s the Jan. 6 committee held its second public hearing Monday, it focused much of its presentation not on the deadly Capitol attack or former President Donald Trump’s statements that allegedly stirred his supporters into violence, but on a more arcane subject: mail-in voting.
A House panel provided evidence that showed how Trump started the process of overturning the election. Despite expectations that the raging pandemic would depress in-person voter turnout in 2020, Trump rejected arguments from his own campaign staff to embrace voting by mail—choosing instead to discourage his supporters from voting absentee.
This would create the situation Trump used to win the election.
At the committee’s first daytime hearing, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California, showed a video clip of Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien recounting a summer 2020 meeting he had with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Trump. Stepien said he and McCarthy “made our case for why we believed mail-in balloting, mail-in voting, not to be a bad thing for his campaign,” Stepien said. “But the president’s mind was made up.”
Stepien was initially scheduled to appear in person but he pulled out of the hearing hours before it began because his wife had given birth. The committee aired clips from his deposition instead, including one in which he recalled explaining to Trump that urging his supporters to vote on Election Day “leaves a lot to chance” and that Republicans had “an advantage” to enhance turnout under the system.
Absentee voter voting has been a popular option for Republicans since the beginning, particularly those in older rural communities. In Colorado’s 2014 election, the first one in which the state sent mail-in ballots to every registered voter, Republican voters outperformed Democratic voters, an independent study later found.
Trump however repeatedly criticized mail-voting as being fraught with fraud. He was able to convince many Republican voters not to accept mail voting as a viable option, since the states had dramatically increased access during the pandemic. In 2020, 59% of Democrats voted via mail while only 30% did so for Republicans. This dynamic led many election experts to warn that a “red mirage” might appear on Election Night that would create a misleading impression early in the evening that Trump had won, as Republican-heavy in-person votes were to be counted first in many parts of the country. In key swing states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, however, absentee ballots couldn’t be counted until after the polls closed, leading election results to later swing heavily toward Biden.
Trump was open about his plans to sue to prevent the count of postal ballots. He told an audience in August that fraud was the only way to lose the election. Later, in one of the fall debates, he said he was “counting” on the judiciary to “look at the ballots.” Meanwhile, GOP legislators in three swing states blocked legislation to expedite the counting of mail ballots to purposefully slow down the mail vote count.
One of the witnesses on Monday, Chris Stirewalt, was the political editor for Fox News during the 2020 election but was fired soon after, amid pushback from Trump and others over the network’s calling the election for Biden. Stirewalt explained to the committee how Fox tried to tell its viewers before the election about how it would count the votes. “We had gone to pains—and I am proud of the pains that we went to—to make sure that we were informing viewers that this was going to happen, because the Trump campaign and the president had made it clear that they would try to exploit this anomaly,” he said.
One of the highlights of the second hearing was the broadcast of clips taken from depositions by former Trump officials. They told the story from the West Wing. According to the testimonies of Stepien, campaign aide Jason Miller, and Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, aides and advisers repeatedly told Trump he should not declare victory until more results were in.
“My recommendation was to say that votes are still being counted,” Stepien said. “It’s too early to call the race. However, we are proud to have run the race. We think we’re in a good position and we’ll have more to say in the next day.” But Trump “thought I was wrong,” Stepien added. “He told me so.”
As Rep. Liz Cheney, Republican from Wyoming and vice chair of the panel, said, “President Trump rejected the advice of his campaign experts on Election Night, and instead followed the course recommended by an apparently inebriated Rudy Giuliani.”
In a taped deposition, Miller added that Guiliani—who he said was “definitely intoxicated”—advised the president to “go and declare victory and say that we’d won it outright.” Trump then gave a press conference in the East Room of the White House, the night of Nov. 4, 2020. “Frankly, we did win this election,” he said.
According to the committee, Trump’s campaign has filed 62 lawsuits in nine states and District of Columbia between Election Night and January 6, 2021. It lost 61. Ten Trump-appointed judges including three Supreme Court justices ruled against their claims of voter fraud.
A large portion of William Barr, the former Attorney General of the United States, was shown to the panel. He explained to Trump why his claim that Trump’s election was fraudulently rigged. “He’s become detached from reality if he really believes this stuff,” Barr told the panel. “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.”
One of the most explosive findings of the hearing centered around the Trump campaign raising more than $250 million to fund its legal challenges, sending out millions of emails to its voters to raise money for the “Election Defense Fund.” No such fund existed and little of that money went to bolstering Trump’s battles in court.
According to the committee, the money raised went to Trump’s Save America PAC, which later made donations to an assortment of MAGA causes, including $1 million to the Conservative Partnership Institute, former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadow’s organization; $1 million to the America First Policy Institute, a Trump-allied dark money think tank; and $204,857 to the Trump Hotel Collection.
“The Big Lie was also a big ripoff,” Lofgren said.
At the end of Monday’s hearing, the committee showed a video montage with the emails Trump sent out to raise money from supporters, many of which casted doubt on the integrity of mail ballots. “The Democrats are trying to STEAL the election,” he wrote. “We will never let them do it. After the Polls, votes cannot be cast [sic] are closed.”
The footage then displayed images of Trump supporters in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021. These people were repeating the same points.
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