Former president Donald Trump and his campaign staff knowingly used false claims about fraud in the 2020 presidential election to raise about $250 million from supporters, a House of Representatives panel investigating the deadly January 6, 2021, insurrection said on Monday.
The staff knew the claims were unfounded and the money raised for Mr Trump's "Official Election Defence Fund”, which did not exist, was used for other purposes, the committee said.
“We found evidence that the Trump campaign and its surrogates misled donors as to where their funds would go and what they would be used for,” Democratic Representative Zoe Lofgren said.
“So not only was there the Big Lie, there was the big rip-off.”
The committee played video testimony from Amanda Wick, a senior investigative counsel, outlining how Mr Trump and his allies raised the $250m with as many as 25 email solicitations a day to supporters seeking money to fight election fraud.
That included almost $100m in the first week after the election.
Ms Lofgren said the Trump campaign used "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."
Some of the money went to fund the "Stop the Steal" rally, which led to the deadly insurrection, the panel said.
In a lengthy response on Monday evening, Mr Trump repeated many of the same false claims that the panel had just debunked, called the investigation a one-sided "sham" and repeated his assertion that the 2020 election was "rigged and stolen".
The panel also described how Mr Trump began laying the groundwork to contest the election long before anyone had voted. He raised the idea of electoral wrongdoing in a debate with rival Joe Biden.
"As early as April 2020, Mr Trump claimed that the only way he could lose an election would be as a result of fraud," Ms Lofgren said.
Mr Trump told supporters at an August 2020 rally in Oshkosh, Wisconsin: "The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged."
Despite senior staff, his vice president Mike Pence and many of his legal advisers — including his own attorney general William Barr — advising Mr Trump that there was no election fraud, he ignored their advice and intensified his false claims, the panel said.
After the election, some in Mr Trump's orbit began working around the clock to peddle conspiracy theories of faulty voting machines and illegal voting activities in battleground states such as Georgia, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Nevada — all states won by Mr Biden.
They would need cash to legally challenge election outcomes, so they launched the fundraising campaign through intensive emailing that began on election night, the committee said.
The election challenges ceased on December 14 but the fundraising continued, with some supporters receiving 25 emails a day.
"The emails claimed the 'left-wing mob' was undermining the election, implored supporters to 'step up to protect the integrity of the election', and encouraged them to 'fight back'," Ms Wick said.
"But as the select committee has demonstrated, the Trump campaign knew these claims of voter fraud were false."
Donors were encouraged to give to the Official Election Defence Fund, which the committee said never existed.
"On November 9 2020, President Trump created a separate entity called the Save America Pac [Political Action Committee]," Ms Wick said.
"Most of the money raised went to this newly created Pac not to election related litigation."
During their inquiry, the committee found that the Save America Pac made millions of dollars of contributions to pro-Trump organisations.
These included: $1m to the foundation of Mr Trump's former chief of staff Mark Meadows; $1m to the America First Policy Institute, a conservative organisation that employs former Trump administration officials; $250,000 to the Trump Hotel collection; and more than $5m to Event Strategies, the company that ran Mr Trump's January 6 rally outside the White House.
"All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by emboldened radical-left Democrats, which is what they're doing," Mr Trump told supporters at the January 6 Stop the Steal rally.
Evidence gained by the select committee highlights how the Trump campaign aggressively pushed false election claims to raise funds, telling supporters that they would be used to fight voter fraud that did not exist.
Thirty minutes after the last fundraising email was sent, the Capitol was breached.