The Jan. 6 committee used its second hearing to lay out evidence that Donald Trump must have known better: that he was repeatedly informed that his claims of widespread voter fraud were bogus and that he had lost the 2020 election — and he pressed forward in trying to overturn the result regardless.
The question is crucial when it comes to determining whether Trump’s effort meets the legal definition of acting “corruptly.”
Below, some takeaways from the hearing.
1. Trump was told, but he didn’t care
Last week, it was an open question as to just how often Trump was actually told that what he was saying was false. Monday’s hearing indicated the answer: plenty of times.
Former attorney general William P. Barr was featured prominently. We already knew Barr had testified that he told Trump that allegations of widespread voter fraud were “bullshit.” And on Monday, they played video of Barr saying he had debunked specific allegations to Trump.
He said he examined the allegations of vote “dumps” in Detroit on election night in such detail that he knew how many precincts there were in the city. He said he told Trump that there was nothing there — that the boxes being brought to the TCF Center merely reflected that the ballot counting was being done centrally, unlike in other parts of the state.
“I said … ‘did all the people complaining about it point out to you, you actually did better in Detroit than you did last time?’ ” Barr added. “I mean, there’s no indication of fraud in Detroit. And I told him that the stuff that his people were shoveling out to the public was bullshit.”
The committee showed video of Trump then citing the very same false accusation Dec. 2.
Barr also referenced a claim about there supposedly being more votes than voters in Philadelphia, which was easily debunked (it compared primary data with general election data) but which Trump continued to promote. Barr says he thought he had brought this up with Trump as well.
Former deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue also ran through a litany of allegations in significant detail, saying he informed Trump that there was nothing to them. He specifically cited a popular theory — elevated by Trump — about a “suitcase” of votes in Georgia that wasn’t actually a suitcase. He said he told Trump that that “was not true.”
“I tried to, again, put this in perspective and to try to put it in very clear terms to the president,” Donoghue said. “And I said something to the effect of, ‘Sir, we’ve done dozens of investigations, hundreds of interviews. The major allegations are not supported by the evidence developed. We’ve looked in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nevada. We’re doing our job. Much of the info you’re getting is false.’ ”
From there, the question is whether Trump understood or agreed. But both Barr and Donoghue indicated that he wasn’t much interested in his claims being debunked or actually delving into details.
“I was somewhat demoralized because I thought, ‘Boy, if he really believes this stuff, he has … become detached from reality,’ ” Barr said. “On the other hand, you know, when I went into this and would, you know, tell them how crazy some of these allegations were, there was never an indication of interest in what the actual facts were.”
Donoghue added that “there were so many of these allegations that when you gave him a very direct answer on one of them, he wouldn’t fight us on it, but he would move to another allegation.”
That sounds a lot more like a guy who is looking for a pretext to overturn an election than one who is legitimately worried about election integrity. We might never find that Trump knew the truth — Barr suggested that it’s possible the former president actually believed these far-fetched and widely debunked notions — but the fact that he was told in such detail is important.
2. More evidence that almost everyone knew Trump had lost
Last week’s hearing featured evidence that those around Trump knew that he had lost and that there wasn’t sufficient fraud to overturn the result. And Monday’s added to that record.
Early in the hearing, the committee played testimony from White House lawyer Eric Herschmann saying he “never saw any evidence whatsoever” to support Trump’s claims about voting machines being used to overturn the election.
They also showed Trump campaign general counsel Matt Morgan saying any evidence of wrongdoing was “not sufficient to be outcome-determinant” — a conclusion he said was shared by two key advisers to Vice President Mike Pence, Marc Short and Greg Jacob.
The committee also played clips of Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien and campaign aide Jason Miller saying they advised against Trump declaring victory that night — as he ultimately did — because votes were still coming in and the outcome was indeed in doubt. It played video of Barr confirming that he knew in advance that Democrats would gain substantial ground as mail votes were counted, especially in urban areas. (Trump would later baselessly claim that such gains were suspicious.)
All this testimony furthered the idea that the effort to overturn the election was being undertaken despite smart people in the room — the people who actually understood the evidence, which Trump had no regard for.
3. Giuliani’s time in the barrel
This brings us to the question of who was delivering the counterprogramming to Trump. As Monday’s hearing wore on, it became abundantly clear how little regard his aides had for the man who filled the vacuum: Rudy Giuliani.
Early in the hearing, the committee played video of Miller confirming that Giuliani was inebriated on election night — including when he was seeking to influence Trump’s actions. Miller said Giuliani was “definitely intoxicated.”
As the hearing progressed, the witnesses painted a picture of this man — one who was intoxicated on such an important night — essentially hijacking Trump’s campaign apparatus. Stepien said he was happy to be disassociated from what was happening.
“I didn’t mind being characterized as part of ‘Team Normal,’ ” Stepien said, contrasting that with Giuliani’s team.
Both Stepien and Herschmann could barely hide their disdain for various theories being floated by Trump and his allies, including Sidney Powell.
“What they were proposing, I thought, was nuts,” Herschmann said.
Morgan said the campaign struggled to find lawyers because of the types of baseless and wild allegations being lodged.
“Law firms were not comfortable making the arguments that Rudy Giuliani was making publicly,” Morgan said, adding that he had a “similar conversation with most all of them.”
At another point, the committee played audio of Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner saying he told Trump that listening to Giuliani was “not the approach I would take if I was you.”
4. A new crime floated
As its investigation has unfolded, the committee has floated a number of laws Trump might have broken, including obstruction of an official proceeding and witness tampering.
But on Monday, the committee gestured at a new one: fundraising fraud.
In a video played at the end of the hearing, committee investigator Amanda Wick detailed Trump’s fundraising practices. She said he raised $250 million after the election, while pushing for donors to support something called his “Official Election Defense Fund.”
But she disclosed that Trump aides Hanna Allred and Gary Coby said no fund technically existed. She also noted that most of the money went to Trump’s Save America PAC and that very little was used for challenging the election results.
The clear implication was that this was, at the very least, a highly deceptive fundraising ploy — deceptive because it relied on lies about voter fraud, but also because the money wasn’t going to what people believed it did.
Asked after the hearing whether this broke the law, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) told CNN: “We’re a legislative committee. And it’s clear that he intentionally misled his donors, asked them to donate to a fund that didn’t exist and used the money raised for something other than what it said.”
We’ll see how much the committee presses on this matter.