(Bloomberg) — A House Committee sets out on Monday to prove Donald Trump w…

support independent journalism donate

(Bloomberg) — A House Committee sets out on Monday to prove Donald Trump was directly and even legally culpable in the storming of the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, making the case he kept pushing his stolen-election claim knowing it wasn’t true.

Most Read from Bloomberg

The 10 a.m. hearing will be the second of seven planned by the panel this month, representing an early test of whether it can keep Americans tuned in. While not a prime-time event like the committee’s opening session on Thursday, which drew more than 19 million viewers, it will be seen in live coverage on NBC, ABC, CBS and CNN.

Witnesses scheduled for Monday include Bill Stepien, Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, and Byung J. Pak, who resigned as an Atlanta-based US Attorney on Jan. 4, 2021. Also on Monday’s witness list are Chris Stirewalt, a former Fox News political editor, election attorney Benjamin Ginsberg and former Philadelphia city commissioner Al Schmidt.

Trump has dismissed the investigation as a politically motivated “witch hunt.”

Here are some key aspects to watch for.

Did Trump know the election wasn’t stolen?

Committee members say Monday’s hearing will go into greater depth that Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was stolen were thoroughly investigated and litigated — and that he was told they were not true by people in his own government and family.

But look for how convincing the testimony and other evidence offered by the committee is in proving that Trump realistically could not have still believed his re-election may have been fraudulently stolen or that he never really got his day in court.

A snippet of videotaped testimony featured former Attorney William Barr saying he told Trump his election claims were wrong. The committee also has testimony from other former government officials who looked into election fraud claims and found nothing significant. Among those are Pak, who has previously testified he quit after Justice Department officials told him Trump was preparing to fire him for not pushing harder on the claim that widespread voter fraud occurred in Georgia.

The panel says Trump was told there was no significant fraud again and again, but he continued to repeat the claims anyway.

The key testimony could be that of Stepien, who was described in a Nov. 8 committee subpoena letter as supervising a post-election shift in Trump’s campaign to focusing on “Stop the Steal” messaging and related fund-raising.

But is that a crime?

Proving that Trump knew his stolen-election claims were a lie could demonstrate potential criminal intent in his alleged participation of a plan to interfere or obstruct with the certification of presidential electors and pressure then-Vice President Mike Pence to go along, the committee contends.

A potential defense for Trump is that he did not know for sure there was no fraud, or that the election was legitimate. Rather, that he was pursuing his right to challenge whether any irregularities changed the outcome of the election, as many other candidates have done and do. In doing that, he did not have the intent or knowledge of committing any crime.

Court filings show that the White House Counsel’s office directly warned top Trump associates and allies in Congress that a scheme using false state elector slates to confuse or delay certification was not lawful. Look to see if there were, in fact, any specific warnings of illegality that directly reached Trump.

Was the attack premeditated?

What anyone at the White House — and Trump specifically — knew about any premeditated plan to attack the Capitol is a key issue. Look for whether the committee can actually produce a direct White House link to such right-wing groups as the Proud Boys or the Oath Keepers, or others who allegedly might have sparked the violence. If there is any, that would be stronger proof of obstruction or conspiracy to overturn the election. And that would make it more difficult for Attorney General Merrick Garland not to consider prosecution of some of those in Trump’s inner circle, if not Trump himself.

“This has been a clear focus of our investigative efforts,” Representative Adam Schiff, a California Democrat on the committee investigating attacks, said on ABC’s “This Week.” “There are connections between these white nationalist groups and some in Trump’s orbit.”

The committee says some of those individuals responsible for the violence on Jan. 6 pushed the very same election-fraud lies that Trump peddled in the run-up to the insurrection. But proving a direct link will take more than that.

Is anyone watching?

A weekday morning hearing represents a real challenge to whether the seven-part story the committee hopes to tell can keep an audience. The hearing will be extensively covered by the media. But a big fall-off of live viewers in subsequent sessions could indicate a diminished interest.

“Losing prime time hurts with the size of the audience,” says Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, New York. “There needs to be a steady buzz to keep the audience.”

An estimated 19 million people watched Thursday’s live prime-time broadcasts, according to early audience numbers released Friday.

CNN, MSNBC, CBS and ABC all aired the hearing live. NBC News devoted a special report to the hearing while its online services, Peacock and NBC News NOW, streamed it. The Fox News Channel relegated the hearings to other platforms while its prime-time hosts scorned the hearings as a political attack on Trump.

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.