WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien and other top officials testified Monday to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack that they believed the 2020 presidential race was too close to be held on election night. come, but Trump nevertheless declared himself the winner.
Stepien abruptly withdrew from the hearing on Monday, because his wife had given birth. But the panel marched ahead after a morning feud, showing previously recorded testimony from the ex-campaign manager and others close to the president, including Ivanka Trump.
“My belief, my recommendation was to say the votes are still being counted. It’s too early to say, too early to call off the race.” said Stepien in the recorded testimony.
When asked if anyone disagreed, Stepien replied that Trump “thought I was wrong. That’s what he told me.”
The House Committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot opened its hearing Monday and charged Stepien as a key witness. The panel delves into what it calls the “big lie,” the defeated Republican president’s false claims of voter fraud that fueled his efforts to nullify the 2020 election and provoked a mob of his supporters to lay siege to the U.S. Capitol .
President Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., opened the hearing, saying Trump had “betrayed the trust of the American people” and “tried to stay in office after people voted him out.”
Instead of his live testimony, the panel relied on Stepien’s previously taped interview with the panel, which was conducted behind closed doors, about what the campaign team told Trump when he lost the election. Stepien, a longtime Trump ally, was subpoenaed to appear at the public hearing.
Stepien and senior adviser Jason Miller testified that the festive mood at the White House turned on election night when Fox News announced that Trump had lost the state of Arizona to Joe Biden, and aides worked to advise Trump on what to do next. They pushed back against Rudy Giuliani who encouraged Trump to declare himself the winner.
Monday’s hearing also included other live witnesses, including Chris Stirewalt, a former Fox News Channel political editor who stated on election night that Arizona was won by Biden.
Committee members say they have found enough evidence for the Justice Department to consider an unprecedented criminal charge against the former president.
Thompson, D-Miss., and Vice Chairman Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., led the hearing after last week’s blockbuster session drew nearly 20 million Americans to see the prime-time findings.
For the past year, the commission has investigated the most violent attack on the Capitol since the War of 1812 to ensure that such an attack never happens again. Lawmakers hope to show that Trump’s attempt to undo Joe Biden’s election victory posed a serious threat to democracy.
Stepien, who remains close to Trump, oversaw the “switch” of Trump’s presidential campaign to a “Stop the Steal” effort, according to a subpoena issued by the commission last fall. He had to ask 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 Republican primary in Wyoming.
Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich suggested Sunday that the committee’s decision to call Stepien was politically motivated.
A second group of witnesses to testify Monday would include election officials, investigators and experts likely to discuss Trump’s reactions to the election, including dozens of failed lawsuits, and how his actions deviated from US norms.
Among them is former US attorney in Atlanta, BJay Pak, who abruptly resigned after Trump pressured Georgia’s state officials to reverse his presidential defeat. Trump wanted to fire Pak for being unfaithful, but Pak resigned after Georgian Foreign Secretary Brad Raffensperger’s call to “find” enough votes to undo Biden’s victory in the state went public.
The panel will also hear from former Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt, the only Republican on the electoral council and who faced criticism when the state’s election was called for Biden, noting Washington attorney and election attorney Benjamin Ginsberg.
While pondering another White House run, Trump insists the commission’s investigation is a “witch hunt.” Last week, he said January 6 represented “the greatest movement in our country’s history.”
Nine people died in the riots and its aftermath, including a Trump supporter who was shot dead by police. More than 800 people have been arrested during the siege and members of two extremist groups have been charged with rare sedition for their role in the attack on the Capitol.
During the prime-time hearing, the committee explained how Trump was told time and again by his trusted associates 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 continued his false claims about the election, beckoning supporters to Washington on Jan. 6 to reverse Biden’s victory as Congress would certify the results of the Electoral College.
Additional evidence will be released this week during hearings focused on Trump’s decision to ignore the election results and the lawsuits decided against him.
Monday’s hearing also discussed the millions of fundraising dollars Trump’s team brought in leading up to Jan. 6, according to a committee official who insisted on anonymity to discuss the details.
The commission has said that most of those interviewed in the investigation come forward voluntarily, although some have demanded that subpoenas appear in public.
Lawmakers indicated that perhaps their most important audience member in the course of the hearings is Attorney General Merrick Garland, who must decide whether his department can and should prosecute Trump. They left no doubt that the evidence is enough to move forward.
“Once the evidence has been collected by the Justice Department, it must make a decision as to whether it can prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt the guilt of the president or someone else,” said D-Calif Representative Adam Schiff. , a panelist.. “But they should be investigated if there is credible evidence, which I think there is.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., another member, told CNN he has no intention of “roaring” Garland, but noted that the committee has already set out in legal pleas that members of the criminal statute statute believe Trump might want. has violated.
“I think he knows, his staff knows, the American lawyers know, what’s at stake here,” Raskin said.
No president or ex-president has ever been charged. Garland has not said whether he is prepared to prosecute.
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