Donald Trump was well aware he lost the 2020 Presidential Election, despite having mobilized his supporters around the country through his repeated insistence the election was “stolen” from him, according to the House committee’s investigation into the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.
The explosive court filing is seeking to obtain documents from attorney John Eastman, a Trump ally largely credited with helping him form his legal basis to overturn the 2020 election results, who the committee alleges is refusing to comply with a subpoena on the unfounded grounds of client-attorney privilege.
This comes as the first time the panel made the case that Trump and his team “engaged in a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States,” largely on the basis that Trump knew he did, in fact, lose the election.
Not only was the former president of the United States told “in pretty blunt terms” by experts that he would lose the election soon after the polls closed, but his allies at the time, including former Attorney General William Barr before his resignation, Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue, along with various campaign staff, senior advisors and elections experts, all told him at various moments in the weeks ahead that there had been no evidence to support his claim of voter fraud, officials said.
All of his losses in more than 60 lawsuits across seven states, in which he and his team took their accusations of voter fraud to court, supported the claim that he was aware of his loss, the documents read.
Trump, however, continued to falsely insist he “won the election by a landslide,” – words which the court documents called an effort to share “dangerous misinformation to the public.”
In fact, he “began to lay the groundwork to cast doubts on the results” before the election even took place.
Here’s why authorities say that matters:
A Potential Criminal Case Against Trump
For the first time, the House committee outlined what could eventually become the basis of a criminal case against Trump – that his continued insistence of his victory in the 2020 election while being aware he lost was not only stubbornness or ignorance, but “criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States,” the filing read.
The claim, however, may prove difficult to support in court, according to a New York Times analysis.
A Campaign of Misinformation
The court filing argues that as a response to evidence that he did not in fact win the 2020 Presidential Election, Trump and his team began “extra-judicial efforts to overturn the results of the election,” which primarily consisted of “an aggressive public misinformation campaign to persuade millions of Americans that the election had in fact been stolen,” which included advertisements with false information, the report said.
“Seventy percent or so of Republicans believe that the last election was stolen from Trump. That’s a … falsehood that has the same functional role of mobilizing and radicalizing people,” Thomas Homer-Dixon, executive director of the Royal Roads University’s Cascade Institute, told Digital.
Homer-Dixon is one of the world’s leading experts on threats to global security and has been observing potential threats to American democracy for several decades.
Homer-Dixon’s sentiment was echoed by the House committee, which found that “the violent rioters who attacked police, breached the Capitol, and obstructed and impeded the electoral vote were provoked by President Trump’s fraudulent campaign to persuade the American people that the election was in fact stolen,” the court filing read.
That also led people to “plan for violence,” including traveling to the Washington, D.C., accumulating weaponry and placing pipe bombs, the document said.
An Attempt at Corrupting
Early January 2021, Trump and his team reached out to various state officials, sharing “unsubstantiated allegations of election fraud,” requesting that they “disregard popular election results” and urged them to “‘decertify’ the election results in their states,” the document detailed.
One of those conversations included one famously held with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, asking that he “find 11,780 votes” in favor of Trump for president.
The panel also claims that Trump and his team attempted to corrupt the Department of Justice, attempting to elevate his political appointee to the role of Acting Attorney General, knowing that he supported the false notion the election results were incorrect.
Additionally, in the days ahead of Jan. 6, leading up to the day itself, Trump aggressively attempted to “instruct, direct or pressure” Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to count votes or reject electors before he and his team made Pence the center of Trump’s loss as the mob flooded the U.S. Capitol building, according to the document.
Trump’s Role in Jan. 6
The House committee’s latest report also alleges various actions Trump took as the assault on the Capitol was underway.
While rioters stormed the building Pence and other House Representatives were in, Trump tweeted, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution … USA Demands the truth!”
Investigators found that rioters “reacted to this tweet, resulting in further violence at the Capitol,” including demands “for the Vice President to be hanged,” according to the document.
Trump largely ignored pleas to ask the rioters to stop the siege that afternoon, until hours later when he issued a video in which he said, “[w]e love you, you’re very special” and later tweeting, “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously and viciously stripped from great patriots.”
The report added that the attack resulted in multiple deaths, hundreds of injuries and widespread trauma among government employees, Members of Congress and press.
The House committee’s investigation into the events of the day continues.
Meanwhile, Trump’s Allies Disperse
As the House committee investigation continues, and allies like Eastman come under fire, those once close to Trump like former Attorney General William Barr seem to have distanced themselves from their former political ally.
In an excerpt of his upcoming memoir, published by the Wall Street Journal, the Republican attorney recounted the moment he broke the news to Trump that there had been no election fraud, and that he would not serve a second term.
The excerpt read, “‘You must hate Trump. You would only do this if you hate Trump.’ ‘No, Mr. President, I don’t hate you,’ I said. ‘You know I sacrificed a lot personally to come in to help you when I thought you were being wronged.’ The president nodded, almost involuntarily conceding the point. ‘But over the weekend, you started blaming the department for the inability of your legal team to come up with evidence of fraud. The department is not an extension of your legal team. Our mission is to investigate and prosecute actual fraud. The fact is, we have looked at the major claims your people are making, and they are bulls***.’”
Critics, however, have said that Barr’s upcoming memoir about his time serving as attorney general under both former President George H.W. Bush and Trump may sanitize the truth of what may have happened.
An article published on MSNBC said, in light of many previous instances Barr has sided with Trump’s election conspiracy theories, his recollection of his support for a peaceful transition of power was a way for Barr to “rehabilitate his image,” while another article published by The Guardian said various controversies were not acknowledged in his memoir at all.
Homer-Dixon told Digital that if Trump runs for president again, he stands a real chance at winning, which would be detrimental to democracy in the United States.
Homer-Dixon said Trump’s likely goals in a second term are driven by “vindication and vengeance,” and that a second Trump administration could prove significantly more destabilizing than the first. “He’s administratively incompetent, but people consistently underestimated his charismatic ability, his demagogic ability,” Homer-Dixon said. “He has this capacity to connect emotionally with his followers in an absolutely vivid, direct way.”
An even more serious problem, however, would be if there were once again doubts as to who the winner is, like Trump and his team attempted to cast following the 2020 Presidential Election.
“Major violence is most likely only if the next election is contested; [if] it’s not clear who won and the side that ultimately loses doesn’t accept the result,” he said.
Hypothesizing about the most extreme outcome possible, he said, “Perhaps the military splits along partisan lines, and you get different portions of the military lining up on different sites. That’s a very dangerous situation.”