Today's Paper NWA Vote Stories and Results ☑️ Best of River Valley Obits Puzzles Today's Photos Coronavirus FAQ Newsletters Virus Interactive Map Razorback Sports NWA Vaccine Information Digital FAQ River Valley Democrat-Gazette Crime
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Officials pressured, menaced; panel hears testimony of ‘heroes’ in election

by Compiled by Democrat-Gazette staff from wire reports | June 22, 2022 at 6:58 a.m.
A video exhibit plays as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol holds a hearing at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 16, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON -- The House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol heard testimony Tuesday that relentless pressure by President Donald Trump to overturn the 2020 presidential election provoked threats to the "backbone of our democracy"-- election workers and local officials who fended off the defeated president's demands despite personal risks.

The panel focused on Trump's efforts to undo Joe Biden's victory in a local way -- by repeatedly leaning on public officials in key battleground states, with what they found to be proposals to reject ballots outright or to submit alternative electors for the final tally in Congress.

In setting the stage for Tuesday's session, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said the committee's evidence would reveal the depth of Trump's and his allies' efforts to harass state officials, often using rhetoric that instigated his supporters.

The high-profile pressure, described as potentially illegal, was fueled by the president's false claims of voter fraud -- which, the panel says, spread dangerously in the states and ultimately led directly to the deadly insurrection at the Capitol.

"A handful of election officials in several key states stood between Donald Trump and the upending of American democracy," Chairman Bennie Thompson said, praising them as heroes and the "backbone of our democracy."

The hearing was punctuated throughout with accounts of the personal attacks faced by state and local officials.

Arizona Republican House Speaker Rusty Bowers said that he was subjected to a public smear campaign, including relentless bullhorn protests at his home, and that a man affiliated with the Three Percenters militia group, carrying a gun, threatened his neighbor.

Officials in Michigan, Pennsylvania and other states told similar stories of having their cellphone numbers and home addresses spread publicly after they refused Trump's demands.

One such incident, captured in a recording played by the committee, showed a crowd of Trump supporters outside the house of Jocelyn Benson, secretary of state in Michigan, late at night.

"And then about 45 minutes later we started to hear the noises outside my home, and my stomach sunk and I thought, 'It's me,'" Benson said.


The protesters called her a "tyrant" and "felon" who needed to be arrested for her administration of the election in her state.

"The uncertainty of that was the fear. Are they coming with guns? Are they going to attack my house? I'm in here with my kid, I'm trying to put him to bed. That was the scariest moment, just not knowing what was going to happen," Benson said.

The public hearing, the fourth by the panel this month, stemmed from its yearlong investigation into Trump's unprecedented attempt to remain in power, a sprawling scheme that the chairman of the Jan. 6 committee has likened to an "attempted coup." The panel insisted that Trump's lies over the election threaten democracy to this day, as local officials face ongoing threats and challengers try to take over their jobs.

The committee's vice chair, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., implored Americans to pay attention to the evidence being presented, declaring, "We cannot let America become a nation of conspiracy theories and thug violence."

TRUMP PHONE CALL

One key witness was Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state in Georgia and a Republican, who testified about Trump's phone call asking him to "find 11,780" votes that could flip his state to prevent Biden's election victory.

While the committee cannot charge Trump with any crimes, the Justice Department is watching the panel's work closely. An Atlanta-area prosecutor is also investigating the elector scheme, issuing subpoenas and conducting interviews in recent weeks to determine whether it amounted to a crime, The Washington Post has reported.

Trump defended himself on social media, describing his phone call to Raffensperger as "perfect," similar to the way he described the 2020 call with Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelenskyy that resulted in his first impeachment.

The public testimony from Raffensperger came weeks after he appeared before a special grand jury in Georgia investigating whether Trump and others illegally tried to intervene in the state's 2020 election. Raffensperger beat a Trump-backed challenger in last month's primary election.

