Four Takeaways From Day Two of the January 6th Hearings

From a New York Times story by Michael D. Shear headlined “4 takeaways from Day 2. of the Jan. 6 hearings”:

The one big theme on the second day of hearings by the Jan. 6 committee was that former President Trump was told repeatedly — including by his own attorney general — that his “big lie” about a fraudulent election was baseless. But he made the fake claim on election night anyway, and hasn’t stopped since.

As they did during the opening hearing, committee members used video testimony from some of Mr. Trump’s closest friends and advisers — including blunt comments from former Attorney General William P. Barr — to show that the president must have known that his claims were baseless.

Here are some other takeaways from the second day of the hearings.

Mr. Barr’s video testimony was some of the most compelling of the morning, with the former attorney general describing Mr. Trump as increasingly “detached from reality” in the days after the election. In his testimony, Mr. Barr said he told the president repeatedly that his claims of fraud were unfounded, but that there was “never an indication of interest in what the actual facts are.”

The unvarnished portrait of Mr. Trump is a linchpin of the argument that the committee is trying to make: that Mr. Trump knew his claims of a fraudulent election were not true and made them anyway. Mr. Barr said that in the weeks after the election, he repeatedly told Mr. Trump “how crazy some of these allegations were.”

The committee is making the case that Mr. Trump was a knowing liar. But Mr. Barr’s testimony offered another possible explanation: that the president actually came to believe the lies he was telling.

“I thought, boy, if he really believes this stuff, he has, you know, lost contact with, with — he’s become detached from reality, if he really believes this stuff,” Mr. Barr told the committee.

One thing that came across clearly on Monday was that there were two different groups of people around Mr. Trump in the days and weeks after the election.

Bill Stepien, Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, characterized his team as “Team Normal,” as opposed to the team led by Rudy Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer.

A veteran Republican operative, Mr. Stepien was among the campaign aides, lawyers, White House advisers and others who urged Mr. Trump to abandon his unfounded claims of fraud. Mr. Giuliani’s team was feeding the president’s paranoia and pushing him to back unsubstantiated and fanciful claims of ballot harvesting, voting machine tampering and more. “We call them kind of my team and Rudy’s team,” Mr. Stepien told committee investigators in interviews. “I didn’t mind being characterized as being part of Team Normal.”

Committee members are hoping that the description of the two competing groups in Mr. Trump’s orbit is evidence that Mr. Trump made a choice — to listen to the group led by Mr. Giuliani instead of to those who ran his campaign and worked in his administration. Mr. Trump chose, in the words of “Team Normal,” to listen to those spouting “crazy” arguments instead.

Monday’s hearing opened with a vivid portrait of election night at the White House, describing the reaction from the president and those around him when Fox News called Arizona for Joseph R. Biden Jr. Using video testimony of the president’s closest advisers and some members of his family, the committee showed how Mr. Trump rejected the cautionary advice he received.

Mr. Stepien said in the video that he had urged the president not to declare victory prematurely, having already explained that Democratic votes were most likely to be counted later in the night. Mr. Trump ignored him, Mr. Stepien and others said. Instead, he listened to Rudy Giuliani, who aides said was drunk that night, and was urging the president to claim victory and say the election was being stolen.

Chris Stirewalt, the Fox News political editor who was fired after his network’s on-air call for Arizona, told the committee that the shift in returns that night that prompted the president’s claims of voter manipulation were no more than the expected results of Democratic votes being counted after Republican ones. He expressed pride that his team was first to accurately call the Arizona results and said there was “zero” chance that Mr. Trump would have won that state.

It wasn’t just the “big lie,” according to the Jan. 6 committee. It was also “the big rip-off.”

In a video presentation that concluded its second hearing, the committee described how Mr. Trump and his campaign aides used baseless claims of election fraud to convince the president’s supporters to send millions of dollars to something called the “Election Defense Fund.” According to the committee, Mr. Trump’s supporters donated $100 million in the first week after the election, apparently in the hopes that their money would help the president fight to overturn the results.

But a committee investigator said there was no evidence that such a fund ever existed. Instead, millions of dollars flowed into a super PAC that the president set up on Nov. 9, just days after the election. According to the committee, that PAC sent $1 million to a charitable foundation run by Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s former chief of staff, and another $1 million to a political group run by several of his former staff members, including Stephen Miller, the architect of Mr. Trump’s immigration agenda.

Representative Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California, summed up the discoveries this way: “Throughout the committee’s investigation, 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.” She added, “So not only was there that big lie, there was the big rip-off. Donors deserve to know where their funds are really going. They deserve better than what President Trump and his team did.”

Michael D. Shear is a veteran White House correspondent and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner who was a member of team that won the Public Service Medal for Covid coverage in 2020. He is the co-author of “Border Wars: Inside Trump’s Assault on Immigration.”

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