Jan. 6 panel: Trump ‘betrayed the trust of the American people’

(NewsNation) — The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol said former President Donald Trump refused to accept the results of the democratic process in its second public hearing Monday.

“We had an election, Mr. Trump lost but he refused to accept the results of the democratic process,” said the panel’s chairman, Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson in the televised hearing.

Members of the committee delved deeper into the defeated Republican president’s false claims of voter fraud that fueled his efforts to overturn the 2020 election and provoked a mob of his supporters to lay siege to the U.S. Capitol.

“He [Trump] didn’t have the numbers. He went to court. He still didn’t have the numbers. He lost. But he betrayed the trust of the American people,” Thompson said. “He ignored the will of the voters. He lied to his supporters and the country.”

The panel opened the hearing after a 30-minute delay as Trump’s former campaign manager Bill Stepien abruptly pulled out of testifying, citing a family emergency.

Stepien was expected to be a key witness and was originally subpoenaed for his public testimony.

The committee was told that Stepien’s wife was in labor, according to Thompson.

Instead of Stepien’s live testimony, the panel showed video of his previously recorded interview, given behind closed doors, about what the campaign team was telling Trump as he lost the 2020 presidential election. 

Stepien and other top aides testified that they believed the 2020 presidential race was too close to call on election night, but Trump nevertheless declared himself the winner.

“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,” Stepien said in the recorded testimony.

Stepien and senior adviser Jason Miller testified that 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. They pushed back against Rudy Giuliani who was encouraging Trump to declare himself the winner.

The hearing included testimony from NewsNation’s political editor Chris Stirewalt, who was the Fox political editor leading up to the 2020 presidential election.

Thompson asked Stirewalt, “Did President Trump have any basis to declare victory on November 4, 2020?”

Stirewalt responded, “No.”

During his testimony, Stirewalt explained the term “red mirage,” where initial votes counted on Election Day tend to be Republican, as in-person votes are counted first. But then the vote count shifts once mail-in ballots start to be counted.

“Usually it’s Election Day votes that count first,” Stirewalt testified. “You expect to see the Republican with a lead, but it’s not really a lead.”

Stirewalt said it happens every time.

In a video played at the hearing, former Attorney General Bill Barr rejected Trump’s claims of voter fraud.

“He was becoming detached from reality,” said Barr, who resigned. “I didn’t want to be a part of it.”

Former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia B. J. Pak testified to the committee that Giuliani’s claim of fraud and an alleged “suitcase full of ballots” was actually a “lockbox to make sure ballots were kept safe.”

Giuliani was one of Trump’s primary lawyers during the then-president’s failed efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

“Mr. Giuliani’s claims were simply untrue and making such a claim was reckless,” Pak said.

Pak abruptly resigned after Trump pressured Georgia state officials to overturn his presidential defeat.

Trump wanted to fire Pak as disloyal, but Pak stepped down after Trump’s call urging Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to overturn Biden’s win in the state became public.

Pak was the top federal prosecutor in Atlanta who left his position on Jan 4, 2021, a day after an audio recording was made public in which Trump called him a “never-Trumper.”

Former Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt also testified about responding to baseless claims of election fraud in his city.

“Not only was there not evidence of 8,000 dead voters voting in Pennsylvania. There wasn’t evidence of eight,” he said. “We took seriously every case that was referred to us no matter how fantastical no matter how absurd and took every one of those seriously, including these.”

Schmidt faced criticism as the state’s election was called for Biden and testified about threats he received against him and his family.

 “After the President tweeted at me by name, calling me out the way that he did, the threats became much more specific, much more graphic,” he said. “And included not just me by name but included members of my family by name, their ages, our address, pictures of our home.”

Conservative election attorney Ben Ginsberg testified about the court cases brought by the Trump team over vote fraud claims.

“The 2020 election was not close,” Ginsberg said. “And you just don’t make up those sorts of numbers in recounts.”

When asked if he was aware of any instance in which a court found the Trump campaign’s fraud claims to be credible, Ginsberg said, ”No, there was never that instance in all the cases that were brought.”

“The simple fact is the Trump campaign did not make its case,” he said.

Members of the committee said Sunday they have uncovered enough evidence for the Justice Department to consider an unprecedented criminal indictment against Trump.

Lawmakers indicated that perhaps their most important audience member over the course of the hearings may be Attorney General Merrick Garland, who must decide whether his department can and should prosecute Trump. They left no doubt as to their own view of whether the evidence is sufficient to proceed.

“Once the evidence is accumulated by the Justice Department, it needs to make a decision about whether it can prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt the president’s guilt or anyone else’s,” Rep. Adam Schiff of California said. “But they need to be investigated if there’s credible evidence, which I think there is.”

Monday’s hearing takes place just days after the first in a series of hearings beginning last week that laid out the committee’s initial findings gathered over an 11-month investigation. 

Thursday’s hearing lasted approximately 90 minutes and was watched by roughly 20 million people across the six major American broadcast and cable networks that aired the program.

During the prime-time hearing, Americans watched footage of violent rioters infiltrating the country’s symbol of democracy and heard testimony from a Capitol Police officer knocked unconscious and a filmmaker documenting the group who first breached Capitol security that day.

As he mulls another White House run, Trump insists the committee’s investigation is a “witch hunt.” Last week he said Jan. 6 “represented the greatest movement in the history of our country.”

The Jan. 6 hearings have been decried as “political theater” by the GOP, and while there are some strong allegations being made by some of those testifying, the question in many viewers’ minds is whether or not any actual charges could come out of the proceedings.

The Associated Press and the Hill contributed to this report.

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