(WASHINGTON) — The latest House Jan. 6 committee hearing on Tuesday afternoon focused on what it said was then-President Donald Trump’s “unprecedented” effort to push key state officials to reject the results of the 2020 election — including a scheme to create slates of “fake” electors to overturn Joe Biden’s victory.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., led the hearing, which featured live witness testimony from Republican officials from Arizona and Georgia to show the pressure campaign related to Trump’s “big lie” extended to well before Jan. 6.
Some of the most compelling testimony came from a mother-daughter pair who worked as election workers in Georgia. They described in deeply personal terms the impact of threats they experienced after being targeted by Trump.
And the panel aired taped testimony from Trump allies to argue he was directly involved in what he knew was a baseless effort to have key states send fake Trump electors to Congress to replace legitimate Biden ones.
“Whether his actions were criminal will ultimately be for others to decide,” Schiff said in his closing remarks. “But what he did was without a doubt unconstitutional. It was unpatriotic. It was fundamentally un-American.”
Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said that “pressuring public servants into betraying their oaths was a fundamental part of the playbook” and warned only a handful of election officials in key states “stood between Donald Trump and the upending of American democracy.”
Here are some key takeaways from Tuesday’s hearing:
Arizona House speaker invokes faith, recalling how he wouldn’t deny oath of office
After Trump claimed Tuesday on his social media platform Truth Social that Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, a Republican, had told him the election was rigged, Bowers said that was “false” and that Trump’s team claimed widespread fraud in Arizona but never provided him with any evidence.
“Anywhere, anyone, at any time, who said that I said the election was rigged, that would not be true,” Bowers said.
He recalled conversations with Trump election lawyer John Eastman, who tried to convince him there was a law in Arizona that would have allowed him to overturn results in his state, and his maintaining that he would not break his oath of office and decertify electors for Biden.
“I said, ‘What would you have me do?’ He said, ‘Just do it and let the courts sort it out."”
At one point, Bowers fought back tears as he described the pressure placed on him to betray his oath and the impact “disturbing” protests outside his home had on his family.
“It is a tenet of my faith that the Constitution is divinely inspired, one of my most basic foundational beliefs,” Bowers testified. “And so for me to do that because somebody just asked me to is foreign to my very being. I will not do it.”
After some lawmakers in Arizona went around him to send a slate of “fake” electors to Congress and the National Archives, with the intention of then-Vice President Mike Pence refusing to certify votes in those states, Bowers described it as a “tragic parody.”
Bowers recalled Trump lawyer Giuliani telling him, “‘We’ve got lots of theories, but we just don’t have the evidence."”
The Arizona Republican then went on to read aloud a passage from his journal from December 2020.
“I do not want to be a winner by cheating,” he read. “I will not play with laws I swore allegiance to with any contrived desire towards deflection of my deep, foundational desire to follow God’s will as I believe he led my conscience to embrace. How else will I ever approach Him in the wilderness of life knowing that I asked of His guidance only to show myself a coward in defending the course he led me to take.”
Republican witnesses tie Trump to fake electors plot, detail how they responded to pressure from Trump and his allies
In her opening statement, Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said the committee would provide evidence that Trump “had a direct and personal role” in a scheme to have key states send fake electors to Congress and for Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the results, “as did Rudy Giuliani, as did John Eastman.”
Appearing to be part of that point, the committee aired taped testimony of Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel being asked about the scheme to send “fake” electors to Congress to decertify Biden’s win and responding that Trump was on a call about the plan.
“He turned the call over to Mr. Eastman, who then proceeded to talk about the importance of — helping the campaign gather these contingent electors in case any of the legal challenges that were ongoing change the results of any states,” McDaniel recounted.
“The campaign took the lead, and we just were helping them in that role,” she added, appearing to try to distance the RNC from the effort.
The House select committee argued the RNC assisted Trump in coordinating the fake electors plot “at the president’s direct request.”
The testimony is important as Trump has also tried to distance himself, at times, from his own attorneys, but, according to McDaniel, he was personally involved in a call about the effort.
The testimony also detailed Trump’s calls to Georgia election officials highlight his role in the pressure campaign.
The committee played audio clips of the 67-minute, now-infamous phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Jan. 2, 2021, in which Trump told Raffensperger he needed to “find” 11,780 votes in Georgia — just one vote over the margin by which he trailed Biden — so he could be declared the winner of an election that three separate counts in the state confirmed he lost.
