At the second hearing of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, former President Donald Trump’s top aides testified that they told him his claims of election fraud were baseless. What Trump characterized as “fraud” was just part of the “normal process,” as former Attorney General William Barr said in one instance.
Even so, Trump continued to repeat his false claims of fraud — beginning on election night, when he declared victory against his top campaign aides’ advice, and continuing until this day.
In taped testimony played at the June 13 committee hearing, Jason Miller, a top Trump campaign adviser, said he spoke with Rudy Giuliani, a former mayor of New York City and top Trump confidant, on election night. Giuliani, who testified that he spoke to Trump several times on election night, wanted the president to “declare victory and say that we won it outright,” Miller said.
“I think effectively, Mayor Giuliani was saying, ‘We won it. They’re stealing it from us. Where’d all the votes come from? We need to go say that we won,'” Miller said. “And essentially to anyone who didn’t agree with that position was being weak.”
Miller and Bill Stepien, Trump’s campaign manager, advised the president not to declare victory. Stepien recalled telling Trump that “it was going to be a process” to count the ballots and declare a victor.
“I recounted back to that conversation with him in which I said — just like I said in 2016 it was going to be a long night,” Stepien said. “I told him in 2020 that, you know, there were — it was going to be a — a process again. As, you know, the early returns are going to be, you know, positive. Then we’re going to, you know, be watching the returns of — of [mail-in] ballots as, you know, they rolled in thereafter.”
As we wrote prior to the election, there’s nothing unusual about counting mail-in ballots after an election. Most states don’t start counting mail-in ballots until Election Day — including 16 states that don’t start counting until after the polls close, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
And there is nothing unusual about those ballots disproportionately going to Democratic candidates. “In the 40 or 50 years, let’s say, that Americans have increasingly chosen to vote by mail or early or absentee, Democrats prefer that method of voting more than Republicans do,” Chris Stirewalt, a former Fox News political editor, explained at the committee hearing. “So in every election and certainly a national election, you expect to see the Republican with a lead, but it’s not really a lead.”
Knowing all of this, Stepien told the president not to declare victory. “It was far too early to be making any calls like that,” he said. “Ballots — ballots were still being counted. Ballots were still going to be counted for days. And it was far too early to be making any proclamation like that.”
But the president disagreed with his campaign manager. “I don’t recall the particular words,” Stepien said of Trump. “He thought I was wrong. He told me so.”
Shortly before 2:30 a.m. on Nov. 4, Trump gave a speech at the White House, falsely claiming, “We did win this election.” With millions of votes still to be counted in several too-close-to-call states, Trump called for “all voting to stop” and claimed continuing to count mail ballots would “disenfranchise” the people who voted for him.
“This is a fraud on the American public,” Trump said. “This is an embarrassment to our country.” (For more, read “Trump’s Falsehood-Filled Speech on the Election,” Nov. 4, 2020.)
Here, we will review some specific allegations of voter fraud that Trump continued to spread, even though top aides told him that they were untrue and without evidence.
‘There Are No Suitcases’
The Jan. 6 committee played a portion of taped testimony from Richard Donoghue, who was deputy attorney general under Trump. Donoghue recalled how he tried “to put it in very clear terms to the president” that “major allegations” of fraud in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Nevada were “not supported by the evidence.”
Donoghue said he gave Trump specific examples of baseless allegations of fraud, including one false claim about a video that purported to show election workers bringing thousands of illegal ballots stuffed in “suitcases” into the State Farm Arena in Atlanta, which served as a ballot processing site, on election night.
“I said, OK, well with regard to Georgia, we looked at the tape, we interviewed the witnesses. There is no suitcase. The president kept fixating on this suitcase that supposedly had fraudulent ballots, and 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 carried the ballots. And that’s just how they moved ballots around that facility. There’s nothing suspicious about that at all.'”
That conversation, according to court documents, occurred in a Dec. 27, 2020, phone call. Four days later, Donoghue “again debunked this claim directly to the President,” the committee said in that document, citing Donoghue’s testimony.
Jeffrey Rosen, the acting attorney general under Trump after William Barr resigned, said in testimony taken Aug. 7, 2021, that Trump also asked about the suitcases at a Dec. 15, 2020, meeting. Donoghue and White House aides attended the meeting.
