Hugo Chavez, dead voters, ‘2,000 Mules’: Discredited Trump theories resurface at Jan 6 hearing

Panel investigates how ex-president pushed wild claims his own advisers knew were false

Former Trump Attorney General Bill Barr laughs at claims made in conspiracy documentary
Leer en Español

Day two of the Capitol riot investigation’s public hearings in the House concluded on Monday after lawmakers and witnesses resurfaced a barrage of wild conspiracies spread by former President Donald Trump and his allies.

The clear focus of Monday’s session was the months-long effort waged by Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell and other allies of the former president to spread baseless rumours, ginned-up conspiracies and half-baked nonsense regarding various shenanigans that supposedly happened to all of the votes Mr Trump would need to overcome his deficit to Joe Biden in key swing states. The truly shocking number of conspiracies floated by Mr Trump’s legal team, from briefcases stuffed full of votes to international plots to stop Donald Trump’s re-election, was on full display — as were the tireless efforts of both state and federal officials to swat them down.

One of the most striking moments of Monday’s hearing involved testimony from William Barr, the former attorney general, whose proclamation in late 2020 that the Justice Department had not seen evidence of fraud that could have affected the election results enraged Donald Trump. In Mr Barr’s interview with the committee he described a “whack-a-mole” situation that developed that year as the president would float numerous baseless claims of supposedly sinister activity which the Justice Department would refute to him in real time.

"There was an avalanche of all these allegations of fraud that built up over a number of days and it was like playing whack-a-mole, because something would come out one day, and then the next day it would be another issue,” said Mr Barr.

“Also, I was influenced by all of the early claims that I understood were completely bogus and silly and usually based on complete misinformation,” he added.

And in one of the clearest moments of division between Mr Trump and reality, former senior White House adviser Jared Kushner explained how he had tried to convey his doubts about Rudy Giuliani’s increasingly unhinged claims of fraud, none of which were ever proven in court or any other venue, to the president.

In video of his testimony, Mr Kushner was asked whether he had ever shared his own personal beliefs about Mr Giuliani’s tactics and claims of fraud with Mr Trump himself.

After an extremely long pause and a sigh, Mr Kushner answered shortly, “I guess ... yes.”

Asked by the investigator what he told the president, the former senior White House adviser responded that it was “not the approach I would take, if I was you”.

But Mr Trump went with his fantasy-spinning legal team instead of “Team Normal”, in the words of former Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, leading to months of increasingly bizarre efforts to audit votes, prove the existence of imaginary fraud, and just generally sow total distrust in ever layer of American government, from local volunteer election clerks to the highest levels of the Department of Justice.

Let’s take a look at some of the false claims about the 2020 election that resurfaced on Monday as committee members examined what ex-AG Barr referred to as an “avalanche” of “bulls***”.

Dinesh D’Souza’s ‘2000 Mules’

One of the most high-profile conspiracy vehicles stemming from the 2020 election was the documentary 2000 Mules, a supposed investigative effort by longtime right-wing conspiracist Dinesh D’Souza, a promoter of such other gems as the racist conspiracy that alleged Barack Obama was secretly born abroad.

The documentary, released by Mr D’Souza in May 2022, has already grossed more than $10m in revenue according to press releases, making it likely Mr D’Souza’s most profitable documentary effort yet. The film’s central theory involves so-called “mules” whose existence Mr D’Souza alleges via a number of anonymous statements and analyses of cell phone data which has been roundly debunked by experts; according to Mr D’Souza, the data is evidence of a massive ballot-harvesting operation in the US.

That film’s theory was roundly rejected by former AG Barr during his video testimony to the committee, which was played on Tuesday.

“The election was not stolen by fraud, and I haven’t seen anything since the election that changes my mind on that. Including the 2000 Mules movie,” he quipped, before breaking out into unprompted laughter.

“The [Georgia Bureau of Investigation] was unimpressed with it, and I was similarly unimpressed with it,” Mr Barr said of the film. “The cellphone data [evidence] is singularly unimpressive.”

Mr Barr went on to explain that contractors who were involved with election systems at multiple precincts contributed to much of the supposed evidence of ballot harvesting that the movie had identified.

