WASHINGTON – In a hearing Tuesday, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol turned its attention to the efforts of former President Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 presidential election by pressuring local officials who stood firm despite threats and intimidation.
The panel used the hearing, its fourth in two weeks, to continue building its case that Trump’s relentless efforts to stay in power at any cost, despite top advisers telling the former president his claims of massive voter fraud had no proof, led to the violence of Jan. 6.
“A handful of election officials in several key states stood between Donald Trump and the upending of American democracy,” Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, said in his opening statement, calling the officials “heroes.”
Rusty Bowers, the Republican speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, told the committee he wanted Trump to win the 2020 election but, as he wrote in his personal journal, “I do not want to be a winner by cheating.”
“I didn’t want to be used as a pawn,” Bowers told the panel, recalling that he told Trump, “You are asking me to do something against my oath, and I will not break my oath.”
Bowers said he refused to call a special session to help Trump send an “alternate slate” of electors from his state, which President Joe Biden won by about 10,000 votes, because Trump and his allies failed to produce any evidence to back up their claims of widespread voter fraud.
A handful of people vote illegally in virtually every election, but Trump and his allies have repeatedly failed to prove that fraud occurred on a scale that could affect the outcome of the presidential race in any state. In one conversation, Bowers recalled, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told the veteran GOP lawmaker, “‘We’ve got lots of theories, we just don’t have the evidence.’”
Bowers called the Trump team’s efforts “a tragic parody,” but the campaign to overturn the election results had grave implications for his family. The Arizona Republican said pro-Trump protesters gathered outside his house with signs accusing him of being a pedophile, and a gun-toting man threatened his neighbor.
The threats and intimidation were not limited to elected officials. Two former state election workers in Georgia, Ruby Freeman and her daughter Shaye Moss, told the panel they have lived in fear since Trump and Giuliani wrongfully accused them of tampering with votes.
Moss, a Black woman, recalled “a lot of threats wishing death upon me,” including being told, “Be glad it’s 2020 and not 1920.”
Freeman, who sat in the audience behind Moss and at one point comforted her daughter, said in a recorded interview the committee played, “There is nowhere I feel safe.”
“Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States target you?” Freeman said. “The president of the United States is supposed to represent every American, not to target one.”
Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the panel’s Republican vice chair, railed against Trump for his refusal to tell his supporters not to threaten poll workers and elected officials.
“Donald Trump did not care about the threats of violence,” Cheney said. “He did not condemn them. He made no effort to stop them. He went forward with his fake allegations anyway.”
Cheney, like Washington GOP Reps. Dan Newhouse and Jaime Herrera Beutler, is facing a Trump-backed primary challenger after voting to impeach the former President for inciting the Capitol riot.
Some Republicans who drew the former president’s ire for not backing his voter fraud claims have already lost primaries, but the hearing featured another member of the party who recently fended off a Trump-backed rival. Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, famously rebuffed Trump’s request to “find” enough votes to help him win the state’s electoral votes and has become a symbol of hope for Republicans who hope their party can break away from the “big lie” of a stolen election.
Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s No. 2 election official, told the panel countering the flood of misinformation from Trump and his allies was “like a shovel trying to empty the ocean.”
“The president’s lie was, and is, a dangerous cancer on the body politic,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said. “If you can convince Americans that they cannot trust their own elections, that anytime they lose it is somehow illegitimate, then what is left but violence to determine who should govern?”
Raffensperger pointed out that some 28,000 Georgians chose not to vote for Trump but voted for other Republicans farther down the ballot in 2020, suggesting Trump’s personal lack of popularity cost him a state he lost by less than 12,000 votes.
The nine-member committee includes just two Republicans, but Cheney began the hearing by urging viewers to “focus on the evidence.”
“Don’t be distracted by politics,” she said. “This is serious. We cannot let America become a nation of conspiracy theories and thug violence.”
After the Jan. 6 riot, some congressional Republicans called for a bipartisan commission to investigate the events that led to the violence. House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy deputized Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., to negotiate a deal before withdrawing support for the commission.
After Senate Republicans blocked the creation of a commission, which was modeled on the group of bipartisan experts that investigated the 9/11 terror attacks, House Democrats established the select committee that held Tuesday’s hearing. When McCarthy tried to appoint Trump allies to the panel, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California rejected his candidates and instead appointed Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, the committee’s only other GOP member.
Every Washington Democrat in Congress voted for the 9/11-style commission, but the vote divided Northwest Republicans. Newhouse, Herrera Beutler and Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho supported it, while Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane and Russ Fulcher, who represents North Idaho, voted no.
Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo opposed establishing the bipartisan commission, while his fellow Idaho Republican, Sen. Jim Risch, didn’t vote. Every House Republican, except for Cheney and Kinzinger, voted against setting up the select committee.
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