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Trump pushed ‘big lie’ despite being told election fraud claims were false, aides testify

June 13, 2022 Updated Mon., June 13, 2022 at 6:08 p.m.

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol holds a prime-time hearing on Capitol Hill on Thursday.  (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol holds a prime-time hearing on Capitol Hill on Thursday. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)
By Amy B Wang, John Wagner, Eugene Scott and Mariana Alfaro The Washington Post

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection opened its second hearing Monday with assertions that the Capitol attack was the direct result of Donald Trump’s repeated baseless claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Trump continued pursuing ever-outlandish claims of election fraud despite being told repeatedly that Joe Biden had won the race fairly, according to testimony from those who had been close to the former president.

The committee played video of its deposition with former Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, in which Stepien said he advised Trump on election night that it was too early to call the race and that they needed to wait until early and mail-in ballots were counted. Trump objected to that advice, Stepien said, and claimed that night that he had won, baselessly calling the race a “fraud” and an “embarrassment.”

Stepien told the committee that Trump’s orbit had cleaved into “Team Crazy” vs. “Team Normal” and that he was glad to be on the latter. However, Trump was increasingly listening only to allies who pushed conspiracy theories about the election.

“I was somewhat demoralized because I thought, boy … he has become detached from reality if he really believes this stuff,” former Trump attorney general William Barr said, according to video testimony the committee played Monday. “When I went into this and would tell them how crazy some of these allegations were, there was never an indication of interest in what the actual facts were.”

Monday’s hearing follows a prime-time hearing Thursday in which the panel began making its case that the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol was the violent culmination of a coup attempt. In the second hearing, panel members said they will also explore how Trump’s “big lie” about election fraud drove Republican fundraising appeals after Biden won the election.

The committee had to scramble Monday morning after Stepien canceled his planned in-person testimony because his wife had gone into labor, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the committee chairman, said. Others scheduled to testify in person Monday are Benjamin Ginsberg, a Republican election lawyer; former U.S. attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak; and Al Schmidt, a former Philadelphia city commissioner.

Chris Stirewalt, a former political editor for Fox News, testified that he was proud of his team’s decision to call Arizona for Biden before other networks did on election night. He also said his team had taken “pains” to caution viewers about a “red mirage” – showing a Republican ahead on election night – noting that the results were likely to change after early votes were counted. “The Trump campaign and the president had made it clear that they were going to try to exploit this anomaly. … When you put together a jigsaw puzzle, it doesn’t matter which piece you put in first. It ends up with the same image,” Stirewalt testified.

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