Trump led pressure campaign on state election officials, Jan. 6 panel says
President Donald J. Trump speaks with Vice President Mike Pence in the Oval Office of the White House Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2021, prior to leaving for his trip to Georgia. (Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)
Former President Donald Trump was directly involved in efforts to pressure state officials in Georgia, Arizona and elsewhere to overturn the 2020 election results in their states, according to evidence the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack presented Tuesday at the panel’s fourth hearing this month.
Trump and his attorneys knew that several claims of fraud were untrue but pushed them anyway as part of a pressure campaign on state elections officials to change the results of the election that also included members of Congress, the committee said.
“Pressuring public servants to violate their oaths was a fundamental part of the playbook,” said committee chairman Bennie G. Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat. “A handful of election officials in several key states stood between Donald Trump and the upending of American democracy.”
Trump and his lawyers called and met in person with lawmakers in crucial states including Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
“Trump had a direct and personal role in this effort,” the panel’s vice chair, Wyoming Republican Liz Cheney, said.
Republican lawmakers U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin were also involved, the committee said.
The committee showed a text exchange between Johnson’s chief of staff, Sean Riley, and Chris Hodgson, an aide to then-Vice President Mike Pence. In it, Riley said Johnson needed to hand Pence an “alternate slate of electors” for Michigan and Wisconsin because the national archivist didn’t receive them.
“Do not give that to him,” Hodgson responded.
Alexa Henning, a spokeswoman for Johnson, tweeted on Tuesday that Johnson had no knowledge of the exchange.
“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,” she wrote. “This was a staff to staff exchange. His new Chief of Staff contacted the Vice President’s office. … There was no further action taken.”
Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, a Republican, testified Tuesday that Biggs phoned him on the morning of Jan. 6, asking him to sign onto a letter asking Congress to decertify the state’s electors. The Arizona speaker said he declined that request.
A spokesman for Biggs did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Trump, attorneys personally pressured officials
Three Republican officials — Bowers, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and the chief operating officer in Raffensperger’s office, Gabriel Sterling — related their experiences with Trump’s pressure campaign.
Trump and his attorney, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, called Bowers after the election, claiming a host of election fraud issues, including votes being cast by dead people and immigrants without legal authorization to be in the country.
Bowers asked repeatedly for evidence of the claims, but the campaign was unable to provide any, he said.
Still, Trump and Giuliani asked Bowers to hold a committee hearing to investigate fraud and Bowers refused, he said Tuesday.
“And I didn’t want to have that in the House,” Bowers said. “I did not feel that the evidence … merited a hearing and I didn’t want to be used as a pawn.”
Trump lawyer John Eastman also called Jan. 4, asking Bowers to hold a vote to decertify the election results. Bowers said that would have violated his oath of office.
“You’re asking me to do something that’s never been done in the history of the United States,” Bowers said he told Eastman. “And I’m going to put my state through that without sufficient proof? … That I would put us through that, my state that I swore to uphold, both in Constitution and in law? No, sir.”
Debunked claims in Georgia
The panel played clips from the well-documented Jan. 2, 2021 phone call between Trump and Raffensperger when Trump asked the Georgia secretary of state to “find” nearly 12,000 ballots to reverse his loss in the state.
In the 67-minute call, Trump floated a discredited theory that 18,000 votes for Joe Biden had been stashed in suitcases and illegally scanned.
At the time of the call, Trump had been told by U.S. Justice Department officials that theory was false. After BJay Pak, the U.S. attorney in Atlanta, left office amid ongoing friction with Trump over the case, the president’s hand-picked replacement, Bobby Christine, also could not substantiate the claim, Raffensperger said Tuesday.
Raffensperger also debunked claims Trump made that thousands of ballots for dead people were counted, that mysterious votes were dropped off in the middle of the night and that large numbers of votes by underage people, felons or unregistered people were counted, he said Tuesday.
On the call, Trump asked Raffensperger to change the vote totals and to call it a “recalculation.”
When committee member Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who led most of Tuesday’s questioning, asked if he could have lawfully done that, Raffensperger answered no.
“The numbers were the numbers,” Raffensperger said. “And we could not recalculate because we’ve made sure that we had checked every single allegation.”
Raffensperger’s office completed 300 investigations related to the 2020 presidential election, he said.
Trump can be heard on the call implying Raffensperger could face criminal charges.
In another tactic, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows sought to win favors from election officials by sending them Trump memorabilia, Schiff said. After Trump pressured Frances Watson, the chief investigator in the Georgia secretary of state’s office, to do “whatever you can do,” Meadows proposed following up by sending commemorative coins and signed “Make America Great Again” hats to investigators working with Watson, Schiff said, citing text messages from Meadows.
Raffensperger chief operating officer Sterling publicly implored Trump to accept the election results at the time, saying that his continued pressure would lead to violence.
On Tuesday, Sterling said he was inspired by a voting machine contractor who had received a threat on social media from Trump supporters.
The office had been “steeped” in similar threats, Sterling said, but that one in particular moved him to say something.
“I could not tell you why that particular one was the one that put me over the edge,” he said Tuesday. “But it did.”
“He did not condemn them,” Cheney said of Trump. “He made no effort to stop them. He went forward with his fake allegations anyway.”
The fake allegations inspired Trump’s supporters to engage in intimidation and violence culminating in the attack on Jan. 6, Cheney said.
The committee played video of Trump supporters protesting at state legislatures and in front of officials’ homes.
“The punishment for treason is death,” one said.
Those events were “a dangerous precursor to the violence we saw on January 6,” Schiff said.
After the officials testified, the committee heard from Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, a former election worker in Fulton County, Georgia.
Giuliani publicized a video of Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, counting votes in Atlanta. He and Trump said the video showed the pair involved in voter fraud, which was not true. Giuliani also mentioned Moss and Freeman by name at a December 2020 U.S. Senate hearing.
In the following months, Trump supporters harassed the two women, making threats and on one occasion breaking into Moss’s grandmother’s home to make a “citizen’s arrest.”
Freeman said the FBI told her she had to leave her home for safety. She stayed away from her home for two months to escape the danger, she told the panel in a taped deposition.
“It was horrible,” she said.
Moss, who is Black, also testified that she had loved her job and been proud of her work in elections because of the significance voting rights held for people in her family and others who had not always enjoyed that right.
Moss quit her job, she told the panel. In fact, every full-time worker in the video Giuliani publicized had since left the office, she said.
“It turned my life upside down,” Moss said Tuesday.
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