Jan. 6 testimony shows divide between ‘Team Normal’ Trump aides and backers of election lie

·Reporter
·4-min read

WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign manager Bill Stepien couldn’t testify in person at the second hearing of the House select committee Monday because his wife was going into labor, yet he still played a pivotal role as lawmakers made the case that Trump knowingly pushed the election lie that resulted in the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

“There were two groups, my team and Rudy’s team. I didn’t mind being characterized as part of ‘Team Normal,’” Stepien said via video testimony Monday. “I didn’t think what was happening was necessarily honest or professional at that time.”

Bill Stepien, former campaign manager for Donald Trump's 2020 presidential campaign
Video testimony of Bill Stepien, former Trump campaign manager is displayed at the second public hearing of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

On Monday, lawmakers drilled into the origins of Trump’s election lie, describing how Trump increasingly turned away from aides who told him the truth and clung onto another group led by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and conspiracy theorist and lawyer Sidney Powell.

To make their point, House lawmakers leaned on Stepien and other members of “Team Normal” to try and show that Trump willfully ignored clear evidence that he lost and instead chose to listen to people like “an apparently inebriated” Giuliani, as Rep. Liz Cheney put it.

And much like the first hearing last Thursday, they leaned on Trump’s closest aides and advisers to attempt to prove that Trump was aware of his defeat but continued pushing the lie anyway.

Longtime Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner sheepishly admitted in testimony that he told Trump he didn’t agree with Giuliani’s baseless claims of election fraud.

In his videotaped testimony, former Attorney General William Barr laughed at times and other times rubbed his temples as he explained telling Trump directly that the Justice Department was not there to investigate claims of voter fraud (Barr told Trump the campaign would need to raise those issues with individual states), and that the stories of dead people allegedly voting and Trump’s claims that “Indians” were being paid to vote were meritless.

Jared Kushner's video deposition
Jared Kushner's video deposition. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“I told him the stuff his people were shoveling out to the public was bulls***,” Barr said. He later said he thought, “Boy, if he really believes this stuff, he’s lost contact, he’s become, he’s become detached from reality.”

Former Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue recounted pushing back against one of Trump’s conspiracy theories, only to find it replaced by another (a tactic described as “flooding the zone with s***,” which has been used in authoritarian countries to overwhelm opponents).

“There were so many allegations that when you confronted him on one, he wouldn’t fight it, he would move over to another one,” Donoghue testified.

Speaking after the committee hearing Monday, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md. and one of the panel’s members, said their findings from almost a year of investigating the causes behind the Jan. 6 insurrection would show Trump intended to stay in power by overthrowing the 2020 election results.

"Some have suggested it was narcissistic, some have suggested that he was detached from reality. Whatever the motive, the point is that he clearly had the intention that he acted upon to try to overthrow the result of the 2020 presidential election,” Raskin said.

Rep. Jamie Raskin
House select committee Jamie Raskin speaking to reporters on Monday. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Over the course of roughly two hours, the House panel heard from close to a dozen former Trump White House and campaign aides who described their increasing exasperation as Trump repeatedly pushed them to investigate baseless allegations of voter fraud.

White House lawyer Eric Herschmann recounted finally blowing up at Trump lawyer John Eastman, who crafted the memo that falsely claimed that then-Vice President Mike Pence had the power to hand the election to Trump on Jan. 6.

“‘Are you out of your effing mind?’” Herschmann said he told Eastman. “I only want to hear two words coming out of your mouth from now on: Orderly transition.”

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