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"The big ripoff": Jan. 6 committee lays out how false election claims fueled Trump fundraising

Jan. 6 panel focuses on Trump's false claims
House Jan. 6 hearing focuses on Trump's baseless election fraud claims 08:27

Washington — The House select committee probing the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol charted a path Monday showing how the Trump campaign and allies used baseless claims of election fraud to raise millions of dollars from the former president's supporters — money that was then funneled into the pockets of entities with close ties to Trump.

The fundraising roadmap was laid out by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat from California who played a leading role in the committee's second day of hearings, which focused on how Trump embraced unfounded claims the election was stolen even as close administration and campaign advisers knew that wasn't the case.

The Trump campaign, she said, "used these false claims of election fraud to raise hundreds of millions of dollars from supporters who were told their donations were for the legal fight in the courts. But the Trump campaign didn't use the money for that. The 'Big Lie' was also a big ripoff."

According to the committee's findings, detailed in a video played near the end of the hearing, the former president's campaign pushed the narrative of a rigged election even as legal challenges raising the same claims had failed before dozens of judges, including some appointed by Trump himself.

Between Nov. 3, 2020, and Jan. 6, 2021, the former president's supporters were hounded with scores of emails — as many as 25 per day — that encouraged them to "fight back" against a "left-wing mob" undermining the election. The missives urged supporters to "step up" by contributing to a so-called "Election Defense Fund" that would be used to cover election-related litigation, according to Amanda Wick, senior investigative counsel for the House panel. 

But one former staffer with the Trump campaign, Hanna Allred, told the committee in a closed-door interview, "I don't believe there is actually a fund called the Election Defense Fund." Gary Coby, the former digital director for the Trump campaign, said in separate testimony that the Election Defense Fund was a marketing tactic. 

Claims the election was stolen from Trump proved to be a significant motivator for his supporters, with the former president and his allies raking in $250 million, nearly $100 million of which was contributed in the first week after the election, according to Wick. The Trump campaign fundraised off of the false election claims through Jan. 6, Wick said, with the last email sent 30 minutes after the Capitol building was first breached by the mob of the former president's supporters.

Most of the money went not to challenging election results in the courts, but rather to the Save America PAC, which Trump launched a week after the 2020 election. The committee found the former president's political action committee, which is now his main political entity, contributed "millions" to pro-Trump organizations, including: 

  • $1 million to the Conservative Partnership Institute, where former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows is senior partner  
  • $1 million to the America First Policy Institute, a research organization that employs numerous former Trump administration officials, including former Small Business Administration Administrator Linda McMahon, former senior counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, and former acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf
  • $204,857 to the Trump Hotel Collection
  • $5 million to Event Strategies Inc., the company that ran the Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse

Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is engaged to Donald Trump Jr. and was a top fundraising official with the Trump campaign, also was paid a $60,000 speaking fee for introducing her fiancé at the Jan. 6 rally at the Ellipse, after which the former president's supporters marched down to the Capitol, Lofgren told CNN after Monday's hearing.

Video from the rally shows Guilfoyle spoke for less than three minutes before handing the microphone over to Trump Jr., the former president's eldest son.

"The Trump campaign and its surrogates misled donors as to where their funds would go and what they would be used for, so not only was there the 'Big Lie,' there was the big ripoff," Lofgren said during the hearing. "Donors deserve to know where their funds are really going. They deserve better than what President Trump and his team did."

Fundraising figures released by the Trump campaign are consistent with the committee's findings. In December 2020, the former president's election apparatus boasted that since the Nov. 3 election, the campaign, Republican National Committee, Trump Victory and Trump Make America Great Again joint committees, along with the Save America PAC, raised $207.5 million.

Bill Stepien, Trump's campaign manager who was scheduled to testify Monday but could not appear because his wife went into labor, said in a statement at the time that the former president's supporters are "dedicated to fighting for the rightful, legal outcome of the 2020 general election."

A filing with the Federal Election Commission covering late November 2020 to the end of the year found that the Save America PAC alone rang in 2021 with more than $31 million cash-on-hand.

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