Trump aides tell Jan. 6 committee he ignored their doubts about election fraud

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(Adds attribution, paragraph 8)

By Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON(Reuters) -Top advisers to then-President Donald Trump told him that his claims of widespread election fraud were unfounded and would not reverse his 2020 election loss, but he refused to listen, according to testimony on Monday at a hearing of the committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Close aides and family members said they told Trump that they found no merit in a wide range of often outlandish allegations that surfaced after his election defeat, including reports of a "suspicious suitcase" containing fake ballots, a truck transporting ballots to Pennsylvania and computer chips swapped into voting machines.

"I thought, boy, if he really believes this stuff he has lost contact with, he's become detached from reality," said William Barr, who served as Trump's attorney general and was long known as loyal to the Republican president. In video testimony, Barr bluntly dismissed claims of fraud as "bullshit" and "crazy stuff."

"There was never an indication of interest in what the actual facts were," he said.

The Democratic-led House of Representatives Select Committee investigating the assault on the U.S. Capitol by thousands of Trump supporters presented its findings at the second of an expected six this month on its nearly year-long investigation into the riot.

Monday's hearing sought to make the case that Trump ignored the advice of many of his own staffers when he claimed that the 2020 presidential election was "stolen" from him.

Committee members argue that Trump's repeated fraud claims, known by Democrats as "The Big Lie," convinced his followers to attack the Capitol.

"He and his closest advisers knew those claims were false, but they continued to peddle them anyway, right up until the moments before a mob of Trump supporters attacked the Capitol," said Democratic Representative Zoe Lofgren.

Democrats said Trump raised some $250 million from supporters to advance fraud claims in court but instead steered much of the money elsewhere.

"The 'Big Lie' was also a big ripoff," Lofgren said.

Trump has denied wrongdoing, and repeatedly insisted that he did not lose, dismissing the Select Committee investigation as a political witchhunt.

Opinion polls show that many of Trump's supporters still believe his false claims about the election. Some are now running for offices in which they would oversee future elections. Trump has hinted at running for president again in 2024 but has not announced any decision.

CAMPAIGN 'DID NOT MAKE ITS CASE'

Bill Stepien, Trump's campaign manager, said he recommended on election night that Trump steer clear of any pronouncement of victory and instead say votes were still being counted.

"He thought I was wrong. He told me so, and that they were going to go, that he was going to go in a different direction," Stepien said in videotaped testimony. Stepien was slated to testify in person, but cancelled at the last minute when his wife went into labor.

Trump went on television to preemptively declare victory at the urging of Rudy Giuliani, a former New York City mayor. Campaign advisor Jason Miller testified that Giuliani was not sober at the time.

"The mayor was definitely intoxicated but I, um, did not know his level of intoxication when he spoke with the president, for example," Miller said in video testimony.

Byung J. "BJay" Pak, who resigned as U.S. attorney in Atlanta as Trump's camp questioned Georgia's election results, said he found no evidence of fraud in that state.

Referring to the suspicious suitcase that supposedly contained fake or altered ballots, Pak said, sitting at the witness table: "The alleged black suitcase being pulled from under the table was an official lock box."

Monday's session followed a blockbuster hearing on Thursday night featuring testimony showing that close Trump allies - even Trump's daughter Ivanka - rejected his false claims of voting fraud. Nearly 20 million Americans watched the hearing aired in the primetime peak television viewing hours.

Four people died the day of the attack, one fatally shot by police and the others of natural causes. Some 140 police officers were injured, and one died the next day. Four officers later died by suicide.

Nearly 850 people have been arrested for crimes related to the riot, including more than 250 charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Richard Cowan and Doina Chiacu, additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Alistair Bell)

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