“The president started delivering remarks that, honestly, to me, seemed pretty consistent with the kinds of things that he was putting in the public domain; the election was unfair, there was fraud, bad things happened in Pennsylvania and Georgia,” Rosen said. “And for a while, he did most of the talking. But then when he sort of walked through ‘People are telling me this, people are telling me that,’ we said, ‘Well, people are telling you things that are not right. This is not accurate.’ And so he said, ‘Well, what about this? I saw it on the videotape, somebody delivering a suitcase of ballots.’ And we said, ‘It wasn’t a suitcase. It was a bin. That’s what they use when they’re counting ballots. It’s benign.”
Even though his top Justice Department officials told him that there were no suitcases filled with illegal ballots, Trump repeated the bogus story at the “Save America” rally on Jan. 6, 2021. (Trump mentions Fulton County, which is where Atlanta is located.)
Trump, Jan. 6, 2021: In Fulton County, Republican poll watchers were rejected, in some cases physically, from the room under the false pretense of a pipe burst. Water main burst, everybody leave. Which we now know was a total lie. Then election officials pull boxes — Democrats — and suitcases of ballots out from under a table. You all saw it on television, totally fraudulent. And illegally scanned them for nearly two hours, totally unsupervised. Tens of thousands of votes, this act coincided with a mysterious vote dump of up to 100,000 votes for Joe Biden, almost none for Trump. Oh, that sounds fair.
Trump was wrong about the timing of the water leak.
As we reported, the water leak at the arena in Atlanta occurred on Election Day at 6:07 a.m., according to the arena, and it was fixed within two hours — meaning it happened long before the farcical tale of smuggled suitcases.
Update, Aug. 1, 2023: On June 20, the Georgia secretary of state’s office released an investigative report concluding that there was “no evidence” of any fraud regarding the claim that “suitcases” of illegal ballots were counted on election night. Investigators from the FBI, Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the secretary of state’s office interviewed Fulton County election workers and reviewed “the entire unedited security video footage of the events in question” in response to a complaint referred by a state senator and specifically naming two election night workers in the video, Ruby Freeman and her daughter, Wandrea “Shaye” Moss.
“There was no evidence of any type of fraud as alleged. … All allegations made against Freeman and Moss were unsubstantiated and found to have no merit,” the report, dated March 7, concluded.
In congressional testimony, the two women described how they had been harassed and received death threats after members of the Trump campaign and others pushed false claims that they had engaged in voter fraud. Freeman and Moss filed a defamation suit against One America News Network and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
OANN settled the suit in May. A July 25 court filing by Giuliani said he “does not contest” that statements he made about the women were false, but he argues the statements were “constitutionally protected” speech. A political adviser to Giuliani told news organizations that Giuliani “did not acknowledge that the statements were false but did not contest it in order to move on to the portion of the case that will permit a motion to dismiss.”
‘Zero Basis’ for Dominion Allegations
In an interview with the Jan. 6 committee, Barr, who served as attorney general for Trump from Feb. 14, 2019, until Dec. 23, 2020, said the president’s repeated false claims about widespread election fraud were getting “under my skin.” He added, “I also felt it was time for me to say something.”
So, Barr said he set up an exclusive lunch interview on Dec. 1, 2020, with Associated Press reporter Mike Balsamo. Barr said to Balsamo: “To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.”
Barr told the committee that he had a scheduled meeting later that afternoon with Trump, and in light of his comments to the AP, Barr said, “I thought I would probably be fired.” Barr said Trump was very angry with him. “You didn’t have to say this,” Barr said Trump told him. “You must have said this because you hate Trump.”
Barr said that he tried to dispel some of the voting fraud theories being floated by Trump and some members of his team, which included claims about Dominion Voting Systems (some of which we at FactCheck.org had debunked as well).
Barr, interview with the Jan. 6 committee: I reiterated that they’d wasted a whole month on these claims on the Dominion voting machines, and they were idiotic claims. And I specifically raised the Dominion voting machines, which I found to be among the most disturbing allegations, disturbing in the sense that 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 him that it was — it was crazy stuff and they were wasting their time on that. And it was doing grave disservice to the country.
