January 6 committee to detail origins and scope of Trump election lies
“Some of these people … echoed these same lies that the former president peddled in the run-up to the insurgency,” a select committee aide said Sunday night.
The select committee’s focus on the so-called Big Lie represents the panel’s effort to tell the origin story of what would ultimately lead to the violent attack on the Capitol 17 months ago. The panel came to see Trump’s preparation to delegitimize the election results as beginning well before Election Day, with his efforts to question the integrity of mail-in voting – even as many states have started to expand its use amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Although even many allies urged him to embrace mail-in voting, Trump resisted and immediately made it the centerpiece of his efforts to cast doubt on the election results.
Days after Nov. 3 — even before the election was called for Joe Biden — one of Trump’s advisers, Cleta Mitchell, cited those state laws as a reason to push for state lawmakers nominate pro-Trump voters. In the meantime, Trump has turned to allies to promote his increasingly outlandish fraud allegations, even as court after court has dismissed them.
To tell this part of the story, the panel will turn to former Trump campaign leader Bill Stepien. Stepien was present for campaign talks about Trump’s chances in the election, and the committee argues he can talk about the campaign’s reliance on voter fraud allegations to speed up fundraising. Stepien is appearing under subpoena, according to a source familiar with the arrangement.
Stepien will appear alongside former Fox News political editor Chris Stirewalt, who sparked outrage from Trump — and was ultimately fired from the network — after calling Arizona for Biden, a showing that ultimately turned out true. Fox was the first to call the state for Biden. The panel may also use Stirewalt’s appearance to highlight the role played by pro-Trump media in spreading his false claims. The panel has previously highlighted the private communications of some Fox News hosts with senior White House officials.
The select committee intends Monday to be a document- and fact-based hearing, filled with evidence showing the proliferation of Trump’s lies about the election results. The hearing will include a second panel that includes prominent GOP election lawyer Ben Ginsberg, former Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt and former North Georgia U.S. Attorney BJay Pak, who resigned amid of Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results.
Pak previously testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the pressure Trump and his allies exerted on him and other officials to get them to investigate false allegations of voter fraud.
Although the chairman of the selection committee Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Vice President Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) is expected to play a prominent role, the hearing will also feature significant involvement from Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), a veteran of multiple presidential impeachment inquiries and the high-profile investigations of the Congress.
For months, the select committee has focused on how Trump cultivated a network of high-powered enablers who helped his lie take root in large corners of the Republican Party. Members of Congress were often willing relays for Trump misinformation, and Lofgren has previously cataloged their prolific use of social media in support of Trump’s claims.
The select committee was also assigned to obtain internal Republican National Committee files, held by third-party vendor Salesforce. Although the panel won the first rounds of litigation, the case remains stalled in the appeals court – depriving the committee of measures that would show the reach and impact of the Trump campaign and joint fundraising efforts. RNC after the election.
Aides pointed out that this litigation is ongoing and that the hearings are only the committee’s « initial » findings. More details could emerge in the coming months as the case unfolds.
The select committee has already uncovered some of its evidence that Trump knew his claims of voter fraud were baseless. On Thursday, the panel played clips of former Attorney General Bill Barr telling the committee that he told Trump his fraud allegations were « bullshit. » And the panel played snippets of testimony from Trump campaign aides Jason Miller and Alex Cannon, telling the panel they told Trump the numbers didn’t line up in his favor. An excerpt from Miller’s testimony was published in public court documents earlier this year.
Trump responded that he was confident that the lawsuits his campaign had embarked on would reverse the results, according to Miller’s testimony. But when they didn’t, the panel notes, Trump attacked the courts — including some rulings by his own appointees — and continued his efforts to void the election anyway.
On Wednesday, the select committee plans to take testimony from senior Trump Justice Department officials who also helped narrow Trump’s fraud allegations and found them to be baseless. Former acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen, former acting assistant attorney general Richard Donoghue and former chief of the Office of Legal Counsel Steve Engel are among those expected to testify. The three men are also expected to testify about Trump’s plan to install a more docile attorney general in the days leading up to Jan. 6, and how a widespread threat of resignation from DOJ executives and Trump’s own attorney to the White House rebuffed the effort.
Monday hearings start at 10 a.m.