Donald Trump was becoming “detached from reality” during the 2020 election and clung to outlandish theories to stay in power, a committee investigating the US Capitol riots has been told.
The House of Representatives select committee has been looking into how and why the riots took place on 6 January last year.
On the second day of public hearings, the investigation heard how the former US president’s closest campaign advisers, senior government officials and even his family tried to dismantle his false claims of voter fraud on election night.
Mr Trump’s false claims of voter fraud fuelled his defeated efforts to overturn the election and provoked a mob of his supporters to storm the US Capitol.
Giving evidence to the committee on Monday, former Justice Department official Richard Donoghue recalled breaking down one claim after another and telling Mr Trump that “much of the info” he was receiving was “false”.
Some of the claims included a truckload of ballots being found in Pennsylvania, a “suspicious black suitcase” containing fake ballots, that turned out to be a local election lock box, in Georgia and computer chips being swapped into voting machines that automatically awarded Mr Trump votes to Joe Biden.
The Trump aides and advisers dismissed all of them as having no merit.
“He was becoming detached from reality,” said former attorney general William Barr, who also gave evidence to the committee.
Trump sided with ‘definitely intoxicated’ Giuliani
Instead of listening to his aides, the advisers said Mr Trump sided with a “definitely intoxicated” Rudy Giuliani to launch a movement that culminated in the 6 January attack.
Mr Giuliani, a former US attorney and New York City mayor, has been among Mr Trump’s supporters and made repeated claims that the election had been stolen.
Previously recorded evidence given by Mr Trump’s 2020 campaign manager Bill Stepien was played to the committee after he was forced to leave the hearing due to his wife going into labour.
In the clip, he described how the festive mood at the White House on election night quickly turned after Fox News announced Mr Trump had lost the state of Arizona to Joe Biden.
He told the committee that he and other aides viewed themselves as “Team Normal” as they tried to steer Mr Trump away from dubious fraud claims being peddled by Mr Giuliani.
Aides worked to counsel him on what to do next, but Mr Trump chose to listen to Mr Giuliani instead, who told him to declare a victory.
“My belief, my recommendation, was to say that votes were still being counted, it’s too early to tell, too early to call the race,” Mr Stepien said in his recorded evidence.
Mr Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner also tried to deter him from listening to Mr Giuliani, but he responded by saying he had confidence in the lawyer.
‘He intentionally misled his donors’
The committee also heard that – after the election – a series of Mr Trump’s fundraising appeals based on the allegation of voter fraud raised $250m (£200m).
Legal experts have said these fundraising activities could have been fraudulent.
Democratic Representative Zoe Lofgren said: “It’s clear that he intentionally misled his donors, asked them to donate to a fund that didn’t exist and used the money raised for something other than what he said.
“Now it’s for someone else to decide whether that’s criminal or not.”
The committee has interviewed 1,000 witnesses and compiled 140,000 documents as part of its investigation.
Legislators hope to show that Mr Trump’s effort to overturn Mr Biden’s election victory posed a grave threat to democracy.
Some members say they have uncovered enough evidence for the Justice Department to consider an unprecedented criminal indictment against the former president.