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“Detached from Reality”: Barr Says Trump Embraced Lies & Conspiracy Theories After His Election Loss

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One of the key witnesses who testified live at Monday’s hearing of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol was former Fox News political editor Chris Stirewalt, who led the the Fox News decision to become the first network to call Arizona for Joe Biden on election night in November 2020. Fox fired Stirewalt months later. Answering questions from Congressmember Zoe Lofgren, Stirewalt said Trump’s chance of winning was virtually zero. His comments were supported by Trump’s former Attorney General William Barr. The committee also heard testimony from Trump’s former campaign manager Bill Stepien, who said he had contradicted false election victory claims by Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and was part of what he called “Team Normal.” Former Attorney General Barr told the committee about how he became “demoralized” after the 2020 election when he tried to counter allegations of voting fraud with then-President Trump.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re bringing you highlights from Monday’s hearing of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, the second of eight hearings scheduled for this month.

One of the key witnesses who testified live was former Fox News political editor Chris Stirewalt, who led the Fox News decision to become the first network to call Arizona for Joe Biden on election night in November 2020. Fox fired Stirewalt months later.

Answering questions from California Congressmember Zoe Lofgren, Stirewalt said Trump’s chance of winning was virtually zero. His comments were supported by Trump’s former Attorney General William Barr.

REP. ZOE LOFGREN: Mr. Stirewalt, I’d like you to explain a term that was thrown around a lot during the election, and that’s the so-called red mirage. What does that mean?

CHRIS STIREWALT: So, in the 40 or 50 years, let’s say, that Americans have increasingly chosen to vote by mail or early or absentee, Democrats prefer that method of voting more than Republicans do. So, basically, in every election, Republicans win Election Day, and Democrats win the early vote, and then you wait and start counting. And it depends on which ones you count first, but usually it’s Election Day votes that get counted first, and you see the Republicans shoot ahead, and then the process of bailing and binding and unbinding all those mail-in votes. And some states, like Pennsylvania, refuse to count the votes first. So you have to wait for all of that to come in. So, in every election, certainly a national election, you expect to see the Republican with a lead, but it’s not really a lead. When you put together a jigsaw puzzle, it doesn’t matter which piece you put in first: It ends up with the same image.

So, for us, who cares? But that’s because no candidate had ever tried to avail themself of this quirk in the election counting system. We had gone to pains — and I’m proud of the pains 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 were going to try to exploit this anomaly. And we knew it was going to be bigger, because the percentage of early votes was higher, right? We went from about 45% of the votes being early and absentee to, because of the pandemic, that increased by about 50%. So we knew it would be longer, we knew it would be more. So we wanted to keep telling viewers, “Hey, look, the number that you see here is sort of irrelevant because it’s only a small percentage of these votes.”

REP. ZOE LOFGREN: So, this red mirage, that’s really what you expected to happen on election night.

CHRIS STIREWALT: Happens every time.

REP. ZOE LOFGREN: Thank you, Mr. Stirewalt. I’d like to play a clip of Attorney General Bill Barr, who also explains what was expected to happen on election night.

WILLIAM BARR: Right out of the box on election night, the president claimed that there was major fraud underway. I mean, this happened, as far as I could tell, before there was actually any potential of looking at evidence. And it seemed to be based on the dynamic that — that at the end of the evening a lot of Democratic votes came in which changed the vote counts in certain states. And that seemed to be the basis for this broad claim that there was major fraud. And I didn’t think much of that, because people had been talking for weeks, and everyone understood for weeks that that was going to be what happened on election night.

REP. ZOE LOFGREN: Mr. Stepien obviously could not be with us today, and it’s proper for him to be with his wife as they welcome their child. But he also had discussions with the president about the red mirage — that is, that it would be a long night and that early votes would favor him, but that lots more votes would be counted over the course of the night and the days after. So, let’s play clip one from our interview with Mr. Stepien.

