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Arizona and Georgia state officials testified to the Jan. 6 select committee Tuesday about former President Donald Trump’s pressure campaign to convince them to try to overturn his 2020 election loss in those key battlegrounds.
In the fourth in an ongoing series of public hearings, the committee sought to show how Trump and his allies tried to harass and intimidate election officials and Republican-controlled legislatures to reverse the election results, even after he’d been told that there was no evidence of widespread fraud in the election. Tuesday’s hearing also offered new details about Trump’s involvement in a scheme to replace legitimately appointed Biden electors with an alternate slate of pro-Trump electors in certain states.
“A handful of election officials in several key states stood between Donald Trump and the upending of American democracy,” the committee’s chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said.
After opening remarks from Thompson and Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., committee member Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., took the lead in questioning witnesses, some of whom recounted threats of violence and death against election officials who refused to be taken in by the president’s false claims of voter fraud.
“Anyone who got in the way of Donald Trump’s continued hold on power after he lost the election was the subject of a dangerous and escalating campaign of pressure,” Schiff said.
As with the committee’s previous three public hearings, Tuesday’s presentation relied heavily on the testimony of witnesses, including a trio of Georgia state officials and Rusty Bowers, the Republican speaker of the Arizona state House of Representatives, who appeared in person.
What were some of the most shocking revelations?
Trump and Giuliani personally pressured Bowers to replace Biden electors.
Bowers, the Arizona House Speaker, described a call he received shortly after the 2020 election from Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who urged him to initiate a process in the Arizona State Legislatures that, they said, would allow them “remove the electors of President Biden and replace them” with electors loyal to Trump. But Bowers refused to comply with the requests from Trump and Giuliani, explaining that he had never heard of any law allowing the replacement of certified electors and that he was never provided with any evidence of the alleged voter fraud that the former president and his personal attorney claimed warranted such an unprecedented move.
“I didn’t feel the evidence merited a hearing, and I didn't want to be used as a pawn,” Bowers said. He said he told Trump and Giuliani, “You’re asking me to do something against my oath, and I will not break my oath.”
The Republican National Committee assisted the Trump campaign in its effort to convene alternate electors.
In a videotaped deposition, RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel told the committee about a call she had received from the former president and attorney John Eastman who, McDaniel said, “proceeded to talk about the importance of the RNC helping the campaign and gather these contingent electors in case any of the legal challenges that were ongoing changed the result of any of the states.”
“My understanding was the campaign did take the lead, and we were just helping them in that, in that role,” McDaniel said.
Some Trump campaign lawyers tried to distance themselves from the 'fake electors' plot.
In taped testimony given to the committee that was shown Tuesday, two former Trump campaign attorneys, Justin Clark and Matt Morgan, said they became concerned about the scheme to replace Biden electors with illegitimate pro-Trump electors in states lost by Trump, as the former president and his attorneys continued to lose their lawsuits challenging the election results in court. Both Clark and Morgan said they ultimately refused to participate in convening the alternate electors and deferred responsibility for the plot to Ken Cheseboro, another campaign attorney.
Election officials targeted by Trump were subject to angry calls, texts and protests at their homes, as well as threats of violence.
All the witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing testified about the personal attacks and threats they and their families received as a result of Trump’s pressure campaign. Toward the end of his testimony, Bowers became emotional when recalling how angry crowds of Trump supporters, some of whom were armed, routinely gathered outside his house while his daughter was terminally ill, to protest his refusal to declare that the 2020 election had been rigged.
“It was disturbing,” Bowers said.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger similarly described how, while he was being pressured by Trump to “find” the votes he needed to win Georgia, supporters of the former president were harassing his wife and widowed daughter-in-law.
What was the most gripping moment?
The most emotional testimony of the day came from a former Georgia state election worker, Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, and her mother, Ruby Freeman, a temporary election worker, who recalled the harassment they received after they were personally implicated in a baseless conspiracy theory about voter fraud.
The theory centered on a spliced video clip of surveillance footage of the vote-counting station in Atlanta where Moss and Freeman processed votes for the Fulton County elections board on election night in 2020. In the aftermath of the election, an attorney for Trump presented the clip to a Georgia Senate committee and falsely claimed that it showed them removing and scanning ballots from a suitcase, allegedly processing them multiple times. Although the accusations were quickly dismissed by election officials for Fulton County and Georgia state, they were further amplified by Giuliani and Trump himself, who mentioned Freeman by name 18 times during his infamous phone call with Raffensperger.
“I’ve lost my name, and I've lost my reputation,” Freeman told the committee in a taped deposition played Tuesday. Freeman said she was forced to go into hiding for two months after FBI agents urged her to leave her home ahead of Jan. 6, 2021, citing threats to her safety.
“There is nowhere I feel safe, nowhere,” Freeman said. “Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States target you? The president of the United States is supposed to represent every American, not to target one.”
Moss, who testified in person Tuesday, choked back tears as she told the committee how the harassment unleashed by Trump and Giuliani has “turned my life upside down.”
“I no longer give out my business card, I don't transfer calls. I don't want anyone knowing my name,” said Moss, who said she left her job as state election worker after more than 10 years because of the harassment she faced.
“I don't go to the grocery store at all. I haven’t been anywhere at all. I gained about 60 pounds,” she said. “I second-guess everything I do.”
Who were the witnesses?
As with the committee’s previous hearings, Tuesday’s presentation featured a mix of live and taped testimony from a wide variety of witnesses. In addition to Bowers, Raffensperger and Moss, Gabriel Sterling, one of Raffensperger’s top aides, also testified in person about Trump’s relentless pressure campaign to reverse his loss in Georgia.
Viewers also heard from witnesses who have appeared on videotape at earlier hearings, including former Attorney General Bill Barr and former Acting Attorney General Richard Donoghue, as well as a number of others who made their video testimony debut, such as former Trump lawyer Cleta Mitchell, RNC chair Ronna McDaniels, and Cassidy Hutchinson, who served as an aide to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.
In closing remarks, Thompson said the select committee’s next hearing, which is scheduled to take place on Thursday afternoon at 3 p.m. ET, will focus on Trump’s involvement in a plot to replace the acting attorney general with a loyalist in an effort to use the Justice Department to promote unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election.
“We will hear on Thursday that Donald Trump was also a driving force behind the effort to corrupt the Justice Department,” Thompson said.