EXPLAINER: How Trump ignored advisers, spread election lies
The executive summary of the House Jan. 6 committee’s report documents how then-President Donald Trump was repeatedly warned by those closest to him — Cabinet members, campaign officials and even family members — that claims he had lost his reelection due to fraud were false. But Trump spread those lies anyway.
“This was not him hearing this from Joe Biden’s spokesman on MSNBC,” David Becker, co-author of “The Big Truth,” a book about the damage of Trump’s election lies, said in an interview.
Trump’s lies about his loss in the 2020 presidential election sparked the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and have helped fuel millions of dollars in donations to the Republican former president. Here are details showing he was told the truth about his loss and chose instead to lie about it.
PLANNING THE LIE AHEAD OF TIME
The Jan. 6 committee has made clear that Trump long planned to claim victory, whether he actually won or not. His allies were boasting of how they could try to fool the public to make it seem that he had won reelection. The committee cites correspondence from Tom Fitton of the conservative group Judicial Watch to the White House in October 2020 in which Fitton urges Trump to say after polls close: “We had an election. I won.”
The committee also obtained a recording of Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who told associates the week before the election that “what Trump’s gonna do is just declare victory, right? He’s gonna declare victory. But that doesn’t mean he’s a winner. He’s just gonna say he’s a winner.”
Trump had spent months demonizing mail voting, which swelled in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic. The then-president also insisted the only way he would lose the election would be by massive voter fraud. When Trump did declare victory early in the morning the day after Election Day, he exploited a quirk in vote counting in which in-person votes, which leaned GOP, were tallied first, putting him temporarily ahead. He demanded that local election officials stop counting outstanding ballots, which leaned Democratic.
“President Trump’s decision to declare victory falsely on election night and, unlawfully, to call for the vote counting to stop, was not a spontaneous decision,” the committee wrote in the executive summary for its report. “It was premeditated.”
LIES ABOUT VOTING MACHINES
By Nov. 7, when those outstanding Democratic votes had been tallied and most news organizations had called the race for Joe Biden, Trump’s own campaign knew he had lost.
“The group that went over there outlined, you know, my belief and chances for success at this point,” his campaign manager, Bill Stepien, testified before the committee. “And then we pegged that at, you know, 5, maybe 10 percent based on recounts.”
Stepien added that Trump believed him: “He was pretty realistic with our viewpoint, in agreement with our viewpoint of kind of the forecast and the uphill climb we thought he had.”
Still, Trump continued to insist he had won. His legal team largely walked away from the case, and was replaced by former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and litigator Sidney Powell, who began to make wild fraud allegations, to the dismay of White House attorneys, who warned Trump they were false.
The president grabbed hold of a development in a rural, conservative county in Michigan, where voting machines had initially undercounted his margin of victory. Human error turned out to be the cause. When the paper ballots were tallied and run back through the machine, they were counted correctly.
Trump knew this, the committee says, because Attorney General William Barr told him so on Dec. 1, 2020. Barr testified that he told the president that the paper ballot tally matched the final results. Yet the next day, Trump said in a speech: “In one Michigan county, as an example, that used Dominion systems, they found that nearly 6,000 votes had been wrongly switched from Trump to Biden, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Barr and others in the administration kept telling Trump that there was nothing suspicious in Michigan or with Dominion, a major vendor of voting machinery. Barr and Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen told Trump there were no apparent problems, and even Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, rebutted a wild conspiracy theory about Dominion being connected to hostile foreign governments. But, the committee said, between November 2020 and Jan. 6, 2021, Trump tweeted about Dominion nearly three dozen times.
LIES ABOUT DEAD VOTERS, NUMBERS
Trump fanned other conspiracy theories, too, despite being told they were false. He claimed that more than 5,000 dead people voted in Georgia, a state he lost by more than 11,000 votes. But Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, corrected him during a Jan. 2 phone call, saying local election officials had researched the question, cross-referencing obituaries and other data.
“The actual number were two,” Raffensperger told the president. “Two. Two people that were dead that voted. So that’s wrong.”
Four days later, during his speech at the Jan. 6 rally before his supporters stormed the Capitol, Trump declared: “Over 10,300 ballots in Georgia were cast by individuals whose names and dates of birth match Georgia residents who died in 2020 and prior to the election.”
Raffensperger also corrected other Trump claims about Georgia, including that 18,325 voters were registered at vacant addresses and that 4,925 voters from out of state cast ballots there. But Trump repeated them in the run-up to Jan. 6 and during his rally.
Trump put out more bad numbers after being told they were false.
“The President then continued, there are ‘more votes than voters,’” Richard Donoghue told the committee of a Dec. 27, 2020, conversation with Trump when Donoghue was the acting deputy attorney general. Donoghue said he told the president that he was comparing 2016 voter registration with 2020 voting numbers, which was inaccurate because more people were registered to vote during Trump’s reelection year. He later specifically warned against using a Pennsylvania number.
But on the ellipse on Jan. 6, Trump declared: “In Pennsylvania, you had 205,000 more votes than you had voters.”
FALSE ATTACKS ON ELECTION WORKERS
Trump also baselessly claimed election workers were committing fraud, despite warnings from his own law enforcement officers that they were doing nothing wrong. Rosen recounted to the committee a Dec. 15 conversation in which Trump asked about a video that purported to show Georgia election workers receiving a suitcase of ballots.
“We said, ‘It wasn’t a suitcase. It was a bin. That’s what they use when counting ballots,’” Rosen recalled. “It’s benign.”
One week later, the report says, Trump declared: “There is even security camera footage from Georgia that shows officials telling poll watchers to leave the room before pulling suitcases of ballots out from under the tables and continuing to count for hours.”
Trump complained about purported misbehavior by election workers in the security camera footage to Raffensperger during the Jan. 2 call. Raffensperger warned the president off the recording.
“I think that’s extremely unfortunate that Rudy Giuliani or his people, they sliced and diced that video and took it out of context,” the secretary of state told Trump.
Raffensperger offered to send Trump a link from a local television station that debunked the lies. “I don’t need a link,” Trump replied.
The next day, he complained that Raffensperger was “unwilling, or unable, to answer questions such as the ‘ballots under the table’ scam, ballot destruction, out of state ‘voters,’ dead voters and more. He has no clue!”
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