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UPDATE: Former Attorney General William Barr has been in the spotlight in this hearing, as the committee has run extensive video of his testimony, in which he talked of how he thought that Donald Trump was “detached from reality” as he began to embrace conspiracies about the election.
“I was somewhat demoralized, because I thought, boy, if he really believes this stuff, he has lost contact — he’s become detached from reality,” Barr said.
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Barr said that he met with Trump in the Oval Office to inform him that the Justice Department had not found evidence of widespread election fraud. Barr said that Trump was “as mad as I’ve ever seen him and he was trying to control himself.” He said that Trump told him, “You must have said this because you hate Trump.”
Barr said that “my opinion then and my opinion now is that the election was not stolen by fraud, and I haven’t seen anything since the election that changes my mind on that.”
Barr’s testimony reflected the committee’s overall theme of Monday’s proceedings: Trump continued to advance false election claims even after hearing the truth from close advisers and from court judgments.
At one point in his testimony, Barr laughed about Dinesh D’Souza’s recent movie 2000 Mules, which purports to lay out the case of election fraud. Barr characterized it as bunk, including D’Souza’s reliance on cell phone data to make claims of election fraud.
Former U.S. Attorney BJay Pak testified to some of the false election claims, including a video that claimed to show a black suitcase full of ballots In Georgia was “being seen pulled from under the table.” In fact, they checked it out and it was “actually an official lock box where ballots were kept safe.” The video of the suitcase was shown on Hannity in the aftermath of the election, and has been cited by Trump-supporting media figures.
Ben Ginsberg, a veteran Republican campaign attorney, testified that “the 2020 election was not close,” as he noted the number of cases brought by Trump and his allies “without actual evidence.” Trump’s side lost more than 60 times in court, yet that did not stop him from continuing to claim the election was stolen, as he does today.
Committee member Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) presented a video showing how Trump campaign fundraising emails were used to collect money off of Trump’s election claims, even though top advisers knew that they were false. Among the emails was one from the “Official Election Defense Fund,” but the committee found that no such fund existed. A committee investigator said that $250 million was raised, and that most of the donations went to Trump’s Save America PAC and not to fund the election challenge. Lofgren said that this gave donors a misleading sense of where their money was going. The Save America money went to things such as the Trump Hotels collection and to the company that ran Trump’s January 6th rally on the ellipse.
“Not only was there the big lie, there was the big ripoff,” Lofgren said.
PREVIOUSLY: Former Fox News political editor Chris Stirewalt defended the network’s election night call of Arizona for Joe Biden, a moment that drew a furor among Donald Trump’s supporters as it signaled that the president would likely lose.
He testified that the network’s decision desk was so certain of its controversial election night call of Arizona for Joe Biden — well ahead of the competition — that even as people were “freaking out” about it, “we were looking at calling other states.”
During his testimony, Stirewalt not only defended the call of Arizona but took pride over it, as it aced Fox News’ rivals. Not until later in the week did they follow in calling the state.
“We were able to make a call early,” Stirewalt said of the Arizona call. “We were able to beat the competition.” He said that the network’s Decision Desk, partnered with the Associated Press and the National Opinion Research Center, had a “different set of data” than other networks, and as returns came in, the results lined up with their polling expectations.
His remarks are significant because they show how the election was playing to expectations, and not so unexpected as to give rise to suspicion over the results.
After Nov. 7, when networks called the race for Biden, Stirewalt said, Trump’s chances of winning were “none,” barring something totally unexpected from happening. He said that Trump was “better off to play the Powerball” than betting he would win the election.
Fox News’ call of Arizona immediately came under fire from Trump and his allies, who encouraged viewers to instead tune into Newsmax and One America News Network, which were more aggressive in giving a platform to claims that the election was rigged or stolen. In the weeks following the election, Newsmax got a boost in viewership as Fox News’ dropped off.
