Trump knew exactly what he was doing on January 6

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“Jerry, just remember: it’s not a lie if you believe it.” —Georges Costanza, “Seinfeld”

Did Donald Trump believe he was telling the truth when he claimed the 2020 election he lost was rigged against him? I don’t think so, but I’m just one person.

Fortunately, many other White House advisers, such as former Attorney General William Barr, told Trump in the days and weeks after the election that there had been no fraud. Barr called the claims “bullshit”, “rubbish” and “idiot”. Trump’s advisers were surprised, sometimes stunned, that he had moved on anyway. These are just some of the revelations from the second day of testimony by the congressional select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.

One of the reasons this is important is that the most important hearing audience is not voters or historians. There is only one audience: Attorney General Merrick Garland. If Garland’s Justice Department decides to charge Trump with voter fraud, it will have to demonstrate to a jury that Trump intended to commit a crime when he staged a coup attempt — and that he knew what he was doing was wrong. The January 6 committee lays a lot of compelling evidence on Garland’s desk.

In addition to Barr, other White House and campaign advisers, including Jared Kushner, Bill Stepien, Eric Herschmann, Alex Cannon and Jeffrey Rosen, told Trump there was no voter fraud. Some advisers insisted otherwise, including Rudy Giuliani. But based on testimony at the hearing, the Giuliani mob was telling Trump what he already wanted to hear. Barr testified that Trump had no interest in “real facts.” Stepien testified that “Trump’s idea was settled” that mail-in voting was a scam months before the election.

Barr went so far as to say that if Trump truly believed there was fraud, he had “detached himself from reality.” But Trump was never detached from reality – he simply created the narratives that he wants to get what he wants. He’s been doing this for decades. You can call this modus operandi lying, or exaggerating, or procrastinating, or covering up, or speaking falsely. Whatever the term, he knows exactly what he’s doing when he’s doing it.

Trump has spent years telling tall tales of New Yorkers plotting against him to derail his real estate plans. When his Atlantic City casinos stagnated, he blamed the city for the failure rather than himself. He regularly claimed that his wealth was a multiple of what it actually was – and he had to know that his projections were wrong. (He sued me on this and lost.)

When Trump was sworn into my case, my lawyers showed that he had lied dozens of times over the years about all sorts of things, including the scope and profitability of his business, the amount of his debt, if he had avoided personal bankruptcy expenses by borrowing money from his family and from his business dealings with career criminals.

Trump has long embraced alternative facts, always in the service of self-glorification or self-preservation. But the stakes are higher now. This time, he and his minions tried to set fire to the Constitution and disenfranchise voters.

And staying in power wasn’t Trump’s only goal in spreading the big lie. It also brought him money. His campaign brought in about $250 million from donors who believed he was using the money to fight voter fraud, according to the Jan. 6 committee.

Trump and his teammates knew exactly what they were doing, and the January 6 committee continues to bring the receipts. However, Congress should not be the only forum where all of this is analyzed and evaluated. A courtroom should be the next venue.

Garland will be held to a high standard if he brings a criminal case against Trump. “Mens rea” is the legal term for criminal intent, and it is enshrined in law to protect defendants who have unknowingly or accidentally committed a crime. If they didn’t know what they were doing was wrong, the argument goes, the punishment should be less severe. Maybe they shouldn’t even be prosecuted.

Trump did not accidentally or unknowingly spread the big lie or engineer a coup. He knew exactly what he was doing and he told the world about it in speeches, interviews and on his Twitter feed. When people close to him told him that his actions were baseless, he did it anyway. And he continues to do so.

But don’t take my word for it. Garland and the Justice Department should ensure that a jury of Trump’s peers is given the opportunity to decide if he is guilty.

More from Bloomberg Opinion:

• Will January 6 be a factor for November 8? : Julianna Goldman

• Tell the January 6 story to boost democracy, not democrats: publishers

• Trump’s January 6 uprising never ended: Mark Gongloff

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Timothy L. O’Brien is a senior columnist for Bloomberg Opinion covering US business and politics. A former editor and reporter for the New York Times, he is the author of “TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald”.

More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com/opinion

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