He and Gabe Sterling, his chief operations officer, detailed their painstaking efforts to count the Georgia vote, going down the "rabbit hole," he said, investigating one false claim after another of fraud. After a hand recount of 5 million ballots, Biden's victory was unchanged.

"The numbers don't lie," said Raffensperger, who said that some 28,000 Georgia voters simply bypassed the presidential race but voted down-ballot for others. "At the end of the day, President Trump came up short."

Bowers, who also appeared in person, walked through what started with a Trump phone call on a Sunday after he returned from church. The defeated president laid out a proposal to have the state replace its electors for Biden with others favoring Trump.

"I said, 'Look, you're asking me to do something that is counter to my oath,'" Bowers testified.

Bowers insisted on seeing Trump's evidence of voter fraud, which he said Trump's team never produced beyond vague allegations. He recalled Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani later told him, "We've got lots of theories, we just don't have the evidence."

Trump wanted Bowers to hold a hearing at the state Capitol, but the Republican leader said there was already a "circus" atmosphere over the election. The panel showed video footage of protesters at the Arizona statehouse, including a key figure, the horned hat-wearing Jacob Chansley, who was later arrested at the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.

Trump nevertheless pressed the Arizona official, including in a follow-up call, suggesting he expected a better response from a fellow Republican. But Bowers said that because of his faith, including a belief the U.S. Constitution is divinely inspired, what the president was asking him to do was "foreign to my very being."

Bowers called Trump's effort a "tragic parody."

THREATS, FEAR

Two Georgia election workers, a mother and daughter, testified that they lived in fear of saying their names aloud after Trump wrongly accused them of voter fraud.

"There were a lot of threats wishing death upon me," said Wandrea ArShaye "Shaye" Moss, a former state election worker.

Moss, speaking live to the panel, said her life has been turned upside down.

"I no longer give out my business card, I don't transfer calls. I haven't been anywhere at all," Moss said. "I gained about 60 pounds. I just don't do nothing anymore. I don't want to go anywhere."

With in-person testimony, Moss, who had worked for Georgia's Fulton County elections department since 2012, and her mother, Ruby Freeman, a temporary election worker who spoke earlier to the panel, gave accounts of the fallout from the smear campaign by Trump and Giuliani.

"Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States target you?" Freeman testified. "The president of the United States is supposed to represent every American, not to target one. But he targeted me."

In a recorded account, Freeman told investigators the false accusations cost her her name. She used to go by "Lady Ruby," a moniker she was proud of in her hometown.

"Now, I won't even introduce myself by my name anymore," Freeman told investigators. "I get nervous when I bump into someone I know in the grocery store who says my name. I'm worried about who's listening."

"I've lost my name, and I've lost my reputation," Freeman added. "I've lost my sense of security, all because a group of people, starting with [Trump] and his ally, Rudy Giuliani, decided to scapegoat me and my daughter."

Cheney praised election worker Freeman for her service to the country and her courage after facing death threats and more harassment from Trump supporters wanting her to help change the results of the 2020 presidential election.

"Thank you for your strength. Thank you for being here today," she said in her closing testimony. "It means so much for everyone to hear your story. So thank you for that. We have had tremendous testimony today."

'FAKE ELECTORS' SCHEME

The select committee outlined Trump's "fake electors" scheme that sought to have representatives in as many as seven battleground states -- Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Nevada and New Mexico -- say he, not Biden, had won their states.

Several Republicans in Congress latched onto the scheme in the run-up to Jan. 6.

In another new revelation implicating Republican members of Congress, the committee showed texts from an aide to Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., to an aide of former Vice President Mike Pence, indicating that Johnson on Jan. 6 wanted to hand-deliver to Pence an "alternate slate of electors for MI and WI."

"Do not give that to him," Pence aide Chris Hodgson replied.

However, a spokesperson for Johnson disputed accusations from the committee that the senator was directly involved with a conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election.

"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," Johnson press secretary Alexa Henning wrote in a tweet Tuesday afternoon.

