Many of former President Donald Trump’s own officials knew that his false claims about the 2020 election were false. In some cases, they told him to his face that his information was wrong.
Testimony to the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol has revealed that it wasn’t only journalists, elections officials and Democrats who were rejecting Trump’s lies about what happened in the election he lost but claimed to win. People Trump selected for important positions, from his campaign manager to the US attorney general, were also saying – mostly in private – that Trump’s fraud allegations were baseless.
The January 6 hearings are ongoing, and the public has only seen committee-selected video clips of certain former officials’ testimony. We know that some other figures in Trump’s orbit were joining him in promoting lies about the election, not rejecting those lies.
But the hearings have already shown that Trump’s government appointees or people on his campaign dismissed at least 10 of his false claims – from the overarching lie that the election was stolen to various specific tales about what happened in swing states he lost.
Here’s a list.
Trump has incessantly repeated the false claim that the election was stolen from him – baselessly insisting that he would have been returned to the White House if not for massive fraud and other nefarious Democratic behavior.
But William Barr, who served as attorney general under Trump, testified to the committee: “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 bullshit.” Barr testified that “my opinion then and my opinion now is that the election was not stolen by fraud.”
Richard Donoghue, who served as principal associate deputy attorney general and then as acting deputy attorney general, also testified that claims of major fraud were untrue – and that he told Trump directly: “I said something to the effect of, ‘Sir, we’ve done dozens of investigations, hundreds of interviews. The major allegations are not supported by the evidence developed. We’ve looked at Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nevada. We’re doing our job. Much of the info you’re getting is false.’”
Jeffrey Rosen, who served as deputy attorney general and then briefly, after Barr’s resignation in December 2020, as acting attorney general, said that when Trump would cite a supposed election impropriety, claiming that “people are telling me this” or “I heard this” or “I saw on television,” they could correct him: “We were in a position to say, ‘Our people already looked at that. And we know that you’re getting bad information. That’s – that’s not correct. It’s been demonstrated to be incorrect from our point of view. It’s been debunked.”
Derek Lyons, who was White House staff secretary and counselor to Trump, testified that, at a meeting about a month and a half after Election Day, top White House lawyers Pat Cipollone and Eric Herschmann “told the group, the President included, that, you know, none of those allegations had been substantiated to the point where they could be the basis for any litigation challenge to the election.”
Alex Cannon, who was a lawyer for the Trump campaign, testified that he told Vice President Mike Pence at the White House in November 2020 that he had not found “anything sufficient to alter the results of the election” and that he had told White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on a November 2020 call that “we weren’t finding anything that would be sufficient to change the results in any of the key states.”
Matt Morgan, who was the Trump campaign’s general counsel, testified that, as of early January 2021, he and top Pence advisers – chief of staff Marc Short and attorney Greg Jacob – were in agreement that even “if aggregated and read most favorably to the campaign,” election “fraud, maladministration, abuse or irregularities” were “not sufficient to be outcome-determinative.”
Trump falsely claimed in a speech on Election Night that he had won the election because he had leads in the vote counts in several key states. Trump used similar language in his rally speech on January 6, 2021 – claiming that “our election was over at 10 o’clock in the evening,” when the vote counts showed him leading in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia, but “then late in the evening or early in the morning, boom, these explosions of bullshit.”
But it was clear to other key figures in Trump’s orbit – as it was to millions of others – that his leads in the early Election Night count, as millions of votes remained uncounted, did not mean he had won. Bill Stepien, who was Trump’s campaign manager, testified that Election Night was “too early to call the race”: “It was far too early to be making any calls like that. Ballots – ballots were still being counted. Ballots were still going to be counted for days.”
Stepien said he had explained to Trump that early returns would be “positive,” but they would then have a long night waiting for the counting of additional ballots. The fact that states’ vote counts got worse for Trump as the hours went by, Barr said, was not indicative of fraud: Barr noted that “people had been talking for weeks, and everyone understood for weeks, that that was going to be what happened on Election Night.”
Indeed, Jason Miller, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, testified that people at the White House on Election Night were a little nervous to see what would happen with “the red wave or the red mirage.” Red mirage was a term media outlets had been citing for months to explain that early results would almost certainly be misleadingly favorable to Trump because it would take time for states to count the mail-in ballots Trump had warned his own supporters against using.
Miller testified that he recalled saying on Election Night “that we should not go and declare victory until we had a better sense of the numbers.” Ivanka Trump, Trump’s daughter and senior adviser, testified that she didn’t know if she had held a “firm view” about what Trump should say on Election Night, but she added, “The results were still being counted. It was becoming clear that the race would not be called on Election Night.”
Trump tweeted in December 2020 that there were “MORE VOTES THAN ACTUAL VOTERS” in Philadelphia. He repeated that claim in a January 2022 interview with NPR, though he phrased it as a question.
Barr testified that the claim was “absolute rubbish.” (In reality, about two-thirds of Philadelphia’s registered voters cast a ballot in the 2020 election.) Barr added: “The turnout in Philadelphia was in line with the state’s turnout and in fact it was not as – as impressive as many suburban counties. And there was nothing strange about the Philadelphia turnout. It wasn’t like there was all these unexpected votes that came out in Philadelphia.”
