He didn’t believe in the Big Lie.
The J6 committee had a narrow goal Monday. It was to prove that the former president knew the Big Lie – that Joe Biden stole the 2020 election – was just that, a big lie, and that he spearheaded a conspiracy to overturn a lawful democratic election on the strength of that lie.
The narrow goal was part of a larger one. That’s to pave the way for a possible criminal indictment of Donald Trump by the US Department of Justice for the crime of obstructing an official proceeding. Merrick Garland, the attorney general, is reportedly thinking about it already.
According to NBC News correspondent Ken Dilanian, “a person familiar with the matter told NBC News there have been conversations inside the Justice Department about the far-reaching implications of pursuing a case against the former president, should it come to that.”
Did the J6 committee succeed?
Well, I’m no prosecutor.
But I think so.
Led by California Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, the panel presented evidence showing what he knew and when he knew it. Indeed, the evidence was so overwhelming I risk hyperbole in saying that everyone around Donald Trump told him two things over and over and over – that there was no voter fraud and that Joe Biden really did beat him.
Everyone, that is, except the goons, ghouls and grifters eager to tell Trump what he wanted to hear, including a drunk Rudy Giuliani.
And they prevailed.
Lies are useful
Trump never said, “Yeah, I don’t believe it either,” but in testimony by Richard Donoghue, Americans could see that he came close enough.
We can see that he knew from the choices he made.
In great detail, the then-acting deputy attorney general recalled a time in which he explained to Trump that every fraud allegation was false.
Donoghue said there was a pattern.
Trump would allege Conspiracy Theory X for why 2020 was stolen. Donoghue would debunk it. Trump would then allege Conspiracy Theory Y. Donoghue would debunk it. And so on and so forth.
Each time he debunked one of the many conspiracy theories, Donoghue said “he accepted that.” Trump accepted the truth about the lie. By inference, however, we know what “accepted” meant to Trump.
He accepted that the truth was against him.
Therefore, he knew what the truth was.
That’s why, in the moment that Donoghue recalled, Trump moved so easily on to the next conspiracy theory. One of them might stick. It didn’t matter which one. What mattered was whether it worked – whether it got respectable people like Richard Donoghue to help him.
That Trump moved so easily on to the next conspiracy theory, regardless of what it was, suggests that he did not care enough about the conspiracy theory to assess its truthfulness or falsehood. The only thing he cared about, again by inference, was whether he could use it.
He didn’t believe in the Big Lie.
What he believed in was its utility.
His choices are evidence
As I said, everyone, except the goons, ghouls and grifters around Trump, told him – made him aware of the fact that – the lies were lies. That alone might be enough for a jury to convict a president-traitor.
If it’s not, however, his choices are damning evidence.
The context he was working in was saturated with facts. It was also occupied by respectable people who were unwilling to help him stage an overthrow of the government on the strength of a lie. (Eventually, Trump’s legal departed, leaving Giuliani in charge of the goon squad.)
In that context, the former president made choices telling us what he knew. In that context, he recognized the difference between the usefulness of a lie and the usefulness of the truth. That recognition is evidence. Choices made based on that recognition are evidence.
Evidence that he knew.
He decided against believing the truth-tellers. They wouldn’t help him. He did decide to believe the liars. The liars would help him. One side wasn’t useful. One side was. In that choice, I think, is what we need to know – that Trump knew the difference between truth and lies.
As former Attorney General Bill Barr told the committee in testimony, he tried repeatedly to get Trump to understand that voter fraud claims were “bullshit.” “He never seemed interested in the facts,” Barr said.
Only lies were interesting. They worked.
He knew the Big Lie was just that.
He could not have not known
But there’s more.
All this was happening in a broader context. The committee reminded us that Trump had alleged fraud well before Election Day. He did it in April. Then again in August. And, of course, soon after Biden won.
The committee was able to show that Trump was told there was no voter fraud the day before he went on television to say that the only way he would lose the election was if there were voter fraud.
(The committee didn’t mention it, but some will recall that he did the same thing before the 2016 election. He couldn’t lose to Hillary Clinton, he said, unless there’s a fraud. Con men always set expectations.)
If the evidence does not prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Trump knew the Big Lie was a big lie, I think it can prove – and I think does prove – that there was no way Trump could not have known.
But he did know.
He alleged voter fraud before the election. That demonstrates that fraud allegations were not a reaction. They were part of normal discourse in Trump’s inner circle. That brings us to Rudy Giuliani.
Fox called Arizona for Biden on Election Day. Without it, Trump was doomed. The question that night was what Trump should do.
Giuliani said he should go on TV and declare victory. Bill Stepian said no. Campaign advisor Jason Miller said no. Bill Barr said don’t do it. Son-in-law Jared Kushner said, I wouldn’t do it. Even his daughter, Ivanka Trump, said in testimony that votes were still being counted.
But Giuliani, who “was intoxicated,” Miller said, prevailed.
Giuliani prevailed from that day until January 6.