For those Republicans who have been watching the House select committee’s unceasing flagellation of Donald Trump, I offer up five critical takeaways from the hearings, which are scheduled to resume Thursday.
Your leaders, such as they are, have failed you and, in a botched attempt to curry Trump’s favor, also failed Trump. By blocking the Democrats’ proposal of a nonpartisan committee to investigate the January 6 assault on the Capitol, Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy and the gang allowed the House committee — with its seven Democrats and two anti-Trump Republicans — to lay out a devastating case against Trump, with no one dissenting and, markedly, no one there to defend Trump, assuming anyone could reasonably defend him.
Many of you may be dealing with cognitive dissonance issues. It must be hard to believe, on one hand, that the 2020 election was, in fact, stolen when faced with an array of inner-circle Trumpists testifying that they had repeatedly told Trump he had lost in what was a fair election. Some — notably former Attorney General Bill Barr — told the committee that if Trump actually believed the “crazy” stuff he was saying, he would have to either be “detached from reality” or, I guess, a complete fraud. There’s also the possibility, of course, that he’s both.
There was no reason for any of these advisers to lie under oath. In testifying, each of them had opened themselves to the charge of hypocrisy for not warning the country sooner that the Big Lie of a rigged election was, without question, the biggest lie since Richard Nixon was a pup. They could have gone public soon after Election Day, certainly before Trumpist insurrectionists descended on the Capitol, and, yes, by the time Trump was facing his second impeachment trial.
To his credit, Barr was among the first to say publicly that the election had not been rigged — at which point Trump told him, “You must hate Trump.” While it’s true that it’s easy to hate anyone who talks of himself in the third person, you have only to look at Barr’s sycophantic resignation letter to put that theory to the test. Or you can look at the fact that Barr had defended Trump over the years on a number of smaller Big Lies.
These officials told us, and Trump, that there was no suitcase full of fake ballots. There were few, if any, dead people voting in Philadelphia. When Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue was asked about the supposed 68% error rate of Michigan voting machines, he said the actual number was 0.0063%. Donoghue said that when he would explain to Trump how one crazy theory after another had been debunked, Trump would not argue, but simply move on to the next canard.
One of the most telling moments of Monday’s hearing came when Barr — whose testimony was taken from an earlier committee interview and shown on videotape — couldn’t keep from laughing when asked about the theory that the the long-dead Hugo Chavez, along with people in Italy and and Japan, had somehow manipulated the Dominion voting machines.
At this point, you have to either believe Trump and Rudy Guiliani, your lyin’ eyes or the many Trump advisers who testified that they had each told Trump the conspiracy theories were either “bullshit” (Barr’s favorite expression, apparently), “bogus,” “completely nuts,” “rubbish,” and on and on. Even a squirming Jared Kushner haltingly admitted to committee lawyers that he had warned Trump he might not want to go down the path forged by Giuliani.
There was much testimony about Election Night and the so-called red mirage. By late Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, it had become clear to political insiders that Trump was going to lose once the votes were all counted. The fact that Trump encouraged his voters not to use mail-in ballots made it certain that Trump would be in the lead until the mail-in ballots were counted. Trump understood this, which is why he kept saying once Election Day had come to an end, the vote counting should also end. When the vote turned, as expected, then came the Trumpian accusations of Democrats throwing away Trump ballots and of rounding up fake Biden ballots.
Trump had been warned about the red mirage effect before Election Night, during Election Night and after Election Night. The question for Trump was what to say to the nation before everyone went to sleep that Tuesday. His advisers, especially Trump’s campaign manager Bill Stepien, told Trump he should definitely not declare victory as an apparently inebriated Giuliani had been telling him to do.
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Of course, Trump went with Rudy instead of the advice from what Stepien would come to call his guys, Team Normal. Most of Team Normal was gone soon after the election, to be replaced by Sidney Powell, by the MyPillow guy, by the rest of the crazies. But for all of Stepien’s also videotaped testimony — he was supposed to appear, but his wife apparently had just gone into labor — berating Rudy and of warning Trump, Stepien is now managing the Wyoming campaign of Rep. Liz Cheney’s primary opponent, who says “we don’t know” if the 2020 election was legitimate.
Few of the witnesses Monday came off well. The Philadelphia Republican election official Al Schmidt was one who did. When he said he found no fraud, Trump personally sent out a tweet naming Schmidt, which prompted Trump supporters to then dox him, putting not only Schmidt at risk, but also his family. He had a great quote, though, on Giuliani’s claim to the Pennsylvania state legislature of 8,000 dead people voting in the state. Said Schmidt: “Not only was there not evidence of 8,000 dead voters voting in Pennsylvania, there wasn’t evidence of eight.”
And then there was Fox election guru Chris Stirewalt who called Arizona for Biden before the other networks. He explained to the panel how he had come to his conclusion, which he said was obvious, but which didn’t stop Fox News from firing him. Fox had to get back on the Big Lie bandwagon, meaning Stirewalt had to go.
Deep Throat’s famous Watergate “follow the money” quote was actually never said by Mark Felt, who was eventually revealed to have been Deep Throat. The quote wasn’t in the Woodard-Bernstein book, but came from the script of the movie “All the President’s Men.”
But follow the money we must. Near the end of Monday’s hearing, we heard a bombshell accusation about the $250 million Trump had raised off the Big Lie — after sending out millions of emails asking donors to contribute to an “Official Election Defense Fund.” A couple of problems here. Seems the fund was nonexistent, and the money, for the most part, ended up in Trump’s newly created Save America PAC. As Rep. Zoe Lofgren put it, “Not only was there the Big Lie, there was the Big Ripoff.”
And to top it off, the committee investigators found that the PAC made contributions to organizations that happened to employ former Trumpers, also to the Trump Hotel Collection, and, of course, to the company that organized the January 6 rally at the Ellipse.
I have no idea how these hearings are playing with those Republicans who consider themselves on Team Normal, or if any are actually watching them. In a fascinating analysis by the Washington Post, it seems Republicans have nominated at least 108 candidates for Congress or statewide office who have parroted the Big Lie. And if you add in those who say election rules must be tightened, the number goes to 149 out of more than 170 races held by the end of May.
We’ll get some idea about Colorado Republicans after the June 28 primary elections, when virtually every race includes election deniers, non-deniers or (talking to you, Heidi Ganahl) no commenters. Could non-zealot Republicans watch these hearings and still vote for, say, Tina Peters or Ron Hanks?
I know what Bill Barr would say. It all depends on how detached from reality they are.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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