Former president Donald Trump’s communications director recounted popping into the Oval Office roughly a week after the 2020 election to find a morose Trump watching TV: “Can you believe I lost to this f---ing guy?” Trump lamented, referring to then-President-elect Joe Biden.
And Trump’s 2020 campaign manager remembered — in the days and weeks following the election — joining the unofficial “truth-telling squad” tasked with informing Trump that he had, in fact, lost the 2020 election.
“It’s an easier job to be telling the president about, you know, wild allegations,” Bill Stepien, Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, said in testimony aired Thursday by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. “It’s a harder job to be telling him on the back end that, ‘Yeah, that wasn’t true.’ ”
The likely final hearing of the Jan. 6 panel painted a portrait of an American president who, with the help from a cabal of right-wing allies, embarked on a premeditated plan to refuse to cede power regardless of the election results and who — despite privately acknowledging that he’d lost to Biden — ultimately executed that plan to deadly effect on Jan. 6, 2021.
“All of this demonstrates President Trump’s personal and substantial role in the plot to overturn the election,” said Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.). “He was intimately involved. He was the central player.”
Before voting unanimously to subpoena Trump, the panel made a case against Trump as relentless as it was damning: In the days and weeks before he encouraged a frenzied mob of his supporters to storm the Capitol, close advisers and others had repeatedly told Trump he had lost the election — and Trump himself had privately acknowledged the defeat.
Through roughly 2.5 hours of pretaped testimony, riot footage, stark lawmaker statements and incriminating text messages, the committee argued that despite Trump’s immense capacity for self-deception and dishonesty, the former president fully understood he had lost the election — and yet continued to contest the results anyway.
“Please recognize that President Donald Trump was in a unique position, better informed about the absence of widespread election fraud than almost any other American president,” Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said. “Trump’s own campaign experts told him that there was no evidence to support his claims. His own Justice Department appointees investigated the election fraud claims and told him — point blank — they were false. In mid-December 2020, President Trump’s senior advisers told him the time had come to concede the election. Donald Trump knew the courts had ruled against him.”
“He had all of this information,” Cheney continued, “but still, he made the conscious choice to claim fraudulently that the election was stolen.”
As further evidence that Trump understood he would not be serving a second term, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) presented detailed testimony recounting how on Nov. 11, 2020 — just four days after news organizations officially called the election in favor of Biden — Trump signed an order calling for the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Somalia, to be completed before Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021.
Kinzinger argued that the directive — which was previously reported by Axios and in the book “Peril” but ultimately did not come to pass — underscored Trump’s rush “to complete his unfinished business” in what he understood to be the waning days of his administration.
“These are the highly consequential actions of a president who knows his term will shortly end,” Kinzinger said.
Of course, Trump’s false and baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen have continued to the present day, becoming something of a litmus test for Republican candidates across the nation. But the committee on Thursday argued, as Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) put it at one point, that “this plan to declare victory was in place before any of the results had been determined.”
Lofgren noted at one point the committee had interviewed Brad Parscale, who had served as Trump’s campaign manager before Stepien, and that Parscale had told them “that President Trump planned, as early as July, that he would say he won the election even if he lost.”
The California lawmaker also played audio from Stephen K. Bannon — a former senior adviser for Trump who had been in touch with him before Jan. 6 — telling associates in China a few days before the election that regardless of the actual results, Trump was simply going to say he had won.
“And what Trump’s going to do is just declare victory, right?” Bannon says in the audio clip, chuckling at points. “He’s going to declare victory. And that doesn’t mean he’s the winner. He’s just going to say he’s the winner.”
Bannon added that the public would awake to “a firestorm” the day after the election: “If Biden is winning, Trump is going to do some crazy show.”
The committee also reminded viewers that later, on Jan. 5 — just one day before the deadly insurrection — Bannon asserted on his radio show: “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow.”
And that’s exactly what happened.
The facts, by now, are well known: A president, unable to countenance the blow of an election defeat to his ego, exhorted his furious and frenzied supporters to march to the Capitol, culminating in a deadly insurrection that left five dead, including a Capitol Police officer who died after being beaten by a mob of rioters.
But the story the committee sought to tell Thursday was more nuanced. Trump was not, lawmaker after lawmaker argued, an angry king or reckless madman — caught up in the emotion of the day — or a mere hapless bystander, unaware of the destruction he wrought.
In fact, it was quite the opposite: Trump was a leader who knew he had lost — who was repeatedly told he had lost and who privately admitted he had lost — yet who plunged ahead with a calculated and deliberate plan that shook the foundations of the very democracy he had sworn to uphold.
“President Trump knew the truth,” Kinzinger said. “He heard what all his experts and senior staff were telling him. He knew he had lost the election, but he made the deliberate choice to ignore the courts, to ignore the Justice Department, to ignore his campaign leadership, to ignore senior advisers, and to pursue a completely unlawful effort to overturn the election.”
Kinzinger concluded: “His intent was plain: ignore the rule of law and stay in power.”
The Jan. 6 insurrection
Congressional hearings: The House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol held a series of high-profile hearings to share its findings with the U.S. public. In what was likely its final hearing, the committee issued a surprise subpoena seeking testimony from former president Donald Trump. Here’s a guide to the biggest hearing moments so far.
Will there be charges? The committee could make criminal referrals of former president Donald Trump over his role in the attack, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said in an interview.
The riot: On Jan. 6, 2021, a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 election results. Five people died on that day or in the immediate aftermath, and 140 police officers were assaulted.
Inside the siege: During the rampage, rioters came perilously close to penetrating the inner sanctums of the building while lawmakers were still there, including former vice president Mike Pence. The Washington Post examined text messages, photos and videos to create a video timeline of what happened on Jan. 6.