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Jan. 6 hearings: Committee zeroes in on Trump during Day 2

Here are the top moments and takeaways from the House select committee's presentation on Monday about its investigation into the Capitol riot.

The House Jan. 6 select committee's second public hearing on its investigation into the Capitol riot kicked off Monday at 10 a.m. ET. Former President Donald Trump's "big lie" and his efforts to remain in power despite losing the 2020 election to Joe Biden was the main topic of focus.

Our contributors today were MSNBC Daily writer and editor Zeeshan Aleem, "The Rachel Maddow Show" legal analyst Lisa Rubin and MSNBC Daily columnist Frank Figliuzzi.

Total pro Rep. Zoe Lofgren leads a seamless second hearing — and tees up Day 3

Lisa Rubin

Earlier today, I speculated that Bill Stepien’s absence, while inconvenient, would not meaningfully set the committee back. Why? Because they would have prepared for contingencies like his wife giving birth

But even I did not expect the seamless hearing the committee put on today. California Rep. Zoe Lofgren — a veteran of the Watergate hearings, the Clinton impeachment and Trump’s first impeachment — was a total pro in her questioning, Stepien or no Stepien. Without being specifically told, one would never have guessed a live witness had canceled.

In lieu of posing questions to the former Trump campaign manager in person, Lofgren simply asked the staff to show specific, numbered clips from his deposition, proving that the committee was indeed ready for this moment. And like last Thursday, the committee built Lofgren’s presentation around a collection of right-sized witness testimony, both live and taped. Junior prosecutors, take note: The House select committee is conducting a master class in how to try a case.

The committee reconvenes on Wednesday for a hearing that's expected to focus on how DOJ officials helped stop Trump and his allies from overturning the election. Follow along with MSNBC’s live blog coverage at

Philly exposes the true danger of the 'big lie'

We were reminded today that the threat of the “big lie” penetrated into the personal lives — and even the lives of some family members — of officials who dared to act honestly regarding the 2020 election outcome. This includes Republican Al Schmidt, a former Philadelphia city commissioner, who testified today that he performed his duties under withering pressure from Trump and his team. He received death threats for simply doing his job, he said.

As Schmidt testified today, the Philadelphia district attorney’s office announced serious charges against the co-founder of Vets for Trump in connection with conduct that threatens our democratic process. The defendant, Joshua Macias, has been charged with attempted interference with primaries and elections, hindering the performance of a duty, criminal conspiracy, and violations of the Uniform Firearms Act. 

The “big lie” has created a dangerous risk we’ll be addressing for the foreseeable future

Trump's election could cost him — literally

It remains to be seen what, if any, criminal charges will be brought against Trump tied to his 2020 election lies. But he's already multiple facing civil lawsuits stemming from the Capitol riot, including those brought by Democratic lawmakers and police officers.

Ja'han Jones, writer for MSNBC's "The ReidOut Blog," explains how Trump's legal troubles have likely only just begun:

"We’ve seen mountains of evidence — with more likely to come — that Trump simply refused to accept the reality of his election loss and took drastic steps to alter it," Jones wrote. "That, as the committee has laid out, included weaponizing a violent mob to stop the vice president from certifying the electoral college votes. I firmly believe all of this may be grounds for criminal charges, but the evidence could shore up civil cases against Trump, as well."

Read Ja’han’s full piece below.

What if Trump's 'big lie' is just one big grift?

Meredith Bennett-Smith

The House committee ended Monday's hearing by pointing out how much money Trump and his allies have raised using his "big lie" talking points. Millions and millions of dollars have flowed into MAGA coffers because of fundraising that relied heavily on rhetoric about election fraud.

As ethics expert and MSNBC Daily columnist Richard Painter pointed out all the way back in April 2021, Trump has long proven himself to be an expert at these kinds of emotional appeals. And he's not usually the one who suffers as a result. Painter notes:

"The real kicker is that many will not admit they were defrauded. They will continue to believe in Trump, just as he will continue to tell them that he won the 2020 election. And, if they just send more money, he promises he will come back in 2024 and win another."

Read Richard's full piece below.

Pak explains 'suitcase full of ballots' as committee debunks Trump lies one by one

Lisa Rubin

Pak’s resignation, as I intimated earlier, centered on Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the Georgia election, and in particular, the former president’s fixation on a video of election workers counting ballots at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena. Fueled by Giuliani’s nonsensical claims, Trump and others insisted that the workers depicted in that video double- or triple-counted a “suitcase full of ballots” of dubious legitimacy, and Trump was furious that Pak, who Trump called a “Never Trumper” in his infamous call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, had done nothing about it.