Hugo Chavez comes back from the grave for revenge

One of the most bizarre moments of the 2020 election season, and there were many to pick from, was when former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell declared at a press conference flanked by Mr Giuliani that Smartmatic’s voting systems “were created in Venezuela at the direction of Hugo Chávez”. Those machines, the Trump team (including Mr Trump himself) declared on multiple occasions, flipped millions of votes from the 45th president to Mr Biden on election night via an “algorithm”.

That conspiracy appears to have been borne out of the fact that the company was involved in providing voting machines for use in Venezuela throughout the 2010s, ignoring the fact that the company pulled out of the country after a dispute over the actual results announced by Venezuela’s government. And it is unclear why the Trump team focused so much of its anger on the company given that none of its machines were used in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, or other swing states that cost Mr Trump the election.

One of Mr Trump’s own attorneys testified to the committee that he thought the claims about Smartmatic and fellow voting software company Dominion were “nonsense”, though his former boss and his team would continue to spread falsehoods about them them for months.

“What they were proposing, I thought, was nuts,” said former White House attorney Eric Herschmann.

Voters come back from the dead too

Not satisfied with merely resurrecting the former leader of socialist Venezuela, Donald Trump’s team would go on to spread claims that thousands of “dead people” had voted in Pennsylvania, a key battleground lost by Mr Trump in 2020 after his victory there in 2016.

The president’s lead attorney declared as much at a hearing in late November of 2020, stating: “I think this is kind of a low count ... they only submitted 8,021 ballots from dead people”.

That too was debunked at Monday’s hearing by both Mr Barr and Philadelphia’s lone GOP city commissioner, Al Schmidt, who declared: "Not only was there not evidence of 8,000 dead voters voting in Pennsylvania, there wasn't evidence of eight.”

Mr Barr agreed in his video testimony, noting that turnout had been in line with previous elections in the state and that Mr Trump had simply underperformed other Republicans running that year in the state.

“The turnout in Philadelphia was absolutely in line with the rest of Pennsylvania,” Mr Barr said. “There was nothing strange about the Philadelphia turnout.”

The ‘suitcase full of ballots’ in Georgia

One of the few actual allegations of fraud that Mr Trump’s allies felt comfortable enough to bring before a court was the “suitcases of ballots” conspiracy, stemming from videos of precinct vote-counting in Fulton County, Georgia that Trump allies alleged depicted workers unloading large suitcases full of supposedly fraudulent ballots from outside locations.

The allegation was repeated by both Mr Giuliani and Mr Trump, and eventually made it into a lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in an attempt to invalidate the election results of several states, including Georgia’s. “[S]uitcases full of ballots [were] being pulled out from underneath tables after poll watchers were told to leave,” the lawsuit claimed.

That allegation on Monday was rejected by Bjay Pak, a Republican state representative from Georgia, who explained how the containers noticed by Mr Trump’s allies were actually official lockboxes used by those precincts for ballots cast by in-person voters.

“We found that the suitcases full of ballots, the alleged black suitcase that was being seen pulled out from under the table, was actually an official lockbox where ballots were kept safe,” he explained.

Native Americans paid to vote

A less-publicised Trump conspiracy that was mentioned on Monday may have escaped the notice of many throughout the 2020 season: Donald Trump’s complaint apparently made to members of the Justice Department that Native Americans were supposedly being paid by Democratic operatives to vote for Joe Biden (all Native Americans, both those living on reservations and in other communities around the US, have full voting rights due to the concept of birthright citizenship which automatically bestows citizenship to anyone born on US soil).

The emergence of the conspiracy was detailed at Monday’s hearing by former Deputy Attorney General Rich Donoghue, who described in his testimony a 2020 meeting he had with the then-president.

Mr Trump declared that "Indians are getting paid to vote,” Mr Donoghue told the committee, explaining, “he meant people on Native American reservations” to note Mr Trump’s usage of a term for Native Americans that many consider racist.

The ex-official went on to note that he told the president that he could not find any evidence to support that allegation.

A top Native American voting rights advocate, Tom Rodgers of the Blackfeet Nation, responded to the testimony in a statement on Twitter.

"Trump's unfounded accusation that Native Americans were paid to vote in 2020 is in line with a lifetime of his ignorant hate-filled remarks aimed at Native Americans. Trump's words are why Native Americans will continue to vote in record numbers. This path gives us our voice,” he declared.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in