BILL STEPIEN: I recounted back to that conversation with him in which I said — just like I said in 2016 it was going to be a long night, I told him in 2020 that, you know, there were — it was going to be a process again, as, you know, the early returns are going to be, you know, positive, then we’re going to, you know, be watching the returns of ballots as, you know, they rolled in thereafter.

INVESTIGATOR: Is it fair to say you were trying to present a — what you thought would be a realistic picture of what might happen over the course of that night, being election night?

BILL STEPIEN: That night and the days that followed, yeah. I always — I always — you know, I always told the president the truth. And, you know, I — you know, I think he expected that from me. And I told him it was going to be a process. It was going to be, you know — you know, we’re going to have to wait and see how this turned out. So, I — just like I did in 2016, I did the same thing in 2020.

REP. ZOE LOFGREN: So, let’s watch a short clip of President Trump speaking after he received that information from his campaign advisers.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We want all voting to stop. We don’t want them to find any ballots at 4:00 in the morning and add them to the list.

REP. ZOE LOFGREN: So, when former President Trump said that, it contradicted what his advisers had warned would happen. We all know that mail-in ballots played an important role in the 2020 election. However, President Trump continuously discouraged mail-in voting. Mr. Stepien was so concerned about the president’s position on mail-in voting that in the summer of 2020 he met with President Trump, along with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Let’s play clip four.

BILL STEPIEN: Meeting that was had, in particular, I invited Kevin McCarthy to join the meeting, he being of like mind on the issue with me, in which we made our case for — for why we believed mail-in balloting — mail-in voting not to be a bad thing for his campaign. But, you know, the president’s mind was made up, and you understand, you know, how many times to, you know, go to the well on a particular topic.

INVESTIGATOR: Yeah, I understand. Tell me a little bit more about the argument that you and Mr. McCarthy made to the president in that meeting as to why it wasn’t a bad thing that mail-in voting was available.

BILL STEPIEN: Largely two pillars to that argument, both of which I’ve previously mentioned. One, you know, leaving a good deal to chance — pushing or urging your voters to vote only on Election Day leaves a lot to chance. That’s A. And B, also previously mentioned, the fact that the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee, the Republican Party had an advantage of grassroots workers and volunteers on the ground that would allow, you know, an advantage to enhance return rates of ballots that were mailed. Those were the two — 

INVESTIGATOR: Yeah.

BILL STEPIEN: — pillars of the argument.

INVESTIGATOR: I see. And what, if anything, do you recall Representative McCarthy saying during that meeting?

BILL STEPIEN: We were — we were echoing the same argument. I mean, his words echoed mine, and vice versa, on those — on those two topics.

AMY GOODMAN: So, this is January 6th committee member Zoe Lofgren presenting deposition testimony again from Trump’s former campaign manager, Bill Stepien, who you were just listening to. He said he had contradicted false election victory claims by Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and was part of what he called “Team Normal.”

INVESTIGATOR: OK. And was it important for you, Mr. Stepien, to sort of pull back, just for your own professional reputation? You didn’t want to be associated with some of what you were hearing from the Giuliani team and others that sort of stepped in in the wake of your departure?

BILL STEPIEN: I didn’t mind being categorized. There were two groups of them. We called them kind of my team and Rudy’s team. I didn’t mind being characterized as being part of Team Normal, as reporters, you know, kind of started to do around that point in time.

You know, I said, you know, hours ago, early on, that, you know, I’ve been doing this for a long time, 25 years, and I’ve spanned, you know, political ideologies from Trump to McCain to Bush to Christie, you know. And, you know, I can work under a lot of circumstances for a lot of varied, you know, candidates and politicians. But a situation where — and I think along the way I’ve built up a pretty good — I hope, a good reputation for being honest and professional. And I didn’t think what was happening was necessarily honest or professional at that point in time. So, yeah, that led to me stepping away.

REP. ZOE LOFGREN: So, the president did get rid of Team Normal. And I’d like to play a clip showing that the president found the people he needed to perpetuate his claims of fraud.