Pak testified this afternoon that he agreed to investigate the State Farm Arena episode after a Dec. 4, 2020, phone conversation with Barr. But ultimately, following interviews with the individuals shown on the tape and viewing the entirety of the video, as opposed to the misleading clip circulating on social media, the FBI and Pak determined that Trump’s interpretation of events were “false.” The so-called “suitcase” was, in fact, “an official lockbox” of ballots that came from under the table on which the workers were counting ballots. Ultimately, Pak testified, he is aware of “no evidence of widespread fraud” sufficient to undermine the results of the election.

Of course, what the committee did not explore with Pak is perhaps of equal interest. Pak was not asked about his resignation, and no one referenced it, other than to note it in the overall timeline. That could be for strategic reasons, however. As Pak testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee last year, the person who told him to resign was then-acting Deputy Attorney General Rich Donoghue, a key player in other aspects of Trump’s scheme to remain in power — and an expected witness about those events at a hearing later this week.

A revealing case study: 'absurd' voter fraud claims in Philadelphia

Former Philadelphia city commissioner Al Schmidt, a Republican, said that his approach to overseeing the 2020 election results in his city entailed taking “seriously every case that was referred to us, no matter how fantastical, no matter how absurd.”

One of those “absurd” claims was that Democrats committed fraud by submitting ballots on behalf of dead citizens. Schmidt said the claim was entirely unfounded. “Not only was there not evidence of 8,000 dead voters — there wasn’t evidence of 8,” he said. 

But more chilling was his description of the mob that attacked him after Trump singled him out for speaking the truth on social media.

Welp, Fox News decides to air the hearings after all

Fox News refused to broadcast the first hearing last week, with some hosts referring to the committee's presentation as "propaganda."

This week, however, appears to be a different story. The network aired the hearing live on Monday. And unlike on Thursday night, when Fox News host Tucker Carlson ranted over silent footage of the hearings, the full audio was included.

Maybe Fox News is changing its tune on Trump's disinformation campaign. Or maybe it just got wind of Thursday strong ratings.

Dinesh D’Souza’s ‘smoking gun’ doc gets a special shoutout

Meredith Bennett-Smith

Dinesh D’Souza is many things: A far-right public intellectual, prolific filmmaker and author, and infamous pro-Trump social media troll. What he is not, according to Barr’s taped testimony, is a voter fraud expert. Not by a long shot.

In testimony played by the committee on Monday morning, Barr literally laughed at the idea that D’Souza’s (debunked) documentary “2000 Mules” had uncovered any proof to support Trump’s election falsehoods. The film, which is wildly popular among the MAGA faithful, was “completely lacking” in actual evidence, Barr said.

Why BJay Pak’s testimony is a big deal

Lisa Rubin

Yes, former Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien was supposed to be today’s star witness. But he is not the only one with eagerly anticipated testimony. BJay Pak, the former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, also has quite a story to tell — a story of interest not only to Congress but to Fulton County, Georgia’s District Attorney Fani Willis as well.

Think of Stepien and Pak as bookends, in some respects, for Trump’s scheme: Stepien was present when Trump was told soon after the election that he lost, fair and square. Pak, on the other hand, is an important witness on the tail end of the timeline: He was told on or around January 3 that Trump would fire him if he did not resign. Pak’s offense? Failing to find fraud sufficient to overturn the Georgia results. 

Pak has previously testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Trump was especially focused on alleged fraud by election workers at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena. But after investigating those allegations alongside the FBI and GA state officials, he concluded there was no fraud. Ultimately, however, Pak was forced resigned on Jan. 4, the morning after then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and other senior DOJ leaders squared off with Jeffrey Bossert Clark in the Oval Office — and won. That Pak was forced out highlights that Trump had no intention of giving up.

Barr's testimony is bad news for Kushner. And even worse news for Scavino.

Lisa Rubin

Former White House aide Dan Scavino has refused to cooperate with this committee’s investigation. As a result, the House voted to hold him in contempt two months ago. But while the Justice Department has declined to prosecute Scavino for contempt of Congress, Barr’s testimony highlights that Scavino, who is understood to have had access to Trump’s Twitter account and may even have drafted several of his post-election tweets, could have criminal exposure as well.