Other Fox News personalities, like Maria Bartiromo, Jeanine Pirro and Lou Dobbs, gave a platform to those claims as well. The committee played a clip of Trump’s appearance on Bartiromo’s Sunday morning show in late November, 2020, in which he again made claims about the results, and Rudy Giuliani’s guest spot on Hannity.
The network is facing defamation lawsuits from two elections systems companies, Smartmatic and Dominion Voting Systems, over claims that personalities and guests made on the air that the firms were involved in rigging the results. Fox News has defended itself by citing the First Amendment public interest in Trump’s election claims.
In January, Stirewalt was let go by Fox News. He has said that he was fired, and departed around the same time as Bill Sammon, who retired. Sammon, who was Stirewalt’s boss, also was involved in the call of Arizona for Biden, and insisted that all of those on the Decision Desk be in unanimous agreement to do so. Stirewalt did not testify about the circumstances of his exit.
Stirewalt said that they “knew it would be significant” calling the state, but “we already knew Trump’s chances were very small and getting smaller” based on the data they saw.
In video testimony that was played, members of Trump’s campaign testified that Fox News’ call of Arizona was a key moment at the White House. Jason Miller told the committee that the reaction was anger and disappointment because it was Fox News, with many supporters of the president among its personalities, making the call.
“We were pleased, but not surprised,” Stirewalt said of the Arizona call.
Stirewalt also explained the “red mirage.” Because Trump attacked mail-in voting, many of the ballots for his reelection were cast on Election Day. In a number of states, those returns were counted first, giving the early impression that Trump was doing well. But so much of the mail-in votes, favoring Biden, had yet to be counted.
Stirewalt said that they went to great pains to warn viewers of the “red mirage.”
“Everyone understood for weeks … that was what was going to happen on election night,” he said.
Yet Trump, apparently emboldened by an “apparently inebriated Rudy Giuliani,” in the words of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), went ahead and declared victory on election night, despite advice from his official campaign advisers, including from campaign manager Bill Stepien and senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, that all votes had not been counted and he should hold off on saying that he won the election. Miller said that Giuliani was “definitely intoxicated,” but they could not prevent Trump from taking his advice and declaring victory.
Stirewalt told the committee, “It’s always possible you could have a truckload of ballots found somewhere I suppose…Ahead of today I thought about what are the largest margins that could ever be overturned by a recount…In a recount you are talking about hundreds of votes. When we think about calling a race, one of the things we think about it, ‘Is it outside the margin of a recount?” In this case, it was.
PREVIOUSLY: The January 6th Committee’s second public hearing this year had a last minute change in plan: Bill Stepien, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, bowed out early on Monday due to a family emergency.
That quickly led to speculation among the press corps outside the Cannon Caucus Room on what happened, but Politico and other news outlets reported that his wife had gone into labor. Instead, Stepien’s attorney will read a statement.
Another marquee name on the agenda is Chris Stirewalt, the former Fox News political editor who was let go after the January 6th attack. Although he has not said what he will testify about, the committee is focused on the origins of Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election, including how conspiracy theories spread in traditional and social media.
The broadcast networks are carrying the proceedings live, as they did on Thursday, as are the major cable news networks. That includes Fox News, a change from last week then it chose to skip the hearing last week in favor of its primetime opinion hosts, Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, who blasted the event as a partisan campaign exercise.
Last week’s hearing drew about 20 million viewers, according to Nielsen, a healthy number for summer viewing although not at the blockbuster level. But the hearing got extensive coverage afterward, as clips were shared across social media.
Stirewalt was dropped from Fox News after the January 6th attack on the Capitol, in what the network said was a restructuring. But Stirewalt later wrote that he was fired from the network after defending the Fox News decision desk’s call of Arizona for Joe Biden on Election Night, the first major signal that Trump would lose his bid for re-election. That triggered a backlash against the network by Trump and his supporters.
Stirewalt is now political editor for NewsNation.
A number of House members were in the gallery to watch Monday’s proceedings, including Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA) and Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC). The hearing is being held in the stately Cannon Caucus Room, with the room, lined with Corinthian pilasters, brightened by TV lights installed in the decorative molded ceiling.
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