Nonetheless, in a speech the very next day, Trump continued to make false claims about Dominion.
Trump, Dec. 2, 2020: And on top of everything else, we have a company that’s very suspect. It’s name is Dominion. With a turn of a dial, or the change of a chip, you can press a button for Trump and the vote goes to Biden. What kind of a system is this? We have to go to paper. Maybe it takes longer. But the only secure system is paper, not these systems that nobody understands including in many cases the people that run them. Although, unfortunately, I think they understand them far too well.
In one Michigan county, as an example, that used Dominion systems, they found that nearly 6,000 votes had been wrongly switched from Trump to Biden. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. This is what we caught. How many didn’t we catch? … And frankly, when you look at who’s running the company, who’s in charge, who owns it, which we don’t know, where are the votes counted, which we think are counted in foreign countries, not in the United States. Dominion is a disaster.
Barr said he told Trump again on Dec. 14, 2020, that there was nothing to his claims about Dominion. Barr said Trump cited a Dec. 13, 2020, report from a cybersecurity firm, Allied Security Operations Group, that provided “definitive evidence” of fraud in Antrim County, Michigan, and said he was convinced it would result in the election being flipped in his favor. Barr said the report looked amateurish, and he worried that Trump “has become detached from reality if he really believes this stuff.”
Barr: When I walked in, sat down, he went off on a monologue, saying that there was now definitive evidence involving fraud through the Dominion machines, and a report had been prepared by a very reputable cybersecurity firm, which he identified as Allied Security Operations Group. And he held up the report and then he asked that a copy of it be made for me. And while a copy was being made, he said, you know, this is absolute proof that the Dominion machines were rigged. “The report means that I am going to have a second term.” And then he gave me a copy of the report.
And as he talked more and more about it, I sat there flipping through the report and looking through it. And, to be frank, it looked very amateurish to me. Didn’t have the credentials of the people involved. But I didn’t see any real qualifications. And the statements were made very conclusory like, these machines were designed to engage in fraud or something to that effect, but I didn’t see any supporting information for it. And I was somewhat demoralized because I thought, boy, if he really believes this stuff, he has — you know, lost contact with — he has become detached from reality if he really believes this stuff.
On the other hand, you know, when I went into this and would, you know, tell him how crazy some of these allegations were, there was never — there was never an indication of interest in what the actual facts were. My opinion then and my opinion now is that the election was not stolen by fraud. And I haven’t seen anything since the election that changes my mind on that.
We wrote about the Allied Security Operations Group’s faulty report on Dec. 18, 2020. Specifically, the report claimed that Dominion Voting Systems software used in Antrim County, Michigan, was “intentionally and purposefully designed with inherent errors to create systemic fraud and influence election results.” But a hand recount of paper ballots cast in the county verified the election results there.
The Jan. 6 committee also interviewed White House lawyer Eric Herschmann, who told the committee, “I thought the Dominion stuff was — I never saw any evidence whatsoever to sustain those allegations.” But there was no indication whether he told Trump that.
In his Jan. 2, 2021, phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Trump made a vague reference to Dominion tampering, saying, “They’re changing the equipment on the, ah, on the Dominion machines.”
But Raffensperger dismissed that.
“I don’t believe that you’re really questioning the, uh, the Dominion machines, because we did a hand re-tally, a 100% re-tally of all the ballots and compared that to what the machines said, and, and it came up with virtually the same result,” Raffensperger told Trump. “Then we did the recount, and we got virtually the same result, so I, I guess we could probably take that off the table.”
Yet, despite the warnings from Barr that his claims about Dominion were wrong, and dangerous, and from Raffensperger that hand recounts debunked the claims, Trump continued to repeat them.
At the Jan. 6, 2021, “Save America” rally, Trump insisted Dominion machines switched votes from him to Biden, and cost him the election.
“In addition, there is the highly troubling matter of Dominion Voting Systems,” Trump told his supporters. “In one Michigan County alone, 6,000 votes were switched from Trump to Biden and the same systems are used in the majority of states in our country.”
As we said, a hand recount confirmed the results there.
