During and after the 2020 presidential campaign, Donald Trump and his allies—including hundreds of government officials throughout the country—worked tirelessly to spread misinformation and fear about purported election fraud that would undermine his chances of winning reelection. This included lies about the vulnerability of mail-in ballots, which led to Twitter fact-checking and putting warning labels on his tweets.
Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud have continued unabated to this day, and were amplified by members of his administration and inner circle such as Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, economic advisor Peter Navarro, and legal and political advisors such as John Eastman, Boris Epshteyn, Rudy Giuliani, Cleta Mitchell, and Sydney Powell, among others.
Once major news networks called the election in favor of Biden on Nov. 7, 2020, various members of the administration responded very differently to the president’s refusal to accept the results. Attorney General Bill Barr resigned in mid-December after refusing to acquiesce to Trump’s demands that the Justice Department investigate the outcome of the election. Vice President Mike Pence refused to succumb to intense pressure from Trump to prevent the final certification of the Electoral College count on Jan. 6, 2021. Other cabinet members—including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and former Chief of Staff/Special Envoy to Northern Ireland Mick Mulvaney—didn’t resign until Trump’s incessant lies and illegal machinations to hold on to power sparked the insurrection.
However, whether or not they ultimately resigned, after Election Day no one in the administration attempted to reason with the president or hold him accountable for misleading the public, neglecting his presidential duties, breaking his oath of office, and further stoking political divisions and violence.
On Jan. 6, 2021, the administration’s escalating lies about a stolen election culminated in Trump inciting an insurrection at the Capitol that sent lawmakers attempting to certify Biden’s victory running for safety and led to five deaths, extensive property damage, and ongoing concerns about the future of democracy in America.
January 6, 2021
- While speaking at the March to Save America rally on the Ellipse, Trump implored his supporters to proceed to the Capitol and “fight like hell,” telling them that he would be there, too. According to congressional testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, when his Secret Service bodyguards told him it was too dangerous to travel to the Capitol, Trump was enraged and attempted to grab the steering wheel from the driver.
- During the 187 minutes between the end of his speech at the rally and the release of a video message in which he finally told his supporters to “go home,” Trump reportedly sulked in the White House, ignoring pleas from senior staff and family members to do more to stop the violence at the Capitol.
- A day after the insurrection, Trump succumbed to pressure from key aides and family members to make a speech acknowledging that Biden would assume the presidency on Jan. 20, 2021. In outtakes from the speech shared by the House Select Committee, Trump did not want to admit that the election was over, explaining in protest: “I just want to say Congress has certified the results without saying the election is over.”
- As the attack on the Capitol escalated, Meadows was slumped on the couch in his White House office when numerous staff members and other members of the president’s inner circle—including Donald Trump Jr.—repeatedly urged him to do something to stop the insurrection. Although Meadows said he was “pushing it hard” to get Trump to tell the mob to stand down, several West Wing staff members have expressed dismay that the chief of staff did not condemn the insurrection himself or attempt to get the president to call off the attack.
- Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Guiliani—who said that the insurrection was perpetrated by Democrats and the Left in order to “frame”the president—spoke at the March to Save America rally that preceded the assault on the Capitol. During his remarks, he called for a “trial by combat.” After lawmakers resumed the certification process, Guiliani tried to convince specific Republicans to delay the process again, telling Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) to “try to just slow it [the certification] down.”
- During the insurrection, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany received frantic text messages from Trump supporters—including FoxNews host Sean Hannity, who texted her to suggest that there be “no more stolen election talk.” McEnany replied, “Love that. Thank you. That is the playbook. I will help reinforce….” Yet, the next day she tried to distance the Trump administration from the attack on the Capitol, stating: “Those who violently besieged our Capitol are the opposite of everything that this administration stands for.”
- Numerous Trump administration officials resigned following his incitement of the insurrection, including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and former Chief of Staff/Special Envoy to Northern Ireland Mick Mulvaney. In her letter of resignation, DeVos blamed Trump directly, writing: “There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and it is the inflection point for me.” However, once they resigned, these officials did little to hold Trump to account for his actions.
- The House Select Committee investigating the attack on the Capitol interviewed multiple members of the administration to learn more about internal discussions about potentially invoking the 25th Amendment in the wake of the Capitol attack. In July and August 2022, committee members spoke with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, former National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and former Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin about conversations they had had regarding Trump’s capacity to fulfill his duties in the interim between the insurrection and Biden’s inauguration. The interviews took place after Hutchinson, the aide to Meadows who testified at one of the committee’s televised hearings, said that “there was a large concern of the 25th Amendment potentially being invoked, and there were concerns about what would happen in the Senate if it was.”