Henning did not contest the authenticity of the text messages, saying instead that Johnson was not involved in the "creation" of the fake elector certificates themselves. Henning's statement does not contest the committee's core claim, which is that Johnson lobbied the vice president to accept fake elector certificates in an effort to subvert the 2020 election.

Conservative law professor John Eastman, a lawyer for Trump, pushed the fake electors in the weeks after the election. The idea was to set up a challenge to Biden's win when Congress met on Jan. 6 with Pence presiding in what is typically a ceremonial role to certify the election.

The panel played a montage of Trump's lawyers, including Giuliani, Eastman and Cleta Mitchell, as they worked to overturn the election. Giuliani held hearings and made calls to Republican lawmakers around the country.

The testimony and evidence presented by the committee will build on an argument it made in a federal court in California, where it successfully obtained a judge's order forcing Eastman to turn over records to the committee. In ordering Eastman to produce the documents, U.S. District Judge David Carter wrote that Eastman and Trump's endeavor amounted to "a coup in search of a legal theory."

Trump sent thousands of his supporters to the Capitol to "fight like hell," as he pressured Pence to reject the ballots. The effort ultimately collapsed amid the deadly riot, as Pence refused Trump's demands that he reject the electors.

"The point is this: Donald Trump didn't 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."

It is unclear whether former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who could be a bombshell witness for the Jan. 6 committee, will appear publicly. A person close to Cipollone said that he had been "cooperative with the committee, with President Trump's permission" but that "there are serious institutional concerns and privilege issues. And those have been recognized by the committee."

Cheney went directly to camera to pressure Cipollone to testify, saying she knows that Trump doesn't want the public to hear his testimony. The committee is still in discussions with Cipollone.

Cipollone had a fraught relationship with the former president, but he has largely stayed quiet after Jan. 6 and has rejected many opportunities to speak out.

Information for this article was contributed by Lisa Mascaro, Farnoush Amiri, Mary Clare Jalonick and Bob Christie of The Associated Press, by John Wagner, Mariana Alfaro, Eugene Scott, Amy B. Wang, Matthew Brown and Josh Dawsey of The Washington Post and by Luke Broadwater of The New York Times.

  photo  From left, Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., listen as Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers testifies with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Georgia Deputy Secretary of State Gabriel Sterling, before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, June 21, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
 
 
  photo  Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., arrives as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues to reveal its findings of a year-long investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, June 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
 
 
  photo  Vice Chair Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., gives opening remarks as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues to reveal its findings of a year-long investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, June 21, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
 
 
  photo  Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., swears in Rusty Bowers, Arizona state House Speaker, Brad Raffensperger, Georgia Secretary of State, and Gabe Sterling, Georgia Deputy Secretary of State, as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues to reveal its findings of a year-long investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, June 21, 2022. (Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP, Pool)
 
 
  photo  Rusty Bowers, Arizona state House Speaker, testifies as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues to reveal its findings of a year-long investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, June 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
 
 
  photo  Rusty Bowers, Arizona state House Speaker, from left, Brad Raffensperger, Georgia Secretary of State, and Gabe Sterling, Georgia Deputy Secretary of State, are sworn in to testify as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues to reveal its findings of a year-long investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, June 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
 
 
  photo  Wandrea "Shaye" Moss, a former Georgia election worker, is comforted by her mother Ruby Freeman, right, as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues to reveal its findings of a year-long investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, June 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
 
 
  photo  Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, left, testifies as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues to reveal its findings of a year-long investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, June 21, 2022, as Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Georgia Deputy Secretary of State Gabriel Sterling, look on. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
 
 
  photo  Rusty Bowers, Arizona state House Speaker, from left, Brad Raffensperger, Georgia Secretary of State, and Gabe Sterling, Georgia Deputy Secretary of State, arrive as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues to reveal its findings of a year-long investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, June 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
 
 


ADVERTISEMENT

Sponsor Content

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT