'Detached From Reality': William Barr Says Trump Obsessed Over Fraud Conspiracies : The NPR Politics Podcast The second hearing into the Jan. 6 insurrection featured a slew of clips from top Trump aides from the campaign and administration testifying that the former president was repeatedly told that voter fraud claims were not true — but he continued to double-down, both publicly and privately.

And senators came to a very narrow agreement on measures designed to curb gun violence.

This episode: congressional correspondent Susan Davis, congressional reporter Claudia Grisales, and senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro.

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'Detached From Reality': William Barr Says Trump Obsessed Over Fraud Conspiracies

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SUSAN DAVIS, HOST:

Hey. It's Sue. Please go to npr.org/podcastsurvey and take our survey. It helps make the show better. Thanks.

ALEX PANTNON: Hi. This is Alex Pantnon (ph) from Ann Arbor, Mich. I just finished my first year working as a school counselor, providing mental health support to middle schoolers. This podcast was recorded at...

DAVIS: 2:06 p.m. on Monday, June 13.

PANTNON: Things might have changed by the time you hear this, but I'll be enjoying my summer break and taking care of my mental health. I hope you are taking care of your mental health as well. OK. Here's the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

DAVIS: A well-deserved break.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Yes.

DAVIS: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Susan Davis. I cover Congress.

GRISALES: I'm Claudia Grisales. I also cover Congress.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

DAVIS: And today, the committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol heard from Team Normal. That's how Trump's former campaign manager, Bill Stepien, characterized the people around the president telling him he had lost the election and there was no fraud.

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BILL STEPIEN: I didn't mind being categorized. There were two groups of them. We called them kind of my team and Rudy's team. I didn't mind being characterized as being part of Team Normal.

DAVIS: Witnesses repeatedly testified that top members of the former president's Cabinet, legal team and even his own family told him he had lost the election and the claims he was making and continues to make - that it was stolen from him - were simply not true. Claudia, it was really striking to just hear, in rapid order, so many of the top voices in the Trump administration saying at the time, this is all false, this is all false and that Trump lost the election.

GRISALES: Right. We heard from Bill Stepien, then Attorney General William Barr, and this was followed by members of Trump's own family, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner. We also heard from former Department of Justice officials. This includes Jeffrey Rosen - Rick Donoghue giving us a little bit of a preview of the next hearing.

But yeah, it was really striking hearing from these members of Trump's inner circle and how hard they were battling to get this message to the former president that he had lost, that there was no election fraud to speak of and trying to tamp down the stolen election campaign. And really, as you mentioned, Team Normal did not get through to the former president in the end.

DAVIS: We should also note that Stepien - it was video of deposition from testimony he had given earlier this year. He was supposed to testify in person today, but his wife apparently went into labor, so he could not attend in person.

GRISALES: I talked to Stepien's attorney earlier today, Kevin Marino, and he said that in terms of Stepien's missed appearance, he was here in Washington, D.C., with his attorney. They were ready to go, but Stepien got this call. His wife was in labor in New Jersey, so they had to reassemble all their plans. Stepien took off to meet up with his wife in labor, while Marian (ph) stayed behind to let the committee counsel know about this cancelation and appearance. He said he offered for Stepien to appear in the future before the committee, but they wanted to rely on these clips for now to let the public know what he said.

MONTANARO: I mean, I think there's been a clear arc over the Trump presidency of a lot of people who know the reality, who know the truth, who aren't able to get through to former President Trump and who, I guess for one reason or another, thought this time would be different, that there would be a line for Trump, that he wouldn't try to cross it, that he wouldn't try to concoct his own reality. But this is something he's done repeatedly over and over in his life, whether it was in business in New York, whether it was during his campaign through his presidency. And there are people who wind up leaving his administration who've come out and said, you know, if I wasn't there, then what would have happened?

And look, here's the reality. There were people who tried to tell him the truth, that he was going to lose, that he lost, that these claims of widespread fraud were - all these multiple words that (laughter) former Attorney General Bill Barr used - idiotic BS, once again, over and over again saying that. And it didn't matter. He wound up pushing those people away and insulating himself in a bubble of conspiracy and listening to only the people who would tell him what he wanted to hear.

DAVIS: Domenico, to that end, today there was a lot of pretty damning testimony against Rudy Giuliani, who became sort of the center of Trump's legal fight in trying to contest the election, which, again, we should note, was all thrown out in the courts.

MONTANARO: Yeah. And Giuliani was one of those three people, at least, who kind of came to light today as the people who became the Trump inner circle after he sort of pushed out these, quote-unquote, "truth-tellers", or Team Normal (laughter) as they wanted to call themselves, because you had Giuliani, Sidney Powell - the lawyer who was going off telling all kinds of false conspiracies about the election - as well as Peter Navarro, his former trade adviser.

GRISALES: That was one other point I heard from Stepien's attorney today, Marino, who said, when Giuliani entered the picture, that's when the campaign took off in a completely different direction and, in a sense, left Team Normal behind.

MONTANARO: It is interesting because in politics, there's always someone you got to throw under the bus.

(LAUGHTER)

MONTANARO: When something's not going great, everybody's going to scapegoat someone on the...

GRISALES: Right.

MONTANARO: ...Campaign or somewhere who's really responsible for it. Don't look at me. I wasn't the problem. I didn't lead us to this point. It was these guys. And that's kind of part of what you're seeing, and you have to kind of be able to read between the lines on some of that.

DAVIS: Claudia, there was a - maybe a little tantalizing element of today's hearing, too, that I wasn't quite expecting. And it raises some questions for me if this is a lane that the committee is going to go deeper down. But they talked about the money that Trump raised in the days and months after the election. I mean, just a stunning amount of money - $250 million was raised, basically, in fundraising efforts off of his false claims about the election.

GRISALES: Right. This is one of the most closely held parts of the investigation yet. This is one of the first questions the panel was asking. How did the former president turn a losing campaign into a moneymaking machine after the election loss? Well, he called it the Stop the Steal campaign, and the money kept rolling in, that 250 million.

And what's really impressive here is the panel's just scratching the surface in terms of the evidence they've uncovered. They're in the middle of a legal fight with the Republican National Committee, who filed a lawsuit against the panel saying that they wanted to stop a subpoena of one of their vendors, Salesforce, who helped host all these emails to seek donations under this kind of stop-the-steal premise. And they're still in the midst of this legal fight. And the committee wants to get to the bottom of those records that this vendor has and get a sense, how was this money spent? Where did it go to? What role did these emails play? So it's clear they're still digging here, and there's a lot more to come.

MONTANARO: The thing is, we do know where some of the money apparently wound up going, according to the committee - you know, $250 million going to nonprofits that had some connections to the former president, that were promoting him, and a lot of these charities - including one with a connection to former Trump chief of staff, Mark Meadows. And the committee is really building this case that the president and the people connected to him who were sending out these emails really were fleecing the MAGA base.

DAVIS: One thing I thought was really interesting about the voices in today's hearing - they were all Republicans. They were all people who worked in the Trump administration, who worked on the Trump campaign. And I think it makes it harder to sort of say this is a partisan witch hunt; this is Democrats going after the former president. I mean, these were his people. These were his allies. And it was their testimony today sort of recounting in very vivid detail the efforts to raise this money and everything else.

GRISALES: Right. And it is coming from the mouths of Republicans telling this story. That's what makes it so powerful. Of course, we know Chris Stirewalt was at Fox News. We were not clear if he's a Republican himself, but he does, in terms of his role when he was with Fox, communicate to a lot of Republican voters. So that is why there's such a big impact here. Because, once again, as we saw in the first hearing - we're seeing it again - it's members of Trump's inner circle; it's Republicans that are largely telling the story on the committee's behalf.

DAVIS: All right. Let's take a quick break, and we'll talk more about the hearing when we get back.

