Trump Knew: A Takeaway From the Jan. 6 Report
The report leaves no doubt that Trump knew his lies were lies
When President Trump made false claims in public that the 2020 election was stolen, did he know those claims were false? The January 6 Committee report, released right before the Christmas holiday, gives a definitive yes to this question -- and the evidence to back it up. Trump was told time and time again privately that his election claims were false, but repeated them in public anyway.
In testimony before the committee, Acting Attorney General Richard Donoghue recalled a meeting on Jan. 3, "[W]e would say to him, you know, ‘We checked that out, and there’s nothing to it'…And we would cite certain allegations. And so—such as Pennsylvania: ‘No, there were not 250,000 more votes reported than were actually cast. That’s not true.’ So we would say things like that."
These claims were a central part of his speech before the Capitol riot on Jan. 6 to gin up the crowd to try to overturn the results of a free and fair election. Trump told the crowd, “In Pennsylvania, you had 205,000 more votes than you had voters. And the number is actually much greater than that now. That was as of a week ago. And this is a mathematical impossibility unless you want to say it’s a total fraud.”
A second example: Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger told Trump that a video that his lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, had perpetuated was false and offered to send a weblink to debunk it. Trump declined. "I don’t care about a link. I don’t need it," he told Raffensperger. Raffensperger refuted Trump's false claim on Jan. 2 that thousands of dead Georgians had cast ballots: “The actual number were two. Two. Two people that were dead that voted. So that’s wrong."
At his rally before the insurrection, Trump said, "The number of fraudulent ballots that we've identified across the state is staggering. Over 10,300 ballots in Georgia were cast by individuals whose names and dates of birth match Georgia residents who died in 2020 and prior to the election."
The rioters fought for these lies that their president told. Many believed that a coup had occurred. When rioters breached the Capitol, they chanted "fight for Trump," and one immediately asked Capitol police officer Eugene Goodman “Where are the [M]embers at?” and “where are they counting the votes?”
The committee's report lists dozens of other examples of Trump being told his claims were false and then repeating them in public after. Not all of them were uncovered by the committee (the Raffensperger call was immediately leaked) but the committee's report is far and away the most thorough compendium to date.
There are criminal implications for lying about elections. Trump signed legal documents falsely stating that Georgia had improperly counted more than 10,000 votes of dead people, felons, and unregistered voters. According to emails from his attorney John Eastman, Trump had been made aware that some allegations in the court filing were inaccurate. Trump, under oath, verified that the documents were true to the best of his knowledge. According to U.S. District Court Judge David Carter, that would be "sufficiently related to and in furtherance of a conspiracy to defraud the United States.”
But more broadly, the lies were a crime against democracy. A majority of Republicans continue to believe that the 2020 election was stolen. In one recent focus group conducted by the New York Times, seven of 12 Republicans still believed the election was stolen. One voter explained, "I just think that across the board, there were so many things that didn’t add up, didn’t make sense." Those "things" were precisely what Trump was trying to play up to his supporters so they disbelieved the obvious truth that Trump had lost fair and square.
Trump is running in 2024. Kellyanne Conway is doubtlessly correct when she wrote in the Times, "Shrugging off Mr. Trump’s 2024 candidacy or writing his political obituary is a fool’s errand." But even if someone else wins the Republican nomination, the tactics of claiming a stolen election and rallying supporters to try to remain in power are not unique to him. Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel have rallied supporters with false claims of election fraud which have led to violence.
It is true that the 2022 Republicans who lost didn't incite potential supporters to commit violence when their legal attempts failed. And, at the end of 2022, Congress passed reforms to the Electoral Count Act, affirming the vice president's ceremonial role in the Electoral College and making it more difficult to object to the counting of electoral votes. But someone else, someone smarter or more well-prepared will come along, who could just ignore those changes. Once again, it will come down to enough people in power saying 'no' to election theft to stop it.
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