Washington (AFP) -
Donald Trump ignored repeated warnings from top aides against claiming the 2020 election was stolen, according to testimony unveiled Monday by the congressional panel probing the 2021 assault on the US Capitol.
The second of a series of June hearings was shown videotaped accounts from the former president's aides, including campaign manager Bill Stepien, saying they advised him not to declare victory on election night because he hadn't won -- but that Trump went ahead anyway.
'He thought I was wrong, he told me so, and that they were going to go in a different direction,' Stepien said.
Monday's hearing followed a prime-time session last week in which the panel began making its case that the January 6, 2021 insurrection was the culmination of a conspiracy by Trump and his aides to overturn his defeat to Joe Biden.
'This morning, we will tell the story of how Donald Trump lost the election -- and knew he lost the election -- and as a result of his loss, decided to wage an attack on our democracy,' Democratic panel chairman Bennie Thompson said in his opening remarks.
Trump's closest campaign aides, his attorney general Bill Barr and White House officials revealed in video testimony shown to the hearing how they had repeatedly warned Trump his election voting fraud narrative was bogus.
'I told him that it was crazy stuff,' Barr said.
- 'Far flung conspiracies' -
Thompson's Republican deputy Liz Cheney said Trump instead listened to the advice of 'apparently inebriated' Rudy Giuliani, a former mayor of New York and one of the former president's closest allies, 'to just claim he won, and insist that the vote counting stop -- to falsely claim everything was fraudulent.'
After crucial swing states were called for Biden, Giuliani and his associates pushed a campaign of debunked theories about massive voter fraud that put them at odds with the White House lawyers that Stepien referred to as 'Team Normal.'
'The Trump campaign legal team knew there was no legitimate argument -- fraud or irregularities or anything -- to overturn the election,' said Cheney.
The Wyoming congresswoman highlighted 'far-flung conspiracies' -- pushed by Giuliani and lawyer Sidney Powell, but dismissed as 'nonsense' by Barr -- of fraud involving voting machines 'with a deceased Venezuelan Communist allegedly pulling the strings.'
The claims are the subject of a multibillion-dollar lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems.
The committee had planned to hear in-person testimony from Stepien but he canceled an hour before the hearing after his wife went into labor.
Trump started pushing what came to be known as his 'Big Lie' around 2:30 am on November 4, 2020, making baseless allegations of fraud and prematurely declaring victory on the night of an election he ultimately lost to Joe Biden by seven million votes.
Barr told the committee in previously unseen video testimony that Trump claimed there was major fraud underway 'right out of the box on election night... before there was actually any potential of looking at evidence.'
- Conspiracy -
The committee says that initial claim grew quickly into a conspiracy to cling to power by Trump and his inner circle -- and a fundraising campaign that raised $250 million between election night and the insurrection.
The panel hopes to demonstrate that the clips from Stepien, Barr and others prove Trump should have known that what he was being told by Giuliani and Powell wasn't true.
But legal analysts are split on whether that is sufficient to argue intent, as Trump would likely argue in his defense that he took extreme measures to cling to power because still genuinely believed he had won.
Zoe Lofgren, a Democratic committee member, said the defeated president laid the groundwork for spreading his false allegations about the election months in advance.
'As early as April 2020, Mr Trump claimed that the only way he could lose an election would be as a result of fraud,' she said.
'We'll also show that the Trump campaign used these false claims of election fraud to raise hundreds of millions of dollars from supporters who were told their donations were for the legal fight in the courts but the Trump campaign didn't use the money for that,' Lofgren added.
'The big lie was also a big rip-off.'