RUDY GIULIANI: They saw a big truck bringing in 100,000 ballots in garbage cans, in wastepaper baskets, in cardboard boxes and in shopping baskets. And every single one of them was for Biden, because they were being notified by Smartmatic in Frankfurt that Biden was way behind, and they better come up with a lot more ballots. And we can prove every single thing I just said.

If you gave me the paper ballots, I could probably turn around each one of these states. I’m absolutely convinced, if you — if you let me examine each one of those ballots, I’d pull out enough that were fraudulent that it would shake the hell out of the country.

SIDNEY POWELL: It can set and run an algorithm, that probably ran all over the country, to take a certain percentage of votes from President Trump and flip them to President Biden, which we might never have uncovered had the votes for President Trump not been so overwhelming in so many of these states that it broke the algorithm.

I remember that one of the things Mark said at some point was you can’t show an actual vote was flipped, which I found at the time to be a remarkable assertion, because — because you don’t have to have the gun to see the body lying on the floor bleeding out with five bullet holes in it was killed by a gun.

ERIC HERSCHMANN: What they were proposing, I thought, was nuts. You know, the theory was also completely nuts, right? I mean, it was a combination of Italians and Germans. I mean, different things had been floating around as to who was involved. I remember Hugo Chávez and the Venezuelans. She has an affidavit from somebody who says they wrote a software in, and something with the Philippines, and just all over the radar.

INVESTIGATOR: Did you ever share, Mr. Kushner, your view of Mr. Giuliani? Did you ever share your perspective about him with the president?

JARED KUSHNER: I guess, yes.

INVESTIGATOR: Tell me what you said.

JARED KUSHNER: Well, basically, not the approach I would take if I was you.

INVESTIGATOR: OK. And how did he react? How did President Trump react when you shared that view with him?

JARED KUSHNER: Oh, he said, you know, “I have confidence in Rudy.”

MATT MORGAN: I think I had conversations with probably all of our counsel who were signed up to assist on Election Day as they disengaged with the campaign. The general consensus was that the law firms were not comfortable making the arguments that Rudy Giuliani was making publicly. I seem to recall that I had a similar conversation with most all of them.

WILLIAM BARR: I made it clear I did not agree with the idea of saying the election was stolen and putting out this stuff, which I told the president was bull [bleep]. And, you know, I didn’t want to be a part of it. And that’s one of the reasons that went into me deciding to leave when I did.

AMY GOODMAN: That last voice is the video recording of the deposition of former Attorney General Bill Barr, who continues in this testimony. He told — he talked about how he became demoralized after the 2020 election when he tried to counter allegations of voting fraud with then-President Trump.

WILLIAM BARR: I felt that things continued to deteriorate between the 23rd and the weekend of the 29th. And then, on November 29th, he appeared on Maria Bartiromo’s show, Sunday Futures, I believe it was, and he said that the department was missing in action.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, no, we had glitches where they moved thousands of votes from my account to Biden’s account, and these are glitches. So, they’re not glitches. They’re theft. They’re fraud, absolute fraud. This election was over, and then they did dumps. They call them dumps, big massive dumps, in Michigan, in Pennsylvania and all over. How the FBI and Department of Justice — I don’t know, maybe they’re involved, but how people are allowed to get away from this stuff — with this stuff is unbelievable.

REP. ZOE LOFGREN: Now, spurred by what he saw, Barr told the Associated Press on December 1st that there was no evidence of election fraud. And immediately after Attorney General Barr’s statement went public, Mr. Trump berated and he nearly fired Barr. But Barr persisted in telling the president that there was no evidence to support the fraud claims.

WILLIAM BARR: This got under my skin, but I also felt it was time for me to say something. So, on — I had — I set up a lunch with the AP reporter Mike Balsamo, and I told him at lunch — made the statement that, to date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.