And we're back. And we should note that there have been a lot of people who have faced consequences for the election lies and the people who stormed the Capitol on January 6. And Liz Cheney, who's the top Republican on the committee, she made that point today.

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LIZ CHENEY: Mr. Chairman, hundreds of our countrymen have faced criminal charges. Many are serving criminal sentences because they believed what Donald Trump said about the election, and they acted on it. They came to Washington, D.C., at his request. They marched on the Capitol at his request, and hundreds of them besieged and invaded the building at the heart of our constitutional republic.

DAVIS: Domenico, I know it's hard to say because we're early in these hearings, but are there any signs or any sense of what the impact of them is having?

MONTANARO: Well, I mean, first of all, on that point about what Liz Cheney was saying there, you know, a lot of the people who have faced these consequences are sort of, you know, lower on the totem pole, so to speak. You know, if you're thinking about Trump being at the top of some pyramid of conspiracy for January 6 to happen, you know, it's a lot harder to get up that rung. What you've seen is, as NPR's reported, more than 840 people have been charged with crimes related to January 6, and those are the people who are inspired by the lies, as the committee would paint it. So, you know, the people being affected are not exactly the people at the top, at least just yet.

DAVIS: Claudia, this committee has no authority to charge anyone with crimes, right?

GRISALES: Right.

DAVIS: Like, this is just an investigative body. But I'm watching this on TV, and I'm just thinking, these lawmakers really seem to be making a public case against a criminal prosecution for Donald Trump. That is obviously up to the Justice Department to make that decision. But does it seem fair to say that Congress and this committee seems like they're there? They seem to be very methodically laying out a case against him.

GRISALES: Right. It seems that they have been beating this drum on when it comes to the former president and what role he played in obstructing the effort to certify the election on January 6 from the months previous to the day of. And it seems like they're beating that drum even louder through these hearings. And yes, this panel does not have any criminal legal authority. They cannot issue any kind of criminal charges, but they can set the plate, if you will, for the Justice Department to step in.

And that's been a complaint that many members have articulated for many weeks and months now, is they believe the Justice Department should step in; they should pursue a criminal probe against the former president and his role with January 6. And it seems that these hearings are trying to get the message to the Justice Department, and they could, in the end, issue a referral for the Justice Department to look at Trump when it comes to criminal efforts and trying to ramp up that pressure on Attorney General Merrick Garland.

DAVIS: And before we go, we should acknowledge there was some news over the weekend. A bipartisan group of senators, including 10 Republicans - most notably - announced that they have a framework of a deal on gun safety legislation. It's - you know, remains to be seen if it can actually get through the Senate. But if it does, it would be the first gun-related legislation Congress has taken up in, basically, a generation.

GRISALES: Sue, you've been covering this. What did they agree to?

DAVIS: Well, nothing in the legislation would actually affect anyone's ability to purchase a gun. But what it would do is put a slightly more thorough level of background checks on people under the age of 21 when they seek to purchase a weapon. They would look at juvenile records. It would encourage states to expand red flag laws, which make it easier to take a weapon away from someone if law enforcement or a member of their family thinks they could be a danger to themselves or other people; tougher crackdowns on gun trafficking; more money for schools and for mental health resources. So it's a pretty thorough piece of legislation.

I would note that all the gun safety groups have essentially come out endorsing it, so it has a lot of early support. And President Biden has basically already said he would sign it if they can pass it.

GRISALES: Yeah, I think it's clear that this mass shooting we saw in Uvalde, Texas, has really put senators on notice that they can't continue to see these incidents go by without any action. So it'll be interesting to see this text come together and potentially see this legislation move through the Senate floor and see, finally, some sort of agreement, some starting place in terms of trying to address these kind of mass shootings in our country.

DAVIS: All right. Let's leave it there for today. But don't forget - npr.org/podcastsurvey to take our survey. I'm Susan Davis. I cover Congress.

GRISALES: I'm Claudia Grisales. I also cover Congress.

MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

DAVIS: And thanks for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

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