January 6 Hearing, Number Two: Insurrection Boogaloo

Good Monday Morning, Wonkers! Evan will be at his appointed station liveblogging for you when the January 6 Select Committee returns for its second hearing this morning at 10 a.m. Eastern.

Today’s theme is the Big Lie and Donald Trump’s role in flogging it. The committee will demonstrate that claims of massive election fraud were complete bullshit; that Trump and everyone around him knew they were bullshit; that Trump and his henchmen used these lies to grift hundreds of millions of dollars from the rubes; and that the rioters came to DC with blood in their eyes because Trump riled them up with fantasies of a stolen election, told them “if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” and sent them to ransack the Capitol.

Chair Bennie Thompson and Rep. Zoe Lofgren will lead questioning of two panels of witnesses.

In the first panel, Trump’s 2020 campaign manager Bill Stepien will join former Fox data guy Chris Stirewalt, who got tossed out on his ass along with his team of polling nerds after correctly calling Arizona for Joe Biden on election night and poo-pooing the idea of massive election fraud on air.

(UPDATE: Stepien has just pulled out, because “family emergency.” Shall be interesting to see how the Committee responds. All the other info about who he is and why he was to be there is still pertinent.)

“Arizona is doing just what we expected it to do and we remain serene and pristine,” Stirewalt said on the evening of November 3, seemingly unaware he’d just delivered a body blow to Trump’s plan to pretend delays in counting the vote in swing states was prima facie evidence of a plot to steal the election by dint of massive voter fraud. After years toeing the party line at Fox, Stirewalt has been pretty salty since getting thrown under the bus by Rupert Murdoch. So if he wants to explain how the network pushed the lie about electoral fraud in coordination with the Trump campaign and the White House, he’s definitely got tea to spill.

Appearing under subpoena, Stepien will surely be asked about reports that everyone inside the campaign knew that claims of vote fraud were nonsense from early November, and that they told Trump exactly that. At the same time, these shameless grifters sent out 512 emails a day soliciting contributions to fight the fraud they all knew didn’t exist. Stepien is currently a top campaign adviser for Harriet Hageman, the Trump-backed nutter gunning to unseat Rep. Liz Cheney in Wyoming. So if the AC breaks down in the Rayburn Building, it’ll still be plenty frosty in that hearing room.

The second hour will feature testimony by Republican election lawyer Benjamin Ginsberg, former US Attorney Byung “BJay” Pak, and Al Schmidt, a Republican election official in Philadelphia who was hounded out of office for refusing to support Trump’s lies about election fraud.

Ginsberg has impeccable Republican bona fides, with stints representing the RNC, the RSC, the NRCC, the Republican Governors Association, the Bush-Cheney campaign, the Romney presidential campaign, and even the disgusting Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which slimed Purple Heart recipient John Kerry in 2012 and managed to convince the public that draft-dodging George W. Bush was the “real” patriot.

Ginsberg has been sounding the alarm about Trump’s election lies since before the election.

“The truth is that after decades of looking for illegal voting, there’s no proof of widespread fraud. At most, there are isolated incidents — by both Democrats and Republicans. Elections are not rigged. Absentee ballots use the same process as mail-in ballots — different states use different labels for the same process,” he wrote in the Post in September of 2020, going on to warn that “Republicans need to rethink their arguments in many of the cases in which they are involved — quickly. Otherwise, they risk harming the fundamental principle of our democracy: that all eligible voters must be allowed to cast their ballots.”

And then the GOP filed dozens of insane lawsuits, finally asking the Supreme Court to shitcan 20 million ballots based on fraud-y vibes.

Schmidt is living proof of the real damage inflicted by Trump’s election lies, facing a campaign of harassment and threats after he called bullshit on Trump’s yammering about improprieties in the vote tabulation in Philadelphia.

“There’s a big difference between general threats coming in from some knucklehead who says you’re a traitor, you’re going to get what’s coming to you, and ones in 2020 that named my children and [included] pictures of my house and all sorts of specifics,” he told Vice last year, adding later that “There’s a real perverse incentive right now that is dangerous. That is that lying about the election benefits you, telling the truth about the election is to your political or personal detriment.”

As for BJay Pak, he was the US Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, a lifelong Republican nominated by Trump in 2017, whom the former president was nevertheless convinced was a “never Trumper.” On the infamous call pressuring Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” Trump complained about Pak, calling him “your never-Trumper U.S. attorney there.” Before he noped out, AG Bill Barr dispatched Pak to investigate claims of election fraud in Atlanta, even though those claims had all been thoroughly debunked by the Georgia Bureau of Investigations.

Pak got crosswise with Trump when he reported truthfully that there was no major fraud, and Trump had simply lost the election after getting fewer votes than Joe Biden. On January 2, Trump told Deputy AG Richard Donoghue that he wanted Pak out in the morning, prompting Pak’s abrupt resignation. Pak should have been replaced by his deputy, but the position was filled by Bobby Christine, then US attorney for the Southern District of Georgia “by written order of the President.” Christine then marched in with a phalanx of outside investigators and found … nothing. Because, again, there was no fraud to find.

Pak’s testimony about Trump’s efforts to weaponize the Justice Department to keep himself in power and fan the flames of his Big Lie will be good preparation for the third hearing on Wednesday, when Donoghue, former acting AG Jeffrey Rosen, and former head of the Office of Legal Counsel Steven Engel will testify about the plot to have the DOJ announce investigations into non-existent vote fraud in the swing states. This would serve as a pretext for swing state legislatures to bless “alternate” slates of cosplay electors, a vital step in attorney John Eastman’s plot to have Mike Pence reject Biden electors on January 6.

Every single one of these witnesses is a dyed-in-the-wool Republican, which won’t stop Republicans from screaming bloody murder about a DEMOCRAT WITCH HUNT. But it certainly makes it harder to do with a straight face.

See you at 10!

[WaPo / Politico / WaPo / Vice]

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