The call appeared to follow a cycle of Trump offering false election conspiracies and Raffensperger calmly explaining to him that each one was not accurate. At one point, Trump suggested to Raffensperger that his inaction could mean he was criminally liable.
Raffensperger was among several Republicans who told Trump his claims about fraud were false, the committee said, but he continued to spread them anyway.
The committee also aired audio from a call in which Trump tried to convince Frances Watson, the Georgia secretary of state’s lead elections investigator, to reverse his loss.
“You know, you have the most important job in the country right now,” Trump told her as he continued to falsely and publicly claim victory.
“When the right answer comes out, you’ll be praised,” Trump said to Watson.
Mother-daughter election worker duo describe impact of targeted attacks
Former Fulton County election worker Shaye Moss, who was falsely accused by Giuliani and other Republicans of election fraud and smuggling “suitcases” of illegal ballots in Atlanta on election night, and her mother, Ruby Freeman, who was sitting behind her, told members how their lives were changed by the lies.
“When I saw the video, of course the first thing that I said was, ‘Why? Why are they doing this? What’s going on?"” Moss recalled.
Moss then described the onslaught of threats and hateful messages she received online — a situation she had never been in during her 10 years as an elections worker.
“I felt so bad,” Moss. “I just felt bad for my mom and I felt horrible for picking this job and being the one that always wants to help and always there and never missing out on one election, I just felt like it was my fault for putting my family in this situation.”
Both women told the committee they are now scared to use their names, and Freeman was told by the FBI she had to leave her home for two months because of threats.
“I’ve lost my sense of security, all because a group of people starting with No. 45 and his ally Rudy Giuliani decided to scapegoat me and my daughter Shaye, to push their own lies about how the presidential election was stolen,” Freeman said.
Public officials recount intimidation of protests, tweets from Trump supporters
Elected officials detailed the threats they received or witnessed others received as a result of Trump’s pressure campaign to reject state electors.
Gabriel Sterling, the chief operating officer in the Georgia secretary of state’s office, recalled the moment that made him decry Trump’s claims of fraud and emotionally speak out about the threats made toward election officials in a press conference in December 2020.
It was a tweet, he said, targeting a contractor he knew that “broke the camel’s back.”
“It had his name, ‘you committed treason, may God have mercy on your soul,’ with a slowly twisting GIF of a noose and, for a lack of a better word, I lost it,” Sterling said. “I just got irate.”
Pennsylvania House Speaker Bryan Cutler, a Republican, said in a taped deposition that all of his personal information was doxxed online and multiple protests happened outside of his home. The committee aired audio from one protest in which participants shouted, “Bryan Cutler, we are outside.”
“We had to disconnect our home phone for about three days because it would ring all hours of the night, it would fill up with messages,” Cutler said.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, described the feeling of having protesters outside her home as well.
“My stomach sunk, I thought, ‘it’s me,"” she told the committee in a deposition. “The uncertainty of that was why it was the fear. Like, are they coming with guns? Are they going to attack my house?”
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, GOP Rep. Andy Biggs involved in fake electors?
As the committee unveils its findings, it has suggested how Republican lawmakers were involved in scheme to overturn the election.
Bowers, Arizona’s House speaker, testified he received a call from Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs the morning of Jan. 6, 2021, asking Bowers if he’d support the decertification of electors. Bowers told Biggs he would not.
The committee also showed evidence that Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., attempted to deliver slates of “fake” Trump electors from Wisconsin and Michigan to Pence ahead of Jan. 6.
Text messages between Johnson staffer Sean Riley and Pence aide Chris Hodgson were displayed on-screen in which Riley wrote that Johnson wanted to hand over fake electors from the two states.
“Do not give that to him,” the Pence aide replied.
Alexa Henning, a spokesperson for Johnson, denied that Johnson had any involvement in the creation of fake alternate slates of electors and claimed he had “no foreknowledge” it was going to be delivered to the office.
“The senator had no involvement in the creation of an alternate slate of electors and had no foreknowledge that it was going to be delivered to our office. This was a staff to staff exchange. His new Chief of Staff contacted the Vice President’s office. The Vice President’s office said not to give it to him and we did not. There was no further action taken. End of story,” Henning told ABC News.
Teasing hearings still to come, the next of which is on Thursday, Cheney put pressure on former Trump White House counsel Pat Cipollone to appear before the committee, adding that they are “certain” Trump wouldn’t want that to happen.
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