Who is Bill Stepien? Former Trump campaign manager's testimony plays central role in Jan. 6 hearing
Bill Stepien, President Trump's former campaign manager, played a key role in Monday's House Jan. 6 committee public hearing. The hearing focused on how the then-president declared victory on election night, despite being told that he didn't have the votes to win and how he continued to embrace false claims of election fraud.
Stepein was set to testify in person at Monday's hearing, but canceled at the last minute after his wife went into labor.
Given his absence, the House committee investigating the riot used recorded video testimony from Stepien, who described what it was like during and after Election Day trying to get the president to believe there was no evidence of a stolen election, as Mr. Trump repeatedly claimed.
On election night, Stepien said he recommended to the president that they wait for the votes to be counted before declaring victory because it was too early to call the race. He said Mr. Trump disagreed with him, saying he "was going to go in a different direction."
In the early hours of Nov. 4, 2020, Trump gave a speech declaring victory.
"I always told the president the truth, and you know, I think he expected that from me and I told him it was going to be a process and you know, we'll have to wait and see how this turns out. Just like I did in 2016, I did in 2020," Stepien said, according to a recorded interview.
After the election, Stepien said two camps emerged within the campaign — "Team Normal," of which he was part, and "Rudy's Team," referring to those who listened to Rudy Giuliani.
"I didn't think what was happening was necessarily honest or professional at that point in time," he said of those fueling false claims the election was rigged. "That led to me stepping away."
Stepien became Trump's campaign manager less than four months ahead of the election amid tumbling poll numbers in a presidential race shaped by a global pandemic and its economic fallout.
Stepien, a traditional GOP political operative, lacked the limelight-craving swagger of the man he replaced, Brad Parscale, who at 6'8'', was regularly spotted posing for selfies at Trump campaign rallies, served as a warm-up act for Mr. Trump, and promoted his Facebook page using campaign funds.
In Stepien, the president found a more behind-the-scenes, disciplined campaign operative, jokingly described as "allergic to press" — and not nearly as frequently photographed as Parscale. Trump allies viewed him as a known entity.
Though Stepien rarely exerted too much power or control over the president's message, he began a review of campaign infrastructure and spending when promoted from campaign political director to deputy campaign manager in late May.
Former deputy assistant to the president and White House political director, Stepien joined the Trump administration in January 2017, but he departed his post in December 2018 after the House suffered Republican midterm losses.
"With 109 days left, our goal is clear – to win each day we have left until Election Day," Stepien wrote in his first statement as campaign manager. "If we win more days than Joe Biden wins, President Trump will be re-elected."
A product of New Jersey politics, Stepien first worked in politics as a volunteer for a state Senate campaign in 1997 while studying at Rutgers University, then climbed the Garden State ranks for a decade. The campaign operative flipped a Democratic district to Republican in 2003 while running Bill Baroni's State Assembly race, a job that led to positions at the Republican National Committee, and later, the 2008 presidential campaigns of both Rudy Giuliani and Senator John McCain.
Stepien served as Chris Christie's campaign manager for his 2009 run for New Jersey governor and again for his reelection bid in 2013. Christie notoriously fired Stepien following a 2014 investigation of the "Bridgegate" scandal. Thousands of emails and text messages revealed plans by Christie's administration in 2013 to close traffic lanes in Fort Lee, New Jersey, leading to the George Washington Bridge – political retaliation against the mayor for not supporting the governor's reelection campaign. Christie said at the time that he was disturbed by Stepien's "callous indifference" in some of the emails, according to CBS New York.
Stepien was never charged in the scandal, but his protege and Christie's former chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, was convicted of fraud and conspiracy, along with another Christie appointee, Bill Baroni. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Kelly and Baroni's convictions earlier this year.
Former Republican operative David Wildstein testified in the 2016 trial that Stepien knew about the plan to close traffic lanes to create gridlock to punish the Democratic Fort Lee mayor. Another one of Christie's top political advisers, Mike DuHaime, testified that Stepien and Kelly knew about the plan ahead of a December 2013 news conference when Christie said no one in his administration had any knowledge of the scheme. Stepien's attorney maintained his client did not engage in any wrongdoing.
Stepien was Mr. Trump's fifth campaign manager, following Corey Lewandowski, Paul Manafort, Kellyanne Conway, and Parscale.
Major Garrett, Arden Farhi and Fin Gomez contributed to this report.
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