5 key takeaways from second January 6 US Capitol riot hearing

Second public hearing this month focuses on how Donald Trump’s advisers told him that his election fraud claims were false.

Liz Cheney speaking
Committee vice chair Liz Cheney says next hearings will look at efforts by former President Donald Trump to 'corrupt' the Justice Department and pressure local officials to overturn the election results [Joshua Roberts/Reuters]

Washington, DC – In its second hearing this month, the US House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack continued to focus on Donald Trump, this time seeking to highlight that the former president was aware that his 2020 election fraud allegations were false.

Steve Clemons, host of Al Jazeera’s The Bottom Line programme, said after Monday’s hearing that the panel is building a case that Trump was deliberate in his attempt to overturn the United States presidential election based on false election fraud claims.

“What impresses me thus far about the process they’re going through is they’re laying down a legal argument that President Trump was not uninformed, not deluded, but that this was a purposeful, directed attempt to hijack power from the people who had won the election,” Clemons said.

Here is a look at five key takeaways from the hearing:

Trump knew fraud claims were false, panel alleges

The most dominant theme of the hearing was that Trump had been informed by advisers and officials that his election fraud claims were false.

The committee played multiple videos and presented testimony from several witnesses saying that they told the former president that there was no widespread fraud.

“This morning we’ll tell the story of how 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 a democracy, and in doing so lit the fuse that led to the horrific violence of January 6,” Congressman Bennie Thompson, the committee chair, said in his opening remarks.

Then, for the following several hours, witnesses – including former aides who were in Trump’s inner circle – drove home the point that the Republican leader was informed that his fraud claims were not valid.

Former Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue said in a video played on Monday that he told Trump repeatedly that the claims were false, but each time the Justice Department would dismiss one fraud allegation, the former president would bring up another one.

“I told him flat-out that much of the information he’s getting is false and/or just not supported by the evidence,” Donoghue said. “We look at the allegations, but they don’t pan out.”

Former Attorney General Barr speaks through video conference
Former Attorney General Barr told the committee he thought Trump would be ‘detached from reality’ if he truly believed election fraud claims [J Scott Applewhite/AP Photo]

‘Detached from reality’: Barr says Trump had no interest in facts

Former Attorney General Bill Barr told the committee in a video featured at Monday’s hearing that Trump appeared to have no interest in the facts when he was making election fraud allegations, including promoting unfounded reports of rigged voting machines.

“I thought, ‘boy … he’s become detached from reality, if he really believed this stuff,’” Barr said in the video. “On the other hand 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.”

Barr described his first post-election meeting with Trump in late November 2020, in which he said the former president raised the prospect of the Justice Department probing election fraud allegations.

“Our role is to investigate fraud and look at something if it’s specific, credible and could have affected the outcome of the election,” Barr said he told Trump. “And we’re doing that, and they’re just not meritorious; they’re not panning out.”

Barr said as he was leaving the Oval Office, he asked then-White House adviser Jared Kushner how long Trump will carry on with the “stolen elections” allegations. Barr said Kushner replied: “We’re working on it.”

Giuliani was intoxicated while advising Trump on election night: Witness

Former New York mayor and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani was intoxicated when he was advising the former president on election night, a witness told the committee.

Jason Miller, a former senior adviser to the Trump campaign, told the committee in a deposition aired on Monday that Giuliani had too much to drink as Trump’s team gathered at the White House after the vote.

The former president had falsely claimed victory that night and unleashed his campaign to overturn the election. Giuliani would go on to spearhead legal efforts to reverse the results.

In a previously recorded testimony, Giuliani confirmed speaking to Trump “several times” on election night.

And Miller said Giuliani suggested to Trump that the campaign should declare victory “and say that we’d won it outright”.

“The mayor was definitely intoxicated, but I do not know his level of intoxication when he spoke with the president,” Miller said in a videotaped deposition played by the committee.

In her opening testimony, Liz Cheney, vice chair and one of two Republicans on the panel, alluded to Giuliani’s alleged intoxication that night.

“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.

Giuliani’s lawyer told CNN on Monday that the former mayor “denies all falsehoods by the angry and misguided Ms Cheney”.

Giuliani gestures as he speaks to Trump supporters
Giuliani gestures as he speaks to Trump supporters at a rally in Washington shortly before the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021 [File: Jim Bourg/Reuters]

‘The big rip-off’: Trump pushed fraud claim to raise money, panel says

Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, who took a leading role in questioning witnesses on Monday, accused Trump of prolonging failed election-related litigation and fraud claims to raise money from supporters.

“Not only was there the big lie, there was the big rip-off,” Lofgren said. “Donors deserve to know where their funds are really going. They deserve better than what President Trump and his team did.”

Trump’s critics refer to his election fraud claims as “the big lie“.

In a pre-recorded video, Amanda Wick, senior investigative counsel with the committee, said Trump and his allies raised nearly $250m in the weeks following the election after incessantly sending emails to supporters asking for donations.

“The Trump campaign knew these claims of voter fraud were false, yet they continued to barrage small-dollar donors with emails encouraging them to donate to something called the Official Election Defense Fund,” Wick said.

While no such fund existed, Wick said, the bulk of the money went to a separate entity called the Save America PAC. From there, millions were dispensed to organisations associated with Trump allies, she alleged.

Rioters loyal to President Donald Trump rally at the US Capitol in Washington
Angry Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol – home of the Congress – on January 6, 2021 to prevent the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory [File: Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo]

Upcoming hearings will look at Trump’s push to ‘corrupt’ Justice Department

Upcoming hearings by the committee will look at efforts by Trump to “corrupt” the Justice Department and pressure local officials to overturn the election, Cheney said.

“In the coming days, you will see the committee move on to President Trump’s broader planning for January 6, including his plan to corrupt the Department of Justice, and his detailed planning with lawyer John Eastman to pressure the vice president, state legislatures, state officials and others to overturn the election,” she said.

The next hearing is set for Wednesday. The committee does not have the authority to charge individuals with crimes, but it can make recommendations to the Justice Department.

On Sunday, Congressman Jamie Raskin, a key Democrat serving on the committee, told CNN that the panel is also making criminal referrals to “the American people” with the public hearings.

After Monday’s hearing, Raskin said the evidence presented against Trump was “devastating”.

Source: Al Jazeera