As he tells it now, Bill Stepien saw Trump campaign staffers begin to sort themselves in the days following the 2020 election. There was “Team Normal” — in touch with the reality that Trump’s path to winning the election was increasingly slim, and then impossible.
Then there were the other guys.
“I didn’t mind being characterized as part of Team Normal,” Stepien said in a deposition video released at the January 6 Committee hearing on Monday.
On the other side, was Team Rudy — or, in some people’s telling, “Team Crazy”: the coterie of Trumpers who wanted to burn it all down, making every argument they could think of in support of Trump subverting the election to stay in office.
Stepien, and nearly all of those on the internal Team Normal, did little to nothing to persuade the public that the election was not stolen. In some cases, they took actions that gave false claims of widespread voter fraud legitimacy.
But, the committee showed, Team Normal gradually began to vanish — some members were pushed out — in the weeks after Election Day, creating a vacuum for Team Crazy to fill.
In stepped Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and other figures who pushed long lists of lurid allegations of election fraud — including the memorable claim that former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez masterminded Biden’s win from his deathly perch in the Communist empyrean.
Trump’s claims didn’t increase that much in craziness — in part because they didn’t need to. He had spent the pre-election period saying that he could only lose in case of mass fraud, while blaming mail-in voting for supposedly rigging the forthcoming elections.
Stepien said that on election night, he pushed for the Trump campaign to issue the kind of anodyne statement that losing campaign typically put out: votes are still being counted, more is coming, wait.
But instead, he and Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller said, an apparently drunk Rudy Giuliani railed that the election had been stolen, and that the campaign had to declare victory.
“Mayor Giuliani was saying we won, they’re stealing it from us, where did all the votes come from, we need to go say that we won,” Miller recalled in a videotaped deposition to the panel. “And essentially that anyone who didn’t agree with that position was being weak.”
Trump went with Giuliani. And from there, members of his campaign staff began to cleave away.
“I didn’t think what was happening was necessarily honest or professional at that point in time,” Stepien said. “That led to me stepping away.”
A similar process took place with the campaign’s legal team, the committee said.
Matt Morgan, the Trump campaign’s general counsel, recalled “conversations with probably all of our counsel who are signed up to assist on Election Day as they disengaged with the campaign.”
“The general consensus was that law firms were not comfortable making the arguments that Rudy Giuliani was making,” he said. “I seem to recall I had a similar conversation with most all of them.”
The effect was, partly, to leave the Trump campaign with Giuliani and those around him as their sole public face, making claims about Chavez’s necro-conspiracy and scattered allegations about voter fraud that never really added up.
Trump appears to have attempted to create the same effect within the government — this time, pushing those on Team Normal out of the Justice Department.
Attorney General Bill Barr, nobody’s idea of an anti-Trump figure, said that he decided to leave in part because of the election claims.
“I made it clear I did not agree with the idea of saying the election was stolen and putting out this stuff which I told the president was bullshit,” Barr said. “I didn’t want to be a part of it. That’s one of the reasons that went into my deciding to leave when I did.”
Before leaving, Barr had instructed U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia BJay Pak to examine a video provided by Giuliani — the head of Team Crazy.
“He asked me to make it a priority to get to the bottom of — to try to substantiate the allegation made by Mr. Giuliani,” Pak told the committee.
Pak found that it was bunk, and Trump pushed him out, replacing him with another federal prosecutor who he apparently believed would be willing to further investigate bogus fraud claims in Georgia.
But Stepien’s and Morgan’s distancing of themselves from Team Crazy illustrated how far gone Giuliani and Powell were. In interviews with the Jan. 6 Committee, both Giuliani and Powell doubled down.
“If you gave me the paper ballots, I could probably turn around each one of these states,” Giuliani told the committee, peering into a camera. “I’m absolutely convinced if you let me examine each one of those ballots, I’d pull out enough that were fraudulent that it would shake the hell out of the country. “