In the weeks after 2020’s election, the Department of Justice investigated and dismissed a catalog of stolen election claims that were “completely bogus and silly and usually based on complete misinformation,” and privately and repeatedly said so to then-President Donald Trump, William Barr, Trump’s attorney general, told the House’s January 6 Committee.
But Barr and other top DOJ officials who recounted telling Trump what was wrong about his persistent claims of illegal voters, forged ballots, and altered counts, not only said that Trump refused to believe them, but that he had become “detached from reality,” as Barr put it, and instead surrounded himself with conspiratorial opportunists led by Rudy Giuliani.
In short, Trump rejected multiple FBI investigations in battleground states based on hundreds of interviews – disclosed for the first time during the committee’s June 13 hearing. Instead, he used the stolen election narrative, to, among other things, to raise $250 million from his voters, funds that the committee found were given to loyalists who fanned the stolen election lie, such a $1 million to a foundation run by Mark Meadows, his former White House chief of staff.
“The big lie was also a big rip-off,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-CA. “We found evidence that the Trump campaign and its surrogates misled donors as to where their funds would go.”
However, the revelation that the Justice Department investigated stolen election claims and found nothing is a remarkable disclosure during the second hearing by the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, as federal prosecutors almost never publicly discuss investigations that do not bring charges. Those senior DOJ officials also lambasted Trump’s self-appointed election experts as “amateur” investigators and publicity hounds who knew little about how voting, voting systems, and vote counting work.
Just days before Barr resigned in mid-December 2020, he recounted a meeting with Trump where the president handed Barr a report – since repeatedly debunked, including by the GOP-majority Michigan senate – that claimed that votes had been electronically flipped from Trump to Joe Biden. (The bogus report’s authors included people who went on to lead the post-2020 review in Arizona and are still perpetuating conspiracies in Georgia). Barr, under oath said:
“He [Trump] 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 [voting] machines were rigged. The report means that I’m 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. It 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 this, ‘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’s become detached from reality…’ On the other hand, when I went into this, and would, you know, tell him how crazy some of these allegations were, there was never an indication of interest [by Trump] in what the actual facts were.”
Barr was not the only senior DOJ official to describe the stolen election promoters as amateurs and propagandists. B.J. Pak, the former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, who was appointed by Trump and resigned two days before the January 6 insurrection, described how his office investigated how a doctored video clip – purporting to show a stash of ballots being taken from under a table and mingled with other ballots – was false. He testified:
“Unfortunately, during the [Georgia] Senate hearing, Mr. Giuliani only played a clip that showed them pulling out the official ballot box from under the table and referring to that as a smoking gun of fraud in Fulton County. But, in actuality, and review of the entire video, it showed that was actually an official ballot box that would [properly be] kept underneath the tables. And we saw them pack up because [of] the announcement that they thought they were done for the night. And then once the announcement was made that you should continue counting, they brought the ballots back out and they continued to count… The FBI interviewed the individuals that are depicted in the videos, that purportedly double, triple counting of the ballots, and determined that nothing irregular happened in the counting and the allegations made by Mr. Giuliani were false.”
Richard Donoghue, a former deputy acting attorney general, recounted in videotaped testimony that he repeatedly told Trump different stolen election scenarios were false. For example, there was no truckload of ballots smuggled into Pennsylvania. There was no 68 percent error rate in Michigan’s voting machines. There was no ballot box stuffing in Georgia. For example, there was no truckload of ballots smuggled into Pennsylvania. There was no 68 percent error rate in Michigan’s voting machines. There was no ballot box stuffing in Georgia.
“I said something to the effect of, ‘Sir, we’ve done dozens of investigations, hundreds of interviews. The major allegations are not supported by the evidence developed. We’ve looked at Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nevada. We’re doing our job. Much of the info you’re getting is false,” Donahue said. “We look at the allegations. But they don’t pan out.”
June 13’s hearing also featured videotaped testimony from top Trump campaign officials, from campaign manager Bill Stepien to campaign attorney Alex Cannon who also said that various election theft scenarios embraced by Trump were unfounded and conveyed that to him. An Arizona based claim that “thousands of illegal citizens” voted, Cannon said, turned out to be “overseas voters voting in the election; I obviously saw people who were eligible to vote.”
But Trump did not want to hear these views. He surrounded himself with people who kept repeating the election was stolen – loyalists who top DOJ and campaign officials debunked.
“I made it clear I did not agree with the idea of saying the election was stolen and putting out this stuff, which I told the president was bullshit,” Barr said. “I didn’t want to be a part of it.”
However, tens of millions of Republicans believed the words of their president and candidate, and several years after the 2020 election, still believe that it was stolen – even though Trump’s Justice Department and the FBI not only investigated and disproved those claims, but in sworn testimony to the January 6 committee, ridiculed the loyalists pretending to be investigators.