As Zeeshan also noted, Barr's testimony has been quite revealing today. On November 23, Barr testified that the fraud claims were “just not meritorious, they are not panning out.” After a contentious Oval Office meeting, he walked out of the Oval Office to find Jared Kushner and Scavino. In videotaped testimony played by the committee, Barr says he asked them, “How long — how long is he going to carry on with this stolen election stuff? Where is this going to go?” That suggests that Scavino, who Barr emphasized was “a reasonable guy,” knew the country’s chief law enforcement officer believed the election fraud narrative was a fiction. And that knowledge, for Scavino as for others, could be a dangerous thing.

 Stepien’s ‘Team Normal’ never stood a chance with Trump

“I didn’t mind being a part of ‘Team Normal.’” 

That’s what Stepien, the former Trump campaign manager, told the committee when asked about the role of his team versus the function — or dysfunction — of Rudy Giuliani’s team. The context of the question related to whether Stepien was concerned about his reputation if he was associated with what Giuliani’s baseless election fraud claims. But Stepien replied that his own reputation was for being honest and professional, and that what he was seeing Giuliani do was neither.

“I fixed what I could with 115 days left” said Stepien, who took over Trump’s campaign just months before the election. 

Stepien and senior Trump adviser Jason Miller both testified that it was an intoxicated Giuliani who, on election night, convinced Trump that he had won re-election. The theme of dysfunction, reputational concern and unprofessionalism by Giuliani continued with clipped testimony from Jared Kushner, who told the committee Guiliani’s actions were “not the approach I would have taken.”

It looks like “Team Normal” didn’t stand a chance against their much more powerful adversary.

Former Fox News editor destroys Trump's election victory claim

Stirewalt said that once Arizona was called for Biden in 2020, he knew the chance of some kind of fraud overturning the election was basically nonexistent. The typical margin that would prompt a recount involves a gap of just hundreds of votes. Stirewalt said the fact that Trump had larger margins to deal with in multiple states made it clear that he had lost the election.

“He needed three states, and in order to do that, you’re better off to play the Powerball than have that come in,” said Stirewalt.

The former Fox News editor's testimony has been a powerful asset for the Jan. 6 committee’s mission to describe how clear it was that Trump knew that his “big lie” wasn’t supported by evidence.

Stepien takes a big swipe at Trump's legal team

Lisa Rubin

If you wanted confirmation that official Trump World disapproved of the litigation tactics and strategy employed by Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell and others, Bill Stepien just gave it to us. In a clip from his February 2022 deposition, Stepien testified that as the days went on after the election, his own outlook on a Trump victory was “very, very bleak.” As Stepien said:

And we pegged it at, you know, five percent, maybe 10 percent based on recounts that were — either were automatically initiated or could be — could be initiated based on you know, realistic legal challenges, not all the legal challenges that eventually were pursued.

Indeed, Stepien said the campaign became increasingly divided after Justin Clark, who had been the campaign’s chief legal officer, was shunted aside for a motley group of lawyers who pursued strategies he did not consider “honest or professional.”


Trump was well aware of ‘red mirage,' experts testify

Lisa Rubin

If you thought you had seen the last of former Attorney General Bill Barr, who resigned in December 2020, you were wrong. Barr came roaring back today, via clips of his videotaped deposition with congressional investigators, to help illustrate that Republican leaders understood and expected a “red mirage” of election returns in 2020 and that Trump’s declaration of fraud was without basis. 

As Stirewalt testified today, a “red mirage” happens because Republicans historically capture a greater percentage of in-person votes but those optical victories can be overcome through Democrats’ greater use of mail-in and absentee ballots. That was especially true during the pandemic, when mail-in voting surged.

Nonetheless, Trump complained that the results were fraudulent “right out of the box on election night,” testified Barr. And Barr said that seemed to be based on nothing other than that “red mirage” dynamic — and Trump’s pique when Democratic votes came in in waves at the end of the evening. None of that was surprising, however, to the professionals, Barr further testified. GOP leaders “understood for weeks” that that would happen on election night; only Trump, emboldened by Giuliani, could not accept that the “red mirage” was natural or expected.

What one federal court has already said about the committee's evidence

Lisa Rubin

In her opening statement this morning, Rep. Liz Cheney quoted a federal court that has “reviewed elements of the Committee’s evidence” as part of a subpoena dispute involving Jan. 6 plotter John Eastman. “In the months following the election, numerous credible sources — from the President’s inner circle to agency leadership to statisticians — informed President Trump and Dr. Eastman that there was no evidence of election fraud,” the court noted.

That opinion, a 44-page March 2022 order by federal district court Judge David Carter, is available here. Carter reviewed that evidence in the context of the Jan. 6 committee’s fight with Eastman over which of his subpoenaed communications and documents could be withheld on the grounds of attorney-client privilege and other protections.

'An apparently inebriated' Giuliani stumbles into the record

In her opening comments discussing Trump’s disinformation campaign, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming slipped in a striking barb: “President Trump rejected the advice of his campaign experts on election night, and instead followed the course recommended by an apparently inebriated Rudy Giuliani."

Is it particularly significant that Giuliani may have been drunk while counseling Trump to lie about the election results? No — he believed the same things sober. Nonetheless, it’s the kind of colorful detail that helps underscore how Trump’s inner circle was an utter mess and contemptuous of propriety on election night.

'Under Pressure' should be the theme song of today's hearing

If there was theme music for today’s hearing, it might be Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure.” Scheduled witnesses include fired Fox News political editor Chris Stirewalt who may testify as to the intense pressure exerted on him and his former network after Stirewalt called Arizona for Biden early on during election night in 2020. Also today, we’ll hear from former U.S. Attorney from Georgia, BJay Pak, who may tell us precisely why he resigned and what pressure was exerted on him and other Georgia officials.

It’s one thing to show that Trump knew or should have known he lost the election but continued to perpetrate a fraud on Americans. But it’s even more damning if the committee can demonstrate that Trump not only ignored truth tellers, but also attempted — and succeeded — in purging those who refused to accept his lie.

The first Jan. 6 hearing was hugely popular, but it could’ve been even bigger

The first hearing of the Jan. 6 committee last week garnered some big numbers — at least 20 million viewers. As The New York Times notes, that’s not nearly as big as the kind of viewership that presidential debates or a “State of the Union” speech usually gets, but it was massive for a congressional hearing, and close to something like a “big ‘Sunday Night Football’ game.”   

And that’s despite a right-wing disinformation campaign to downplay and spread disinformation about the hearing. While many channels forewent their primetime programming to broadcast the hearings live, Fox News decided instead to use the time slot to attack the legitimacy of the hearings. Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity used a muted splitscreen of the hearings to attempt to undermine them in real-time.

If Fox News and other right-wing media weren’t bent on further polarizing the country around Jan. 6, the numbers for the hearings likely would have been higher. More importantly, a much more ideologically diverse set of viewers might’ve been able to absorb and evaluate the meaning of what happened that day.

How the Jan. 6 committee can outline elements of potential crimes

Lisa Rubin

In the months leading up to the Jan. 6 committee’s hearings, experienced lawyers, including MSNBC’s own Barbara McQuade and others partnering with the Brookings Institution, have sketched out which federal criminal laws were violated by former President Donald Trump and others in his inner circle. Of course, the committee is on a fact-finding mission to inform its legislative function — and not in a position to enforce criminal laws. However, its members know the Justice Department is watching and previously have used language that seems to track the elements of certain federal crimes, such as conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding. (We’re looking at you, Liz Cheney.)

Today, the committee is expected to focus on one aspect of Trump’s possible criminal culpability, likely by highlighting that he was told there was no fraud in the election and therefore knew he was spreading misinformation. The committee may also try to establish who participated in the conspiracy to propagate the Big Lie and when they joined in that effort.

And it begins!

Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson has gaveled in the hearing.

Jan. 6 investigators likely prepared for absent witnesses

Lisa Rubin

Any committee would prefer live, in-person testimony from a witness — let alone a key witness like former Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien. But investigators already knew what Stepien would say this morning based on his prior deposition. And they likely knew, from discussions with Stepien’s legal team, that his wife could go into labor at any moment.

As I expected, the committee is ready to use video clips from Stepien's deposition in lieu of his live testimony. And that’s why they only need 30-45 minutes to regroup, as opposed to canceling and rescheduling today's hearing.

Stepien missing hearing because wife went into labor: source

Stepien will miss today's hearing because his wife went into labor this morning, a source familiar with the matter told NBC News.

The committee will instead show video of his recorded deposition. It's unclear whether Stepien will provide live testimony during another hearing.

Explosive evidence revealed during first hearing — and it wasn't good for Trump

The stakes are high for the Jan. 6 committee and, frankly, democracy. Fortunately, Thursday's two-hour hearing surpassed expectations.

Among the highlights were Chairman Bennie Thompson and ranking member Liz Cheney’s laying out the course of the hearings over the next month. We’ll be shown more videos from the hundreds of hours of depositions that the committee has taken, demonstrating that Trump’s team knew he lost.

