Despite being told by the attorney general, his own campaign lawyers and many other senior advisers that his claims of election fraud were wrong, Donald Trump pressed ahead with the “big lie” that the election was stolen and undertook a fundraising enterprise based off of those claims that steered most of that money to Trump’s Save America PAC rather than to election-related litigation.
The Jan. 6 select committee made that argument on Monday and walked the public through a full roster of Trump employees and administration officials who flatly told him he lost the election. When Trump did not like what he heard from those employees, he turned to Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, among others who were proposing debunked election fraud claims described by former White House lawyer Eric Herschmann as “nuts.”
“What they were proposing, I thought was nuts and in theory was also completely nuts,” Herschmann said in a video recorded interview presented at the hearing.
Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, Bill Stepien, was initially set to testify in person but backed out because his wife went into labor Monday morning. Rather, the committee played video of Stepien’s deposition, in which he distinguished he was part of “team normal” compared to those, like Giuliani, who perpetuated election fraud claims.
Stepien and Jason Miller, a senior adviser for the Trump campaign, believed Trump should not declare victory on election night. Stepien said he told Trump “it’s too early to call the race,” a suggestion the then-president disagreed with. Instead, Trump listened to the advice of Giuliani, who according to Miller, was “definitely intoxicated” that night.
“Frankly, we did win this election,” Trump told supporters early Wednesday morning, Nov. 4, 2020. His own daughter and then a senior White House adviser, Ivanka Trump, acknowledged in a recorded interview with the committee that the “results were still being counted.”
By Nov. 7, 2020, when a number of major news outlets called the election for Joe Biden, Stepien acknowledged Trump’s chances of winning the election were “very, very, very bleak.”
William Barr, then the attorney general, told the Jan. 6 select committee that “the election was not stolen by fraud” and called such claims by Trump and others “completely bogus,” “bullshit” and not based on substance. Barr described post-election Trump as "detached from reality."
Giuliani, as personal attorney for Trump, went around the country falsely alleging the election was stolen. He floated unsubstantiated theories about election corruption in states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania. Giuliani also sought to convince state legislators to make efforts to overturn the election results and pushed legal challenges. Giuliani was suspended from practicing law in New York by the Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court for communicating “demonstrably false and misleading statements to courts.”
Powell, a Trump campaign lawyer, suggested Trump seize voting machines around the country, under the false notion that foreign countries tried to hack Dominion voting election machines.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., who orchestrated much of the hearing that focused on the false claims of election fraud, said Powell didn’t even believe her own claims.
“Even Sidney Powell, defending herself in a defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems, argued that ‘no reasonable person would conclude her statements were truly statements of fact,’” Lofgren said.
Also, Trump used the election lies to raise $250 million for his political action committee, Save America PAC, rather than to litigate his election claims, according to the Jan. 6 panel.
“The big lie was also a big rip-off,” Lofgren said. "The attack on Jan. 6 was a direct and predictable result of Mr. Trump’s decision to use false claims of election fraud to overturn the election and cling to power."
Between Election Day and Jan. 6, 2021, the Trump campaign sent out millions of fundraising emails to Trump supporters, sometimes as many as 25 times a day, asking them to “step up” to protect the integrity of the election. They asked small-dollar donors to donate to the election defense fund, which the committee found did not exist.
Gary Coby, a former Trump campaign digital director, called the fund a marketing tactic to raise money.
Most of that money went to Trump’s Save America PAC, rather than to election-related litigation, the panel contends — though members did not reveal any direct evidence nor spend very much time on what Lofgren later told CNN was a "grift." Save America PAC then made millions in contributions to pro-Trump organizations, including over $5 million to Event Strategies Inc., the company that ran Trump’s Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse.