WASHINGTON — The congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol started its second hearing Monday — though minus a key witness who withdrew at the last minute due to a family emergency.
While the committee’s first hearing last week focused on the attack itself, Monday’s program will turn its attention to what was happening at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue in the weeks leading up to the riot as former President Donald Trump used phony evidence and outright lies to try to overturn the results of the 2020 election, which he lost.
“Donald Trump lost an election — and knew he lost an election — and as a result of his loss, decided to wage an attack on our democracy. An attack on the American people, by trying to rob you of your voice in our democracy, Committee Chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said in his opening remarks. “In doing so, lit the fuse that led to the horrific violence of Jan. 6th, when a mob of his supporters of him stormed the Capitol, sent by Donald Trump, to stop the transfer of power.”
The committee was scheduled to hear from a trusted member of Trump’s inner circle, former campaign manager and White House political director Bill Stepien. But Stepien’s wife went into labor shortly before the hearing, so he wasn’t able to attend.
Instead, the committee played video from Stepien’s previously recorded deposition.
“My recommendation was to say that votes were still being counted. It’s too early to tell,” Stepien said in the testimony. “The president disagreed.”
Stepien remains aligned with the Trump-wing of the GOP and his political consulting firm is currently advising a conservative challenger in Wyoming’s August GOP primary trying to oust Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, who has broken with her party to become perhaps the most visible face of the Jan. 6 committee’s work.
Other witnesses will include former Fox News political editor Chris Stirewalt; longtime GOP election lawyer Ben Ginsberg; former US Attorney BJay Pak; and former Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt.
The committee also played video of recorded testimony from former Attorney General William Barr saying that Trump started making claims of systemic fraud “before there was actually any potential of looking at evidence.”
“You will hear eyewitness testimony that President Trump rejected the advice of his campaign experts on election night, and instead followed the course recommended by an apparently inebriated Rudy Giuliani, to just claim he won, and insist that the vote counting stop — to falsely claim everything was fraudulent,” Cheney said, referring to the former New York City Mayor and Trump adviser. “He falsely told the American people that the election was not legitimate, in his words ‘millions of Americans believed him.'”
In a series of clips of videotaped testimonies, several former Trump advisers recounted how they struggled to keep abreast of the advice Giuliani was giving Trump, which they suggested ran counter to the campaign’s data.
“The major was definitely intoxicated,” said Trump senior advisor Jason Miller, “But I do not know his level of intoxication when he spoke with the president, for example.”
“The major was definitely intoxicated.”
Trump Senior Advisor Jason Miller
The House committee is hoping to use the series of high-profile hearings to show that Trump knowingly sought to undermine democracy and possibly broke the law by perpetuating what they call the “Big Lie” that he won the 2020 election, even though President Joe Biden won 7 million more votes.
The first hearing was held in prime-time Thursday and drew about 20 million viewers.
The next hearing is scheduled for Wednesday morning, with a focus on Trump’s attempts to bend the Department of Justice to his will, while a fourth hearing this week will focus on Trump’s efforts to pressure Vice President Mike Pence against certifying the results of the election on Jan 6
In a conference call with reporters Sunday, a committee aid said the focus of Monday’s two-hour hearing will be “the decision by the former president to ignore the will of the voters, declare victory on an election that he had lost, spread claims of fraud and then decides to ignore the rulings of the courts when the judgment of the courts didn’t go his way.”
On election night 2020, Trump received conflicting advice from aides, the committee aides said. Some told Trump the numbers showed he didn’t have a path to victory, while others advised him to declare victory anyway. Trump, of course, chose the latter path.
“The election fraud claims were false. Mr. Trump’s closest advisers knew it. Mr. Trump knew it,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., a committee member who is expected to play a prominent role in Monday’s hearings. “The attack on Jan. 6th 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.”
Posting Sunday on his new social media site, Truth Social, Trump wrote that the TV ratings for the first hearing “were absolutely awful.”
“Perhaps the reason is that it is being ‘sponsored’ by Adam ‘Shifty’ Schitt [sp] …” Trump added, referring to Rep. Adam Schiff, D.-Calif., who was one of the House managers during Trump’s first impeachment hearing.
peter alexander, Vaughn Hillyard, Garrett Haake and rebecca shabad contributed.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism