WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump’s campaign manager Bill Stepien and other top aides testified Monday before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol that they believed the 2020 presidential race was too close to run on election night, but Trump declared himself the winner nonetheless.
Stepien abruptly refrained from appearing live at Monday’s hearing because his wife went into labor. But the panel marched ahead after a morning scramble, showing pre-taped statements from the ex-campaign leader and others close to the president, including Ivanka Trump.
“My belief my recommendation was to say votes are still being counted, it’s too early to tell, too early to call the race.” Stepien said in the recorded testimony.
When asked if anyone disagreed with him, Stepien replied that Trump “thought I was wrong. He told me.”
House of Representatives Committee of Inquiry 6 Jan Uprising in the Capitol opened his hearing on Monday and counted Stepien as an important witness. The panel is delving deeper into what it calls the “big lie” posed by the defeated Republican president false allegations of voter fraud that fueled his efforts to overthrow the 2020 election and provoked a mob of his supporters to siege the US Capitol.
Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., opened the hearing, saying Trump “betrayed the confidence of the American people” and “tried to stay in office when people voted him out.”
In lieu of his live testimony, the panel relied on Stepien’s previously taped interview with the panel, conducted behind closed doors, about what the campaign team was telling Trump when he lost the election. A longtime Trump ally, Stepien had been subpoenaed to appear at the public hearing.
Stepien and Senior Advisor Jason Miller testified that the celebratory mood in the White House changed on election night when Fox News announced Trump had lost the state of Arizona to Joe Biden and advisors worked to advise Trump on what to consider as next to do. They pushed back against Rudy Giuliani, who encouraged Trump to declare himself the winner.
There were also other live witnesses at Monday’s hearing, including Chris Stirewalt, a former Fox News Channel political editor who declared on election night that Arizona was won by Biden.
Committee members say they have uncovered enough evidence to support this Department of Justice to consider an unprecedented criminal indictment against the former president.
Thompson, D-Miss., and Vice Chairman Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., conducted the hearing after last week The blockbuster session drew nearly 20 million Americans to see his prime time results.
Over the past year, the committee investigated the fiercest attack on the Capitol since the War of 1812 to ensure that such an attack never happens again. Lawmakers hope to show Trump’s attempt to overthrow Joe Biden’s election victory poses a serious threat to democracy.
Stepien, who is close to Trump, oversaw the “transformation” of Trump’s presidential campaign into a “stop the steal” effort, according to a subpoena issued by the committee last fall. He should be asking questions about what those in Trump’s inner circle were telling the president about the election results. Stepien is now a top campaign adviser to Trump-backed House nominee Harriet Hageman, who is challenging Cheney in the Wyoming Republican primary.
Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich hinted Sunday that the committee’s decision to call Stepien was politically motivated.
A second group of witnesses testifying Monday should consist of election officials, investigators and experts who would likely discuss Trump’s reactions to the election, including dozens of failed trials, and how his actions deviated from US norms.
Among these witnesses is the former US Attorney in Atlanta, BJay Pak, who abruptly resigned after Trump pressured Georgia state officials to reverse his defeat as president. Trump wanted to fire Pak as disloyal, but Pak stepped back after Trump’s call to urge Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to overturn Biden’s victory in the state became public.
The panel will also hear former Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt, the only Republican on the election board who faced criticism when the state election was called for Biden, and Washington attorney and campaign attorney Benjamin Ginsberg.
As he ponders another White House run, Trump insists the committee’s investigation is a “witch hunt.” Last week he said January 6 was “the greatest movement in our country’s history.”
Nine people died in the riots and their aftermath, including a Trump supporter shot dead by police. More than 800 people were arrested during the siegeand members of two extremist groups were charged with rare sedition for their role in leading the indictment of the Capitol.
In its prime-time hearing, the committee laid out how Trump was doing told again and again from his trusted aides and officials at the highest levels of government that there was no electoral fraud on a scale that could have changed the outcome. But Trump followed up on his false claims about the election, waving supporters to Washington on Jan. 6 to overturn Biden’s victory when Congress was due to confirm Electoral College results.
More evidence is set to be released in hearings this week with a focus on Trump’s decision to ignore the election result and the court cases against him.
Monday’s hearing also looked at the millions in donations Trump’s team raised in the run-up to Jan. 6, according to a committee aide who insisted on anonymity to discuss the details.
The committee has said most of those interviewed in the inquiry are volunteering, although some have requested subpoenas to appear publicly.
Lawmakers pointed out that perhaps his most important listener as the hearings progress may be Attorney General Merrick Garland, who must decide whether his department can and should prosecute Trump. They left no doubt about their own view as to whether the evidence was sufficient to proceed.
“Once the evidence is gathered by the Justice Department, it must make a decision about whether it can prove beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury the president’s guilt or someone else’s,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif, a member of the panel they need to be investigated when there is credible evidence, which I think is the case.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., another member, said on CNN he had no intention of “intimidating” Garland, but noted that the committee had already set out in legal briefs that members of the criminal legislature believe Trump is infringing have.
“I think he knows, his staff knows, US attorneys know what’s at stake here,” Raskin said.
No president or ex-president has ever been indicted. Garland did not say if he would be willing to prosecute.
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