How the testimony of Trump aides differs from their public statements
The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol has built its argument that former President Trump is responsible for attack largely through video of his own former aides saying they told Trump his claims of election fraud were baseless. Former Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, former Attorney General William Barr and Trump’s own son-in-law Jared Kushner are among the figures who told the Jan. 6 panel that they privately raised concerns to Trump about his behavior in the aftermath of the 2020 election.
Yet their statements have also underscored another truth: While they have insisted they pushed back at Trump behind the scenes after the election, they largely avoided any public breaks with Trump and stood by him at the time.
Barr has been a key witness for the committee, with recordings of his closed-door depositions featuring prominently in the first two public hearings.
Barr told the panel he believed Trump’s claims about election fraud were “bullshit,” “nonsense” and “idiotic.” Monday’s hearing featured video of Barr saying he worried Trump had become “detached from reality” as he raised the false premise that voting machines were designed to rig the election.
“There was never an indication of interest in what the actual facts were,” Barr said. “I told him that the stuff that his people were shoveling out to the public was bullshit, I mean, that the claims of fraud were bullshit. And, you know, he was indignant about that,” Barr added.
But Barr’s testimony is a far cry from what the former attorney general was saying publicly in the weeks that followed the election.
In the days after the 2020 election, Trump and his allies began spreading false claims to explain how Joe Biden had made up ground in Michigan, Pennsylvania and other states as more mail ballots were counted.
A disproportionate amount of the Democratic vote was by mail in the 2020 election because of concerns about COVID-19. Because that mail-in vote is usually counted after in-person votes on Election Day — which in 2020 was disproportionately Republican — Trump’s leads in some states eroded as more of the mail-in vote was counted.
Barr testified to the Jan. 6 committee that Trump’s theories were investigated one by one and debunked, but he did not publicly dismiss the allegations until a Dec. 1, 2020, interview with The Associated Press.
And the former attorney general made no mention of his concerns about Trump’s election claims when he submitted his resignation letter on Dec. 14, 2020. Instead, that letter was filled with praise for Trump and his accomplishments.
“Your record is all the more historic because you accomplished it in the face of relentless implacable resistance,” Barr wrote at the time.
Before the election, in September 2020, Barr went on CNN and asserted that mail ballots could be subject to counterfeiting by foreign actors. He said he was basing that “on logic” but offered no additional evidence to back up his assertion.
Multiple states have used all-mail-ballot systems for years, and there have not been instances of mass fraud on a scale that would tip an election.
Kushner, a former senior White House adviser, remained out of the public eye in the weeks between Election Day and the Jan. 6 riot. He told the committee he had privately advised Trump that listening to lawyer Rudy Giuliani about election fraud was “not the approach I would take if I was you.”
Stepien, who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign and was a deputy on the 2020 campaign before taking over as campaign manager in July of that year, testified that he tried to impress upon Trump in the summer of 2020 the importance of encouraging mail ballots and that he sought to educate the former president around Election Day that it would take time for all the ballots to be counted.
Stepien told the committee in private testimony aired Monday that he was proud to be part of “Team Normal,” a term to describe himself and other aides who broke with the advice of Giuliani for Trump to declare victory and claim fraud.
But in the days after the election, it was Stepien leading the Trump campaign’s insistence that Trump would ultimately win the state of Arizona once all the votes were counted.
While Stepien told the committee he “stepped away” because he didn’t think the behavior of Giuliani and others around the president “was necessarily honest or professional,” he did not publicly resign or rebuke their actions.
Instead, the actions and words of Stepien, Barr and others in the aftermath of Jan. 6 reflects the strong grip Trump retains over the Republican Party and even some of those who took issue with his baseless and continuing claims that the 2020 election was stolen.
Stepien’s firm is advising the campaign of Harriet Hageman, a Trump-endorsed challenger to Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.). Hageman has previously cast doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 election and skirted questions about whether Biden rightfully won the presidency.
Jason Miller, a former senior campaign adviser to the Trump campaign, testified to the panel that he said on election night in 2020 that “we should not go and declare victory until we had a better sense of the numbers,” a break with the strategy pursued by Trump.
But Miller went on Fox News in the weeks after the 2020 election and left open the possibility the results could change in Trump’s favor right up until Inauguration Day, even after officials in multiple states had conducted audits and recounts to verify the results. Miller then went on to serve as the main spokesperson for Trump after he left office until June 2021.
Barr has been perhaps the starkest example of how testimony to the Jan. 6 committee doesn’t align with the political reality for many Republicans, whose outrage over Jan. 6 has turned into an uneasy alliance with the former president for fear of crossing him and his passionate base.
Barr told NBC in an interview in March to promote his new book that he hoped the GOP would move on from Trump and that he would support a different candidate.
But if Trump prevailed in a Republican primary in 2024, Barr indicated he would still vote for the same man whose election claims he found to be “bullshit.”
“It’s hard to project what the facts are going to turn out to be three years hence, but as of now, it’s hard for me to conceive that I wouldn’t vote for the Republican nominee,” Barr said.