By ALLISON PECORIN, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — A Republican Senate committee chairman on Wednesday used his panel to keep pressing allegations of what he called “election irregularities” as President Donald Trump appeared to watch from the White House, as Democrats decried the hearing as lending credence to Trump’s baseless claims of fraud.
While Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, a strong Trump supporter who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Committee, has now said he accepts Joe Biden as the president-elect and that he will not challenge the Electoral College results when Congress meets to certify them next month, he insisted the hearing should “not be controversial.”
“I think we all should want to restore the confidence in our election system,” Johnson said.
To counter Johnson, Democrats called called Chris Krebs, the former head of the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity agency — fired by Trump after stating there was no evidence of election fraud — to testify. Krebs gave a full-throated defense of his work and his conclusion that the 2020 election was the “most secure in American history.”
“I think we are past the point where we need to be having conversation about the outcome of this election,” Krebs said, citing the Electoral College outcome on Monday. “I think that continued assaults on democracy and the outcome of this election only serves to undermine the confidence in the election is ultimately corrosive to the institutions that support elections. Going forward it will be that much harder.”
Members of both parties said they respected Krebs and work he did within DHS’ Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. But President Trump, tweeting just after the hearing concluded, kept attacking him.
“Chris Krebs was totally excoriated and proven wrong at the Senate Hearing on the Fraudulent 2020 Election,” Trump tweeted. “Massive FRAUD took place with machines, people voting from out of state, illegals, dead people, no signatures—and so much more!”
Twitter quickly slapped the tweet with a label that claims about election fraud are disputed.
Trump also tweeted that Johnson was doing “an excellent job” and then cited unsubstantiated claims of problems in Nevada made by Trump lawyer Jesse Binnall as a reason election results there should be overturned.
“We can’t pretend that this problem didn’t happen it did,” Binnall said, making claims of fraud rejected by federal judge. “This is the United States of America we don’t run from that we fix it. We have to use every arrow in our quiver to fix it.”
Johnson stopped short of advocating that any serious changes to the election results should come as a result of testimony. But before witnesses had completed their opening remarks, Johnson and the committees top Democrat, Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., shouted at each other over the committee’s handling of allegations related to a separate matter: the 2016 election and Russian disinformation.
“This is terrible what you’re doing to this committee,” Peters said after Johnson alleged Peters had falsely insinuated he had spread Russian disinformation.
“It’s what you have done to this committee,” Johnson shot back.
Johnson has acknowledged that he does not believe the election results can be meaningfully overturned at this point but that an outstanding question is “whether the level of fraud would alter the outcome of the election.”
“This year, in dozens of court cases through the certification process in each state and through the Electoral College vote, the conclusion has collectively been reached that it would not,” Johnson said.
But he stood by holding the hearing, calling it “good oversight” necessary to restore America’s trust in the electoral system.
Peters called it damaging.
“Mistakes do happen in elections, but there’s a difference between a clerk making an error that gets caught and corrected during routine audits and calling the entire election fraudulent or stolen when there is no evidence just because you do not like the outcome,” Peters said.
At least one Republican committee member, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, declined to participate.
Romney said on CNN Tuesday he did not believe the hearing was “productive” at this point.
Several attorneys, including those who represented cases claiming possible election fraud in Nevada and Wisconsin, appeared to testify to the need for greater investigation into the election. Nearly 60 cases were brought across the country claiming election irregularity, almost all have been dismissed by courts.
But some of the lawyers who appeared before the committee today, joined Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., in his assessment that courts did not necessarily rule on whether there was fraud, as many cases were dismissed on procedural grounds before they were argued on the merits.
“The courts have not said there isn’t fraud,” Paul said. “The courts simply didn’t rule on or hear from the fraud.”
Lawyers argued that oversight of the election continues to be necessary. Jim Troupis, who filed a suit for the Trump campaign in Wisconsin, followed Paul’s logic.
“If you don’t do this inquiry, there really isn’t going to be any analysis and there isn’t going to be an opportunity to get to the very integrity we all want,” Troupis said. “No one suggested at any point in the process that the allegations in Wisconsin are anything but serious and substantive,” Troupis said.
But Krebs said its time to put an end to the party divide and move forward in order to maintain democracy.
“Democracy in general is fragile,” Krebs said. “It requires commitment and follow through on both sides if a party fails to participate in the process and instead undermines the process we risk losing the democracy. We have to come back together as a country.”
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