Trump was ‘detached from reality’ over election: Jan 6 witness to probe panel
Washington: Donald Trump’s closest campaign advisers, top government officials and even his family were dismantling his false claims of 2020 election fraud ahead of Jan 6, but the defeated president was becoming “detached from reality” and clinging to outlandish theories to stay in power, The committee investigating the Capitol attack was told Monday. On election night itself, Trump was “growing dissatisfied” and refusing to accept the results as he came in, former campaign manager Bill Stepien said in the testimony played before the House panel.
Son-in-law Jared Kushner tried to steer Trump away from attorney Rudy Giuliani and his far-flung theories of voter fraud that advisers believed were not true. Trump would have none of it. The back-and-forth intensified in the run-up to Jan 6. Former Justice Department official Richard Donoghue recalled breaking down one claim after another ” from a truckload of ballots in Pennsylvania to a missing suitcase of ballots in Georgia “- and telling Trump “much of the info you’re getting is false.”
“He was becoming detached from reality,” said former Attorney General William Barr, who called the voting fraud claims “bull,” “bogus” and “idiotic,” and resigned in the aftermath. “I didn’t want to be a part of it.”
The witness testimony was shown as the House committee focused on the “big lie,” Trump’s false claims of voter fraud that fueled the defeated Republican president’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election and provoked a mob of his supporters to lay siege to the US Capitol.
The panel also provided new information about how Trump’s fundraising machine collected some USD 250 million in the aftermath of the November election to keep fighting, mostly from small-dollar donations from Americans. One plea for cash went out 30 minutes before the Jan 6, 2021, insurrection.
“Not only was there the big lie, there was the big ripoff,” said Rep Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. Chairman Rep Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., opened Monday’s hearing saying Trump “betrayed the trust of the American people” and “tried to remain in office when people had voted him out.”
As the hearings play out for the public, they are also being watched by one of the most important viewers, Attorney General Merrick Garland, who must decide whether his department can and should prosecute Trump. No sitting or former president has ever faced such charges.
“I am watching, I will be watching all of the hearings,” Garland said Monday at a press briefing at the Justice Department. “I may not be able to watch all of it live, but I’m sure I will be watching all of it, and I can assure you the Jan. 6 prosecutors are watching all of the hearings as well.” Biden was getting updates but not watching “blow by blow,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
Stepien was to be a key in-person witness Monday but abruptly backed out of appearing live because his wife went into Labor Stepien, who is still close to Trump, had been subpoenaed to appear. He is now a top campaign adviser to the Trump-endorsed House candidate, Harriet Hageman, who is challenging committee vice chair Liz Cheney in the Wyoming Republican primary.
The panel marched ahead after a delayed morning scramble, showing previously recorded testimony from the Republican aides as Trump latched on to repeated false claims about the election although those closest told him the theories of stolen ballots or rigged voting machines were not true.
Stepien and senior adviser Jason Miller described how the festive mood at the White House on election night turned as Fox News announced Trump had lost the state of Arizona to Joe Biden, and aides worked to counsel Trump on what to do next. But he ignored their advice, choosing to listen instead to Giuliani, who was described as inebriated by several witnesses. Giuliani issued a general denial on Monday, rejecting ?all falsehoods? he said were being said about him.
Stepien said, “My belief, my recommendation was to say that votes were still being counted, it’s too early to tell, too early to call the race,.” But Trump “thought I was wrong. He told me so.” Barr, who had also testified in last week’s blockbuster hearing, said that Trump was “as mad as I’d ever seen him” when the attorney general later explained that the Justice Department would not take sides in the election.
Chairman Thompson and vice-chair Cheney, led the hearing after last week’s prime-time session drew nearly 20 million Americans to see its findings. For the past year, the committee has been investigating the most violent attack on the Capitol since the War of 1812 to ensure such an assault never happens again. Lawmakers hope to show that Trump’s effort to overturn Biden’s election victory posed a grave threat to democracy.
Monday’s hearing also featured live witnesses, including Chris Stirewalt, a former Fox News Channel political editor who declared on Election Night that Arizona was being won by Biden.