Trump tweeted in late November 2020 to promote a graphic that suggested Pennsylvania had recorded far more mail-in votes in the general election than the number of mail-in ballots it had actually distributed to voters. Trump added, “The 1,126,940 votes were created out of thin air.”
But the graphic was plain wrong; the supposed 1,126,940 extra votes did not exist at all, as Pennsylvania journalists quickly explained. The graphic – which had been posted by Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano, now the Republican gubernatorial nominee, improperly contrasted numbers from the November 2020 general election with numbers from the state’s June 2020 primaries.
Barr explained in his testimony that Mastriano had been comparing apples to oranges. “Once you actually go and look and compare apples to apples, there’s no discrepancy at all,” he said.
In December 2020, Trump tweeted out a video clip featuring a Fox interview with a truck driver who claimed he had been unwittingly used in a scheme to transport numerous completed mail-in ballots from New York to Pennsylvania.
Donoghue testified that he told Trump: “I essentially said, ‘Look, we looked at that allegation. We looked at both ends, both the people who load the truck and the people unload the truck. And that allegation was not supported by the evidence.”
Trump and some of his allies made multiple false claims about the election technology provided by a company called Dominion Voting Systems. They inaccurately alleged that Dominion technology had switched Trump votes to Biden votes in large numbers and that Dominion was a company founded in Venezuela to rig elections for late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. (Dominion is pursuing a series of defamation lawsuits over such claims; the company was actually founded in Canada, is not connected to Chavez, and did not flip or otherwise manipulate 2020 votes.)
Barr testified: “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 a great, grave disservice to the country.”
Barr added of Trump and Dominion: “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.” Barr also said of Trump: “There was never an indication of interest in what the actual facts were.”
Cannon testified that he told Trump adviser Peter Navarro in mid-November 2020 that he “didn’t believe the Dominion allegations.” And Herschmann dismissed various theories put forward by lawyer Sidney Powell, who promoted a variety of conspiracy theories about election technology and foreign interference. (Powell is one of the people being sued by Dominion.) Herschmann called at least one theory “completely nuts” – it wasn’t clear in the clip shown by the committee which theory he was referring to – and scoffed at claims about “Hugo Chavez and the Venezuelans.”
Trump tweeted in December 2020 to claim that there was a “68% error rate in Michigan Voting Machines” – exaggerating a conspiratorial consultant’s finding, about a single Michigan county, that was itself quickly debunked by Michigan media.
Donoghue, too, rejected the “68% error rate” claim. He testified of a conversation with Trump: “And then I went into, for instance, this thing from Michigan, this report about ’68% error rate.’ Reality is it was only 0.0063% error rate, less than 1 in 15,000. So the President accepted that. He said, ‘OK, fine, but what about the others?’”
Trump falsely claimed in his January 6, 2021, rally speech that, in Arizona, “over 36,000 ballots were illegally cast by non-citizens.”
Stepien testified that the claim that “thousands of illegal citizens, people not eligible to vote” had cast Arizona ballots was a “wild claim” that “on its face didn’t seem, you know, realistic or possible to me.” He said that after asking Cannon to look into the claim, it turned out “the reality of that was not illegal citizens voting in the election” but rather that the votes were cast by “people who were eligible to vote.”
Trump and some of his allies, notably including lawyer Rudy Giuliani, repeatedly made false claims about fraud they insisted had been committed by elections workers in Fulton County, Georgia, home to Atlanta. Trump declared in his January 6, 2021, rally speech that workers had pulled “suitcases of ballots out from under a table” and illegally scanned “tens of thousands of votes.”
Donoghue testified that he debunked the claim at length to Trump: “The President kept fixating on this suitcase that supposedly had fraudulent ballots and that the suitcase was rolled out from under the table. And I said, ‘No sir, there is no suitcase.’ You can watch that video over and over. There is no suitcase. There is a wheeled bin where they carry the ballots, and that’s just how they move ballots around that facility. There’s nothing suspicious about that at all. I told him that there was no multiple scanning of the ballots – one of the – one part of that allegation was that they were taking one ballot and scanning it through three or four or five times to rack up votes, presumably for Vice President Biden. I told him that the video did not support that.”
Byung “BJay” Pak, a Trump-appointed former US attorney in Georgia who was previously a Republican state legislator, testified that the supposed “suitcase” was actually an “official lockbox” for storing ballots at that facility and that the full video disproved the fraud claims Giuliani had tried to promote by showing Georgia legislators a limited section of the footage. Pak, who resigned in January 2021, testified: “We interviewed – the FBI interviewed – the individuals that are depicted in the videos, that purportedly were double, triple counting of the ballots, and determined that nothing irregular happened in the counting, and the allegations made by Mr. Giuliani were false.”
Trump has seized on a movie called “2000 Mules,” made by a right-wing filmmaker, that claims to contain proof of a major fraudulent scheme involving Democrats and the submission of mail-in ballots at drop boxes. Trump has suggested that the movie proves his assertion that the election was rigged.
But similar to numerous others who have pointed out major holes in “2000 Mules,” Barr described the movie’s purported cell phone evidence as “singularly unimpressive,” said its purported photo evidence was “lacking,” and noted that it “didn’t establish widespread illegal harvesting” of ballots.