More on That ‘Amateurish’ Report
Rosen and Donoghue also recounted in testimony how they had tried to dispel a claim about a 68% error rate in Antrim County, Michigan — another allegation made in what Barr had called the “amateurish” report, rooted in baseless assertions about Dominion software.
In his August 2021 testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Rosen said the issue of Antrim County had been raised in the Dec. 15 White House meeting with Trump, Donoghue, the Department of Homeland Security’s Ken Cuccinelli and others. Rosen said the meeting was “an opportunity for us to reiterate what AG Barr had said: There was no evidence of widespread fraud on a substantial scale.”
“There was this open issue as to the Michigan report,” Rosen said of the meeting, referring to the disputed report produced by Allied Security Operations Group, which was founded by a Republican Trump supporter in Texas. “And — I think it was Mr. Cuccinelli, not certain, but had indicated that there was a hand recount. And I think he said, ‘That’s the gold standard.’ So we just dropped that, and the hand recount was going on. It was not being done by either DOJ or DHS. It would be done, and that will be that.”
Rosen said that issue “was resolved a few days later when it was reported the hand recount confirmed the result.”
The Dec. 17, 2020, hand count of the ballots cast in Antrim County verified the outcome of the election as previously tallied by the voting machines. As we’ve reported, the hand count, conducted by bipartisan election officials, confirmed that Trump beat then-President-elect Joe Biden by about 3,800 votes in a county with more than 15,700 votes cast for president. The audit showed a gain of a mere 11 votes for Trump and a loss of one for Biden.
The focus on Antrim County by purveyors of election falsehoods was sparked by a quickly corrected clerical error in the unofficial election results. As we’ve explained before, a day after the Nov. 3, 2020, election, the county reported that Biden was ahead of Trump by about 3,000 votes, with 98% of precincts reporting. Election officials were surprised, given Antrim is a Republican-leaning county, and quickly found it was a case of human error. A correction to the unofficial totals was made the next day, on Nov. 5.
The county clerk, Sheryl Guy, a Republican, “accidentally did not update the software used to collect voting machine data,” the Michigan Department of State, which oversees the state’s elections, said in a statement. Guy said the error would have been caught during the canvass process when certifying votes. “I must emphasize that the human error did not in any way or form, shape or form, affect the official election results of Antrim County,” she said at a state legislative hearing.
As for the specific claim about a 68% error rate, that “is based on a lack of understanding of the voting system,” Ryan Macias, former acting director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission Voting System Testing and Certification Program, wrote in a rebuttal to the report produced by the Trump supporter. Macias submitted his assessment to Michigan and federal legislators.
Ten days after the hand recount, in the Dec. 27, 2020, phone call with Trump, Donoghue also told the president that the Michigan claim was false.
“We’re doing our job. Much of the info you’re getting is false,” Donoghue told the Jan. 6 committee about his 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?'”
But, as we’ve said, Trump continued to promote bogus claims about Antrim County in his Jan. 6, 2021, rally, and he’s still at it.
In a 12-page statement released on June 13, the day of the second Jan. 6 committee hearing, Trump said: “Jocelyn Benson, the Michigan Secretary of State asserted the error was simply a clerical error, because the clerk failed to update the Mancelona Township tabulator prior to Election Night for a down ballot race, and that the correct count was always on the tabulator tape. She insisted that the Antrim County Clerk simply made a mistake, and this was not a cause to look closer at every county in Michigan.”
Trump cited a lawsuit that was launched by a Michigan man, William Bailey, aiming to get a third-party audit of the Dominion voting equipment in Antrim County. A state circuit court judge dismissed the suit on May 18, 2021. In April, the court of appeals affirmed the dismissal. The appeals court wrote: “There are no allegations in the complaint to support that the purported irregularities in Antrim County ‘might have affected the outcome’ of the presidential election, as the cited case law clearly requires,” stating that Bailey “merely raised a series of questions about the election without making any specific factual allegations as required.”
Trump said in his statement: “No evidence presented, no witnesses to testify. Just, case dismissed. As usual, saved by the court.”
Again, an audit, including a hand recount, conducted in December 2020 had confirmed Antrim County’s election results. That same month, Trump’s deputy attorney general told him the claim about a high error rate in the county was false.
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