It was election night at the White House, and Rudy Giuliani was drunk and wanted to talk to the President, according to testimony from Donald Trump’s aides. Giuliani had served as Trump’s personal lawyer in recent years, and his efforts on behalf of the president had played a central role in Trump’s impeachment a year earlier.
Trump’s top advisors had tried to keep Giuliani from Trump for most of the night, and were huddled with the former New York City mayor on the first floor of the White House, in an antechamber next to the historic Map Room.
“The mayor was definitely intoxicated,” Jason Miller, a senior Trump campaign advisor, said in a recorded deposition that was shown publicly for the first time on Monday during the Jan. 6 committee’s second public hearing. Giuliani wanted Trump to ignore the math and declare victory, immediately. “‘We need to go and say that we won,’” Miller recalled Giuliani saying, and that anyone who disagreed “was being weak.”
That same night, Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, had a tense meeting with the president in which he counseled him that “the votes were still being counted” and “it was too early to call the race.” Stepien had warned the president that key mail-in voting tallies coming in later on election night would likely weigh toward Joe Biden, as Trump had told his supporters not to trust mail-in ballots. Trump “thought I was wrong, and he told me so,” Stepien said.
The two scenes demonstrated a central thesis that the Jan. 6 Committee worked to convey to the American public on Monday: that Trump had plenty of advisers trying to convince him of the truth, but that he willfully chose to listen to those telling him what he wanted to hear.
Trump ultimately followed Giuliani’s plan and declared victory early in the morning on November 4, 2020, when the outcome of the election was still unclear. Trump delivered the speech from the East Room of the White House, calling the election “a fraud” and saying, “we were getting ready to win this election—frankly, we did win this election.”
That lie of Trump’s, spoken while votes were still being counted and no major news outlet had called the race, set into motion two months of Trump parroting false claims of election fraud and insisting the election had been stolen from him, driving forward a chain of events that culminated in the deadly riot on the Capitol Building on Jan. 6.
“President Trump rejected the advice of his campaign experts on election night, and instead followed the course recommended by an apparently inebriated Rudy Giuliani to just claim he won and insist the vote-counting stop, to falsely claim everything was fraudulent,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican and the vice chairwoman of the committee.
Giuliani’s lawyer says the former mayor was not inebriated at the White House on election night. “He categorically denies that he was intoxicated or even drinking, other than Diet Coke, that whole evening,” Robert J. Costello tells TIME. Costello says that the committee did not ask Giuliani about that allegation during his deposition.
The committee showed pointed testimony from Trump’s allies and aides that contradicted many of the president’s public claims. Stepien described in recorded video testimony how he told Trump on Nov. 7, the day some major media outlets called the election for Biden, that his chances of winning were “very, very, very bleak” and that Trump’s own campaign team thought Trump had very few “realistic” legal challenges. (Stepien was scheduled to testify in person on Monday, but his lawyer told the committee Stepien was unable to attend because his wife had gone into labor.)
Throughout November, Trump campaign lawyers chased down allegations of voter fraud and malfunctioning voting machines, none of which panned out or held up in court. The Justice Department also pursued similar allegations and found nothing that rose to a criminal case or could have reversed Trump’s loss.
Former Attorney General Bill Barr told the committee in video testimony shown Monday that Trump’s claims of election fraud were “crazy stuff” and “bullshit.” Barr said he found Trump’s claims that Dominion voting machines were somehow being tampered with to be “complete nonsense” and the “most disturbing” because it was undermining voters’ trust with no evidence.
During an Oval Office meeting with Trump in early December, Barr told Trump that the claims he was spreading publicly were unfounded. After Barr gave an interview to an Associated Press reporter saying the election fraud claims were baseless, Trump was the angriest he had ever seen him, Barr said. He recalled Trump saying, “This is killing me. You didn’t have to say this.” Barr said Trump then began speaking of himself in the third person and accusing Barr of turning on him, saying, “You must have said this because you hate Trump. You hate Trump.” As he watched Trump continue to repeat the lies in public, Barr said he had determined that Trump had “become detached from reality if he really believes this stuff.”
As Trump continued to spread his claims of a stolen election in tweets and public statements, he raised an enormous sum of money off the misinformation. Trump’s political fundraising arm took in $250 million dollars in donations after the election, the committee found, after weeks of soliciting his supporters to help with Trump’s election defense fund. During Monday’s hearing, the committee showed video testimony of a Trump fundraising official saying that a Trump election defense fund never existed.
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