On Monday, the committee began the focused — but no less important — work of substantiating each element of its case.
With Rep. Zoe Lofgren joining the panel’s chairman and vice chair, Reps. Bennie Thompson and Liz Cheney, in presenting the case, the committee began with opening statements and one of its patented video montages.
The preliminaries showed that Trump’s efforts to spread disinformation and seed false claims of fraud started months before the election, in the spring of 2020. Trump’s pre-election speeches, statements and screeds attacking mail-in ballots were woven together with video of witnesses from Trump’s orbit. Before the first live witness had spoken, the committee sought to establish that heading into Election Day, Trump and his allies had every intention to claim fraud if they lost — and were planning to do so whether there was any evidence of fraud or not.
The committee has been known for its thoroughness, and it paid off here, particularly with Stepien. He had been scheduled to appear in person but was unable to do so when his wife went into labor. Instead, his earlier videotaped interview was shown, and the panel used it to devastating effect.
Stepien offered an unusual inside view into the campaign and the White House, including testimony that Trump knew initial returns immediately on and after Election Day would be positive for him because more Democrats vote by mail and therefore their ballots are counted later — and that the campaign and White House advisers all told Trump there was no basis to declare victory on election night based on those early returns.
Stirewalt’s testimony discussed what happened within Fox News when his team called Arizona on election night for Biden. His overall takeaway was that Trump had lost, and there was no basis to think otherwise by the time the election was called several days later.
The most damning evidence of all came from Barr. He polished off the first panel of Monday’s hearing with extensive video testimony explaining that he told Trump again and again that the allegations of fraud were false after the election. Barr recounted telling Trump that his election fraud claims were “not panning out” and were “crazy.”
Monday was not the typical congressional hearing with long speeches. Despite a delay occasioned by Stepien’s absence, the day’s first panel was a little over an hour long. After a 10-minute break, the committee was back at it, with a one-two punch in an attempt to prove Trump’s malign intent.
The committee’s primary job is to get the truth out to the American people and recommend steps to ensure such an insurrection does not happen again. It has already made great strides in that direction, with much more expected to come. Trump, in pushing a bogus “Stop the Steal” narrative, was tricking and manipulating his supporters and gaming the system to stay in the White House, even though he lost — and he had to know it.
As important as Monday’s presentation was, it was just the first of the alleged seven-part conspiracy the committee has laid out of the attempt to overturn the election, culminating in the January 6 insurrection. Next, the committee will set out to show Trump’s plan to replace the acting attorney general so that the Justice Department would support his false fraud claims.
We are still at the beginning of the story. But the two hearings so far make it clear that in the coming weeks we will receive a voluminously supported and tightly woven story of a carefully planned attack on American democracy — and a potential criminal conspiracy.