I had a later meeting scheduled at the White House at 3:00 with Meadows. This was previously scheduled. So I knew this was going to come up. And I went over there, and I told my secretary that I thought I would probably be fired and told not to — to go home — I mean, not to go back to my office. So I said, “You might have to pack up for me.”

And so, when I got over there, I met with the chief of staff. He said the president was angry. He didn’t really go — get into the issue of the fraud. And then I went up to Pat Cipollone’s office, and we were talking with each other. And word came down that he wanted us both to go to the Oval.

And the president was as mad as I’ve ever seen him, and he was trying to control himself. The president said, “Well, this is, you know, killing me. You didn’t have to say this. You must have said this because you hate Trump. You hate Trump.”

And then he raised the big vote dump, as he called it, in Detroit, and that, you know, he said people saw boxes coming into the counting station at all hours of the morning and so forth. And I explained to him that I — at that point, I knew the exact number of precincts for Detroit. I think it was 630-something. I said, “Mr. President, there are 630 precincts in Detroit. And unlike elsewhere in the state, they centralize the counting process, so they’re not counted in each precinct. They’re moved to counting stations. And so a normal process would involve boxes coming in at all different hours. So there’s nothing” — and I said, “Did anyone point out to you — did all the people complaining about it point out to you, you actually did better in Detroit than you did last time? I mean, there’s no indication of fraud in Detroit.” And I told him that the stuff that his people were shoveling out to the public were bull — was bull [bleep], I mean, that the claims of fraud were bull [bleep]. And, you know, he was indignant about that.

And I reiterated that they’ve wasted a whole month on these claims on the Dominion voting machines, and they were idiotic claims. And I specifically raised the Dominion voting machines, which I found to be among the most disturbing allegations — disturbing in the sense that I saw absolutely zero basis for the allegations. But they were made in such a sensational way that they obviously were influencing a lot of people, members of the public, that there was this systemic corruption in the system and that their votes didn’t count and that these machines, controlled by somebody else, were actually determining it, which was complete nonsense. And it was being laid out there. And I told them that it was — that it was crazy stuff and they were wasting their time on that, and it was doing grave disservice to the country.

REP. ZOE LOFGREN: OK. So, the very next day, the president released a video rehashing some of the very same claims that his chief law enforcement officer had told him were, quote, “nonsense.”

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Here’s an example. This is Michigan. At 6:31 in the morning, a vote dump of 149,772 votes came in unexpectedly. We were winning by a lot. That batch was received in horror. We have a company that’s very suspect. Its name is Dominion. With the turn of a dial or the change of a chip, you can press a button for Trump, and the vote goes to Biden. What kind of a system is this?

REP. ZOE LOFGREN: Barr again told the president that there was nothing to these claims on December 14th.

WILLIAM BARR: When I walked in, sat down, he went off on a monologue saying that there was now definitive evidence involving fraud through the Dominion machines, and a report had been prepared by a very reputable cybersecurity firm, which he identified as Allied Security Operations Group. And he held up the report. And he had a — and then he asked that a copy of it be made for me. And while a copy was being made, he said, you know, “This is absolute proof that the Dominion machines were rigged. The report means that I’m going to have a second term.”

And then he gave me a copy of the report. And as he talked more and more about it, I sat there flipping through the report and looking through it. And to be frank, it looked very amateurish to me, didn’t have the credentials of the people involved, but I didn’t see any real qualifications. And the statements were made very conclusory, like, you know, “These machines were designed to engage in fraud,” or something to that effect, but I didn’t see any supporting information for it.

And I was somewhat demoralized, because I thought, “Boy, if he really believes this stuff, he has, you know, lost contact with — with — he’s become detached from reality if he really believes this stuff.”

On the other hand, you know, when I went into this and would, you know, tell him how crazy some of these allegations were, there was never — there was never an indication of interest in what the actual facts were.

My opinion then and my opinion now is that the election was not stolen by fraud. And I haven’t seen anything since the election that changes my mind on that.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Attorney General William Barr. That deposition testimony was played in the second public hearing of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. Back with more in 30 seconds.

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