 7:24 PM – Updated on Jun 13, 2022, 9:23 PM
Word Count: 1064
Everyone from then-Attorney General William Barr to presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner said in videotaped testimony to the panel that they advised Trump against pursuing claims the election was stolen. Yet he pressed on, raising about $250 million from supporters in fundraising appeals that Democratic Representative Zoe Lofgren, a committee member, said were then diverted to other purposes in a “big ripoff.”
Showing Trump never had credible evidence the 2020 election outcome was tainted is crucial to the committee’s case that the Jan. 6 insurrection was a consequence of an illegitimate attempt by the former president to hold onto power. It also rebuts a grievance that many Republican political figures continue to embrace.
Live testimony and video excerpts from Trump’s top legal and campaign advisers offered a portrait of a president in the final days of his administration turning to a narrow coterie including trade adviser Peter Navarro and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whom Trump adviser Jason Miller described as “definitely intoxicated” on election night as he persuaded the president to declare victory.
“I told him it was going to be a process, it was going to be a wait and see atmosphere now,” Bill Stepien, who was Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, testified to the committee. Stepien recounted, in a snippet of video testimony aired during the hearing, that he advised Trump on election night to wait for outstanding votes to be counted.
Stepien was to be a star live witness in the hearing but he was excused because his wife went into labor. Instead the committee showed video excerpts from his sworn deposition.
Kushner, a senior White House adviser, testified that he told Trump not to follow Giuliani’s advice. “Basically not the approach I would take,” Kushner said in a video excerpt of his testimony.
Former Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue said he personally informed Trump that dozens of investigations and hundreds of interviews turned up no basis for claims the president and supporters were making, including about a truck transporting fraudulent ballots from New York to Pennsylvania. Investigators had even interviewed people involved in loading and unloading the truck, according to video excerpt of Donoghue’s testimony to the committee.
“The major allegations are not supported by the evidence,” Donoghue said he told Trump. “We’re doing our job. Much of the info you’re getting is false.”
Byung J. Pak, who resigned as an Atlanta-based US Attorney on Jan. 4, 2021, described a “priority” investigation his office had been assigned into allegations Trump repeated that a “suitcase” stuffed with ballots brought into a vote-counting center in Georgia. Giuliani had highlighted video of what appeared to be a suitcase under a table.
But a review of the entire video clearly showed it was a legitimate ballot lock box, Pak said.
Trump didn’t post any immediate response to the committee’s hearing on his Truth Social platform but said in a post Monday morning that “This one sided Witch Hunt is a disgrace to America. Should never have been allowed to happen!”
Barr said he informed Trump an investigation of claims of fraud in Detroit and rigged voting machines showed the allegations were “nonsense” only to see Trump highlight the allegations in a video released from the White House the next day.
“I was somewhat demoralized because I thought, ‘Boy, if he really believes this stuff, he has, you know, lost contact with, he’s become detached from reality,’ ” Barr said in his videotaped testimony.
Al Schmidt, the lone Republican on Philadelphia’s election board, told the committee after Trump targeted him in a tweet for failing to vigorously press claims on election fraud, he received an onslaught of “graphic” threats against members of his family including their names, ages, address and “pictures of our house.” One email the panel displayed warned a member of Schmidt’s family “will be fatally shot.”
The committee played video testimony from Amanda Wick, a senior investigative counsel, outlining how Trump and his allies raised $250 million with as many as 25 email solicitations a day to supporters seeking money to fight election fraud — including almost $100 million in the first week after the election – though the money was often used for other purposes.
“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,” Lofgren said. “So not only was there the big lie, there was the big ripoff.”
Wick said most of the money raised went to Trump’s Save America political action committee, which made millions of dollars of payments to pro-Trump organizations including $1 million to former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows’ charitable foundation; $1 million to the America First Policy Institute, a conservative organization that employs several former Trump administration officials; and $204,857 to the Trump hotel collection.
The committee plans to present evidence in its next hearing, set for Wednesday, that Trump pressured and threatened to fire senior Justice Department officials unless they declared the 2020 election results were corrupted, but they refused to do so.
Donoghue and then-Acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen — both of whom Trump had appointed — will testify they and then-White House Counsel Pat Cipollone responded by threatening to resign, Cheney said in a preview last week.
Testimony is also promised that Trump offered to name Jeffrey Clark, an environmental lawyer at department, the job of Acting Attorney General in exchange for pursuing the claim. The committee plans to detail that Trump wanted Clark to take a number of steps, including sending a letter to Georgia and five other states, saying the Justice Department had “identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election,” which was not true.
(Updates with details from hearing beginning in third paragraph. A previous version corrected title of Donoghue.)
–With assistance from Chris Strohm.
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