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The theme of today’s hearing will be familiar to “Mythbusters” fans: “I reject your reality and substitute my own.”
Thursday night’s primetime hearing aimed to show that the violence at the Capitol wasn’t just a rally gone bad. The most menacing elements in the crowd, the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, had been planning to take direct action that day. Today’s hearing aimed to show that Trump’s top advisors, including his attorney general and his campaign manager, had given him ample reason to ignore the conspiracy theories and accept that he had lost narrowly to Biden.
Instead he rejected their reality and substituted his own.
It started on election night with the so-called “red mirage,” something I wrote about many times before Election Day 2020. The “red mirage” is a concept that a four-year-old can grasp yet Trump used it to great effect during the “stop the steal” mania as circumstantial evidence of widespread ballot-rigging. The “mirage” lies in the fact that Republicans tend to vote in person on Election Day whereas Democrats are more comfortable using mail-in ballots; that was especially true in 2020 given that (a) Dems are more cautious about COVID and didn’t want to risk crowding into a polling place and (b) Trump went out of his way to breed suspicion of mail-in ballots among righties during the campaign. Because the two parties voted in such different ways, the order in which each state counted in-person ballots and mail-in ballots could give a false impression of which candidate was leading. In Florida, for instance, mail-in ballots were counted first, giving Biden a huge lead when the first results there were reported on election night. But that was a “blue mirage” since Republicans’ same-day votes hadn’t been tabulated yet. Once they were, it was clear that Trump had won the state.
In Pennsylvania, it was the opposite. The same-day votes were counted first, giving Trump a phantom lead. Only after those votes were finished did the state start counting the Democrat-heavy mail-in ballots, which led to Biden gradually erasing Trump’s lead over the course of several days. It was simply Florida in reverse. But because Trump is a sore loser and many of his fans are easy marks, he was able to convince millions that Biden overtaking him via the mail-in vote was evidence of Democratic chicanery, proof of “ballot dumps” in the dark of night.
Both Bill Barr and Bill Stepien, his campaign manager, told the committee they were well aware of the “red mirage” effect and therefore Trump was too.
Barr and Stepien in their depositions both acknowledged that everyone understood the early election night returns would be positive for Trump but the situation would change as mail votes were tallied pic.twitter.com/yfWhwEkypN
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) June 13, 2022
Trump rejected their reality and substituted his own.
The hearing also touched on the case of the famous surveillance video of ballot-counting in Atlanta, touted by Rudy Giuliani as “smoking gun” evidence of Democratic lackeys supposedly adding phony ballots to the official vote totals. It was debunked at the time by local media but remained part of the official “stop the steal” narrative. Today the committee brought in B.J. Pak, Trump’s appointed U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, who looked into the matter and other claims of fraud in Georgia.
There was nothing to it, he told them:
BJay Pak: “We found that the suitcase full of ballots, the alleged black suitcase that was being seen pulled from under the table, was actually an official lock box where ballots were kept safe.” pic.twitter.com/30udwQLyTY
— The Republican Accountability Project (@AccountableGOP) June 13, 2022
Trump was so sold on the “smoking gun” video that he pressed Georgia officials on it during a phone call a month after it was debunked, even mentioning one of the election workers seen in the clip by name. That woman and another worker were inundated with death threats amid the conspiracy-mongering in December 2020. Their lives have been more or less destroyed since then. As for Pak, he resigned as U.S. Attorney once he found out that Trump was considering firing him for failing to find fraud.
Pak refused to substitute the reality Trump preferred, so he had to go.
Then there was Bill Barr, who described for the committee his now-famous private Oval Office meeting with Trump shortly before he resigned as Attorney General. Trump presented Barr with a formal analysis alleging vote-machine tampering, which Trump presumably found by hunting around until he came across an outfit that was willing to tell him what he wanted to hear. Barr was aghast at how flimsy the analysis was and described for the committee how it dawned on him that the president really had begun to lose touch with reality. He was so eager to substitute his fantasy that he’d been cheated for the reality that he’d lost fair and square that he was willing to entertain any “evidence,” no matter how outlandish. This clip is long but worth it:
Former Attorney General Bill Barr on President Trump: “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.”#January6thHearings pic.twitter.com/YmwQO6tSYL
— CSPAN (@cspan) June 13, 2022
As others have noted, Barr kept this alarming assessment of the president’s mental state to himself until long after Trump was out of office. He couldn’t have been more complimentary of Trump in his resignation letter:
Remarkable to watch Barr’s testimony, including how he thought Trump was becoming “detached from reality,” and compare that with his resignation letter from December, where he said he was honored to serve in the admin & proud of Trump’s successes. What he said about the election: pic.twitter.com/CqacYhIgl3
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) June 13, 2022
For my money, though, the most damning video played today was this short revelation about the Trump Official Election Defense Fund, which many hard-working Americans contributed to and which turns out not to be a thing. Having worked so hard to create a more acceptable substitute reality for his fans, Trump followed his instincts: He monetized it, conning them into contributing to what amounted to a Super PAC slush fund rather than a legal fund. “Not only was there the Big Lie, there was the Big Ripoff,” said Democrat Zoe Lofgren. Somewhere Trump University “graduates” are nodding wearily. I’ll leave you with this.
Lofgren closes with a video claiming the Trump Official Election Defense Fund didn’t actually exist. It was all a grift. pic.twitter.com/kb7tHbTZ1f
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) June 13, 2022