The Trump campaign used the Big Lie to ask supporters for money – but didn’t use it to contest the 2020 election results, according to testimony heard Monday in the US House Committee’s investigation into the Jan. 6 attack. Here’s what else you need to know.
“Detached from reality.”
These are just some of the words that nearly a dozen former Trump campaign officials, White House lawyers, US Department of Justice leaders, Republican attorneys, and Republican election officials used on Monday to describe the former president’s false claims about voter fraud following his defeat in the 2020 election.
Appearing either in person or via pre-taped depositions before the US House Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, one Republican official after another—including Donald Trump’s own Attorney General Bill Barr, his White House lawyer Eric Herschmann, and his own campaign manager Bill Stepien—testified that they told Trump repeatedly there was zero proof of widespread fraud when he lost the presidency to Joe Biden.
And yet, each time, Trump refused to accept the truth. Instead, as the Committee has begun to show during its first two hearings, he launched an all-out attack on American elections and conspired to overturn the will of American voters for personal gain.
This effort included more than 60 lawsuits, all of which were dismissed by courts except one.
Here are five other takeaways from Monday’s hearing:
(1) Trump conned his supporters out of $250 million.
The former president didn’t just make claims about election fraud and file lawsuits. His campaign also sent out countless fundraising pitches to his supporters, netting more than $250 million in donations between Election Day 2020 and January 2021.
Supporters were told that money would go toward contesting election results via the “Election Defense Fund,” but in reality, no such fund existed. Most of the money went toward the “Save America PAC,” a pro-Trump PAC created after the 2020 election.
“The Big Lie was also The Big Ripoff,” US Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a committee member, said on Monday.
As Amanda Wick, senior investigative counsel for the committee, noted in a video, the Save America PAC made millions of dollars of contributions to pro-Trump organizations, including those run by his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows. The Trump Hotel Collection also received more than $200,000.
Trump was told time and again, even by his most trusted advisors, that he lost. And yet as Monday’s hearing revealed, the celebrity billionaire-turned-president continued to capitalize on the idea that he’d been the victim of election fraud, and to funnel money from his own working-class supporters to organizations benefitting wealthy Republicans.
(2) Trump set the stage for the Big Lie long before November 2020.
The hearing chronicled the months leading up to November 2020, when Trump repeatedly told Americans he would not accept an election loss. In April 2020, he dismissed mail-in voting as rife with fraud. In a July interview with Fox News, he refused to agree to accept the election results. Later that month, Trump threatened to postpone the election (even though he couldn’t).
“The only way we’re going to lose this election,” he claimed in August, “is if this election is rigged.” He said virtually the same thing a week later. In September, he refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power. “There won’t be a transfer,” he said. “We’re going to have to see about what happens. You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster.”
(3) Following the election, the White House was increasingly split between two camps: “Team Normal” and “Team Rudy.“
According to testimony, Trump sidelined anyone who tried to tell him the truth about the 2020 election results in favor of conspiracy theorists like Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani, whose inclination to get drunk during this time period was well-documented during Monday’s hearing, became the face of Trump’s election lies, and encouraged the former president’s worst impulses.
“I didn’t mind being characterized as part of ‘Team Normal,’ as reporters started to do at that point in time,” Bill Stepien said in a video deposition. “I’ve been doing this for a long time, 25 years. I’ve spanned political ideologies from Trump to [John] McCain to Bush to [Chris] Christie and I can work under a lot of circumstances for a lot of varied candidates and politicians … and I think along the way I’ve built up a pretty good reputation for being honest and professional and I didn’t think what was happening was necessarily honest or professional at that time.”
(4) Trump’s attorney general thought he was detached from reality.
There was perhaps no bigger star witness on Monday than Bill Barr, a lifelong arch-conservative lawyer who served as Trump’s AG. Barr was among those who told Trump there was no evidence of voter fraud. As his boss became more and more obsessed with proving there was and latching onto more and more outlandish examples of fraud, Barr said Trump appeared to be losing his grasp on what was real.
“I thought, boy, if he really believes this stuff …he’s become detached from reality if he really believes this stuff,” Barr said in a videotaped deposition.
He also realized that no matter what he and others did to prove to Trump that he had indeed lost, he’d never accept it. “There was never an indication of interest in what the actual facts were,” Barr said.
(5) Trump put election officials in danger.
One of Trump’s primary targets after the 2020 election was former Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt, a Republican who oversaw elections in the city. Trump, furious that he lost Pennsylvania, sought to pin the blame on Schmidt and conjured up false claims about voter fraud and dead people voting in Pennsylvania.
“Not only was there no evidence of 8,000 dead voters voting in Pennsylvania, there wasn’t evidence of eight,” Schmidt said in his testimony on Monday.
Trump’s attacks on Schmidt took a serious toll. “After the president tweeted at me by name … the threats became much more specific, much more graphic, and included not just me by name but included members of my family by name, their ages, our address, pictures of our home,” Schmidt said.
Monday’s hearing was the second of six public hearings this month. The third hearing will take place Wednesday at 10 AM EST and is expected to focus on Trump’s efforts to pressure his Department of Justice to overturn the election results.