Former U.S. President Donald Trump hosts a rally to boost Ohio Republican candidates ahead of their May 3 primary election, at the county fairgrounds in Delaware, Ohio, April 23, 2022.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump hosts a rally to boost Ohio Republican candidates ahead of their May 3 primary election, at the county fairgrounds in Delaware, Ohio, April 23, 2022. Reuters / Gaelen Morse

A key witness withdrew from a hearing on Monday of the U.S. congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol but the panel went ahead with its plans to highlight former President Donald Trump's baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen.

The hearing started about 45 minutes late after William Stepien, Trump's campaign manager in the final few months of the White House race, pulled out at the last minute, citing a family emergency.

The second of six public hearings expected this month, the session is to focus on former Trump's insistence that his 2020 election defeat was the result of widespread fraud, an unfounded allegation known as the "Big Lie."

The remaining witnesses included a former Fox News political editor and officials from Atlanta and Philadelphia who resigned as Trump's allies questioned election results in their states.

The panel is holding the hearings to discuss initial findings of its year-long investigation into the events of Jan. 6, when thousands of Trump supporters attacked the Capitol as Vice President Mike Pence and lawmakers met to certify Trump's defeat in the November 2020 election by Democrat Joe Biden.

Monday's session followed a blockbuster hearing on Thursday night featuring testimony showing that close Trump allies - even his daughter Ivanka - rejected his false claims of voting fraud. Nearly 20 million Americans watched the unusual hearing aired in the "primetime" peak television viewing hours.

Trump has denied wrongdoing and he and his supporters dismiss the Democratic-led Select Committee as a political witchhunt. Democrats call it a necessary investigation into a terrible and deadly event and say House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi wanted a bipartisan independent commission but Republicans refused.


The remaining witnesses included Chris Stirewalt, a former political editor at Fox News, who was initially scheduled to appear beside Stepien.

Monday's witnesses also were to include conservative Republican election attorney Ben Ginsberg, Byung J. "BJay" Pak, who resigned as U.S. attorney in Atlanta as Trump's camp questioned Georgia's election results, and Al Schmidt, the only Republican on Philadelphia's elections board who became a target of attacks after he defended the integrity of the 2020 vote.

Georgia and Pennsylvania were among states that backed Trump in the 2016 election, but went for Biden in 2020. They have been a focus of the unfounded assertions of election fraud.

A committee aide told reporters during a conference call previewing the hearing that Representative Zoe Lofgren would play a leading role during Monday's hearing.

Four people died the day of the attack, one fatally shot by police and the others of natural causes. Some 140 police officers were injured, and one died the next day. Four officers later died by suicide.

Nearly 850 people have been arrested for crimes related to the riot, including more than 250 charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement. Of those, about 90 have been charged with using a deadly or dangerous weapon or causing serious bodily injury to an officer.

The aide declined comment on whether any of Monday's witnesses would be testifying under subpoena. He had also declined to say whether Stepien was expected to be a confrontational witness.

Stepien's firm is working with Harriet Hageman, a Trump-endorsed candidate running against Representative Liz Cheney, vice chairperson of the Jan. 6 Select Committee, in the Republican primary for Cheney's Wyoming House seat. Cheney and Representative Adam Kinzinger are the only two Republicans on the nine-member select committee.

House Republicans voted to remove Cheney from her caucus leadership position after she criticized Trump, and she has been a target of verbal attacks by the former president.