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Trump ignored repeated warnings from Barr, advisers that election fraud claims were ‘bogus’

By Sarah D. Wire Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON – Former Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien and former Attorney General Bill Barr recounted in video depositions their repeated admonitions to former President Donald Trump that his election fraud claims were groundless, in the second hearing this month by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection focused on the former president’s decision to spread false allegations of election fraud.

Several of Trump’s closest aides in the White House and his campaign told the committee of their growing dismay when Trump dismissed multiple warnings between the Nov. 3, 2020, election and Jan. 6, 2021, that the claims he pushed had been investigated but could not be proved.

In a deposition presented at the hearing, Barr recounted a conversation he had with Trump the day the Electoral College met and voted, in which the president told Barr new purported evidence of problems with voting machines in rural Michigan would assure Trump would serve a second term.

“I was somewhat demoralized because I thought, ‘Boy, if he really believes this stuff, he has lost contact with … he’s become detached from reality,’ ” Barr said. “On the other hand, you know, when I went into this and would tell him how crazy some of these allegations were, there was never an indication of interest in what the actual facts are. 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.”

Similar to the first hearing, Monday’s presentation heavily relied on records and clips of testimony from depositions. Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., led the hearing with Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., laying out what happened behind the scenes with the Trump campaign on election night that led to the president’s decision to declare victory that evening – even though he was repeatedly told the results did not back his assertion.

“It was far too early to make any calls like that. Ballots were still being counted, ballots were still going to be counted for days. It was far too early to be making any proclamations like that,” Stepien told the committee in a recorded deposition, which was played at the hearing after he had a family emergency and withdrew from testifying in person.

Stepien, who was Trump’s final campaign manager, said that the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, pushed Trump to announce that he had won anyway.

In video testimony released Monday, former Trump aide Jason Miller testified that a “definitely intoxicated” Giuliani spoke to the president several times on the evening of the election and was the only one in the Trump campaign circle advocating for a victory declaration before the night ended.

“Effectively, Mayor Giuliani was saying, ‘We won it. They’re stealing it from us. Where did all the votes come from? We need to go say that we won.’ And essentially that anyone who didn’t agree with that position was being weak,” Miller testified.

At 3 a.m. on election night, Trump gave a speech claiming he’d won and that there was an attempt to steal the election from him.

Former Fox News political editor Chris Stirewalt, who was involved in the network’s decision to announce that Joe Biden won Arizona on election night, was also called to testify at Monday’s hearing. He explained the so-called “red mirage,” an election phenomenon in which Republicans appear to be in the lead in early returns because they tend to vote in person, while Democrats tend to vote by mail or absentee vote, and those ballots are counted later.

Trump would have been better off “to play the Powerball” than betting on winning the election after losing Arizona, Stirewalt said.

Stepien told the committee in his deposition that he had warned Trump in 2016 and again in 2020 of the red mirage and said that by Nov. 7, the chances of him winning the presidential election were “very, very, very bleak.”

The committee also played clips of Stepien saying the Trump campaign couldn’t verify the fraud claims the president was making in public, and by the second week after the election, Trump had largely given over responsibility for proving fraud to Giuliani.

In his deposition, Barr said the Justice Department looked at many of the claims being made but did not find evidence of fraud that would change the election results. He recalled a Nov. 23 conversation with Trump in the Oval Office in which Trump asked why the Justice Department wasn’t doing more.

Barr said he told Trump that it was the campaign’s responsibility to raise concerns about fraud in court and that the “Department doesn’t take sides in elections and the department is not an extension of your legal team.”

On Dec. 1, Barr told an Associated Press reporter that there was no evidence of election fraud that could change the election outcome.

“It was time for me to say something,” Barr said. Afterward, he went to a meeting at the White House expecting to be fired, warning his secretary that she would have to clean out his office.

“The president was as mad as I’ve ever seen him, and he was trying to control himself,” Barr said. He paraphrased Trump as saying, “Well, this is, you know, killing me. You didn’t have to say this. You must’ve said this because you hate Trump.”

Barr also recalled a Nov. 14 meeting with Trump in which the president presented him with a copy of a forensic audit report on election machines in rural Antrim County, Michigan, noting that “the report means that I’m going to have a second term.” That report has been widely dismissed by election experts as inaccurate and highly partisan, and a hand count of ballots in the county confirmed the certified results of the election.

Trump announced Barr’s resignation that same day.

“I told him that the stuff that his people were shoveling out to the public was bullshit, I mean, that the claims of fraud were bullshit. And, you know, he was indignant about that,” Barr said.

The second panel of witnesses included conservative election attorney Benjamin Ginsberg, former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia Byung J. “BJay” Pak, and former Republican Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt. Pak and Schmidt told the committee about their investigations into election fraud and determination that it did not occur, despite Trump’s claims otherwise.

Ginsberg discussed how Trump failed to prove fraud in court, laying the foundation for the committee’s next hearing. The panel will cover the pressure Trump put on the Justice Department to say that fraud had occurred and how he attempted to replace the acting attorney general with a Trump supporter when he refused to comply.

Of the 62 court cases that were brought after the election, half were quickly dismissed at the procedural stage, Ginsberg said.

“The simple fact is that the Trump campaign did not make its case,” Ginsberg said. “In no instance did a court find that the charges of fraud were real.”