There’s a lot of speculation about whether the hearings will change anyone’s minds or maybe spur the Justice Department to finally act against Trump. What’s clear already, though, is that these hearings, like Trump tweeted ahead of Jan. 6, “will be wild.”

Read more in the story below.

Stepien no longer appearing, committee announces

William Stepien, a former Trump campaign manager, will no longer testify during today's hearing, the Jan. 6 committee announced this morning.

Stepien cited a family emergency, according to the committee. Instead, his legal counsel will make a statement on the record.

The hearing will now begin around 10:30 a.m. ET.

Trump rebukes Ivanka's testimony: 'Long since checked out'

Trump, forever ready to throw any member of his inner circle under the bus, pushed back on daughter Ivanka Trump's testimony to the Jan. 6 committee.

In never-before-seen video played during Thursday's hearing, Ivanka Trump told congressional investigators that she accepted then-Attorney General Bill Barr's assessment that Trump's claims of election fraud were false.

On Friday, the elder Trump blasted her statement on Truth Social, the struggling social media venture he helped create as an alternative to Twitter.

"Ivanka Trump was not involved in looking at, or studying, Election results," he wrote. "She had long since checked out and was, in my opinion, only trying to be respectful to Bill Barr and his position as Attorney General (he sucked!)."

Basically, everyone but Trump is totally wrong about the 2020 election, including the Justice Department, federal judges, and conservative lawyers and election officials. Makes sense.

GOP candidate's arrest shows power of the 'big lie' ahead of hearings

Hours before the first Jan. 6 hearing began, the FBI arrested Michigan gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley and charged him with four misdemeanors for his role in the Capitol riot.

Video footage and photographic evidence showed the 40-year-old real estate agent breaching the Capitol and repeatedly waving the crowd into the building. He's the first person running for elected office in a major state or federal race to be charged in connection with the Jan. 6 riot.

Depressingly, local strategists and activists are predicting that the arrest will yield a net benefit for Kelley’s candidacy, which seems to confirm Trump’s 2020 disinformation campaign is continuing to break new ground in normalizing authoritarianism.

But in reality, if Kelley’s candidacy does anything but plummet — which seems increasingly unlikely — it’s a terrible sign for the health of American democracy.

Read more in the story below.

Fox News witness could make things uncomfortable for his former employer

Today’s committee hearing is expected to focus on Trump’s efforts to remain in power despite advisers and evidence clearly indicating he lost the election, NBC News reported.   

Interestingly, a scheduled witness today is Chris Stirewalt, a former political editor at Fox News. The network fired Stirewalt under intense pressure from GOP leaders and from irate viewers in response to his decision to call Arizona for Joe Biden early on during election night in 2020. Stirewalt’s former network didn’t even cover the first night of hearings, and now that network, its operations and the pressure exerted on it by Team Trump will take center stage during today’s hearing. 

Public relations and marketing experts claim that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Let’s see if Fox News feels that way and decides to air Stirewalt’s testimony. Don’t bet on it.

Some (not many) conservatives publicly spurn Trump after first hearing

The editorial board of The New York Post, a conservative-leaning tabloid, published an op-ed on Friday calling on the Republican Party to ditch Trump following the Jan. 6 committee's first public hearing a day earlier.

"Trump has become a prisoner of his own ego," the board wrote. "He can’t admit his tweeting and narcissism turned off millions. He won’t stop insisting that 2020 was “stolen” even though he’s offered no proof that it’s true."

"Trump can’t look past 2020," it added. "Let him remain there."

Former President Trump Joins American Freedom Tour In Austin, TX
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the American Freedom Tour at the Austin Convention Center on May 14 in Austin, Texas. Brandon Bell / Getty Images

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, one of the few Republicans who has spoken out against Trump, squarely placed the blame on the former president during an interview Sunday.

“Trump is politically, morally responsible for much of what has happened," Hutchinson told "Fox News Sunday," adding that Republicans needed to do "a lot of soul searching."

Two panels of witnesses to connect the dots on Trump's election lies

Today's hearing will feature two panels of witnesses, including at least one former Trump insider. Bill Stepien, who managed Trump’s re-election campaign in the second half of 2020, will appear alongside Chris Stirewalt, a former Fox News political editor, in the first panel.

The second will feature three election experts: GOP election lawyer Ben Ginsberg, former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia BJay Pak and former Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt.

Pak resigned from the Justice Department in early January 2021, days before the Capitol riot, after Trump pressured Georgia officials to overturn election results in the state. It will be interesting to see what if any new information Pak shares about those efforts.