June 21, 2022
Today, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol held its fourth public hearing. The agenda was to lay out the scheme to pressure swing state electors to switch their states’ votes to Trump and then, when that failed, to get state operatives to create a false slate of electors to submit to Congress and the National Archives to set up an argument that there was confusion about who had won. That, Trump’s operatives hoped, would give then–vice president Mike Pence an excuse either to refuse to count Biden votes on the grounds that there was confusion over which slate was legitimate (there was no confusion: the Biden votes were certified and the Trump votes were not), or to send the certified electoral votes back to the state legislatures, where Republican-dominated bodies could recertify for Trump.
The scheme was illegal across the board.
It failed, committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) pointed out, because the system held. But that system has been under attack by Trump supporters for the past year and a half, and it is no longer clear that it will continue to hold. As proof, Thompson offered the case of the New Mexico panel that refused to certify the results of the recent election there. While two of the three panel members finally agreed to certify the results after pressure the state courts demanded they do so, one continued to refuse, citing “his gut feeling” that the results were wrong. That man was at the January 6th attack on the Capitol.
The theme of the day was our election systems, and how Trump’s attack on them continues to threaten our democracy.
The panel laid out how Trump and his people tried to get state legislators to throw out Biden votes and certify electoral votes for Trump, calling the lawmakers, inviting them to the White House, and, finally, threatening them over social media and sending protesters to their homes. When that didn’t work, they urged pro-Trump state politicians to produce alternative, false, slates of electors, promising that those slates would be used only if courts ruled the certified votes illegitimate. That promise, though, was a lie. Trump’s team planned to use the existence of two sets of electoral votes to justify throwing out both, thereby getting rid of legitimate Biden electors and giving the election to Trump.
The committee’s first panel included officials who had borne pressure from the Trump camp: Russell “Rusty” Bowers, the speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives; Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state; and Gabriel Sterling, the chief operating officer in the office of the Georgia secretary of state, responsible for overseeing elections.
All three are Republicans, at least two of whom supported Trump in the election but refused to do his illegal bidding after it. Once again, the committee told its story using only Republican testimony, making it hard for opponents to argue that the hearings are a political hit job. Schiff made a point of asking Bowers about his admiration for President Ronald Reagan, and Bowers talked about Reagan’s celebration of the orderly transfer of power in the United States, a tradition that Trump, of course, shattered.
The three men detailed pressure from Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis, from lawyer John Eastman, from Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, and from Trump himself.
Bowers outlined weeks of pressure to produce a competing set of electors or to decertify the existing ones, even as Giuliani and Ellis refused to produce any evidence to back up their wild claims. Bowers refused to go along. Today, he testified passionately about the importance of his oath to the Constitution and his duty to the state of Arizona, and how Trump and his people were asking him to break an oath to a document he considers divinely inspired for the benefit of one man. Giuliani tried to convince him that, as Republicans, they should stick together to put their man back into the White House.
It wasn’t going to happen. Bowers wrote in his diary: “It is painful to have friends…turn on me with such rancor.” But “I do not want to be a winner by cheating. I will not play with laws I swore allegiance to.”
Raffensperger explained that the claims of fake “suitcases” of ballots in Georgia and other irregularities were false, that the election was “remarkably smooth,” and that two recounts produced the same results as the original counting of the votes. He talked of pressure from the Trump camp over its election lies. Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), who was directing the proceedings today, noted that Meadows reached out 18 times to set up a phone call between Raffensperger and then-president Trump.
Once underway, the call took an extraordinary 67 minutes, as Trump repeatedly pushed Raffensperger to “find” 11,780 votes, one more than Biden had won in the state. Trump told Raffensperger that it was “very dangerous” for him to say there was no fraud, a suggestion Raffensperger interpreted as a threat. “Why wouldn’t you want to find the right answer, Brad?” Trump demanded.
Sterling walked us through the “suitcases” allegation again, but his testimony focused on his anger at the disinformation coming from the Trump campaign and then-president Trump himself. He asked Trump directly, on camera, to stop inciting violence. “It’s not right,” he said. Rather than backing off, Trump escalated his pressure on Georgia, alleging “massive voter fraud” there.
The witnesses told the committee that Trump had tried to pressure them by whipping up his followers to harass them at home, terrifying them and their families. Bowers said he is still harassed every week, with people staking out his home and calling him a pedophile and a pervert. Raffensperger detailed the threats coming to him and his wife, and said that people broke into his widowed daughter-in-law’s home.
The threats provided the introduction to the next witness, who sat before the committee alone. After Thompson dismissed the first panel, the committee swore in Wandrea ArShaye “Shaye” Moss. Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, were the two Georgia election workers Trump and Giuliani targeted as rigging the vote. If Bowers represented the heights of political lawmaking, and Raffensperger and Sterling the bureaucracy of it, Moss and her mother, who was sitting behind her, represented the rest of us.
But Moss was not at all ordinary. She gave a passionate account of why she had chosen to become an election worker and how she had loved helping older people—people who had not been able to vote when they were young—submit their ballots. On the anniversary of the 1964 murder of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner for their efforts to register Black voters in Mississippi, Ms. Moss articulated just what the struggle for voting rights continues to mean.
Her testimony also outlined what that struggle continues to cost. Both she and her mother explained how they and Moss’s grandmother had been doxxed and harassed until they are now virtual prisoners in their homes—when they can be in them at all. The FBI warned Ms. Freeman to leave her home for two months around the time of January 6 because agents worried for her safety.
“Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States target you?” Freeman said on video. “The President of the United States is supposed to represent every American. Not target one. But he targeted me: Lady Ruby, a small business owner, a mother, a proud American citizen, who stood up to help Fulton County run an election in the middle of the pandemic."
Taken together, today’s testimony showed the human side of the rule of law in the United States, and how Trump’s pressure on officials and weaponization of gangs to harass them threatens to destroy the system. Both Moss and Freeman have had to quit their jobs, along with all the permanent workers in the Georgia counting venue Trump and Giuliani attacked.
The committee revealed some other interesting information today. It said that protests at state houses, organized by Trump people, had some of the same characters who later showed up in Washington on January 6, including Jacob Chansley (the “QAnon Shaman” who showed up on January 6 in an animal headdress) and various Proud Boys.
It showed testimony from Ronna McDaniel, the head of the Republican National Committee, confirming that the RNC helped the Trump campaign collect the false electoral slates.
It named two lawmakers who appeared to participate in the attempt to overthrow the election. Representative Andy Biggs (R-AZ) apparently called Bowers to pressure him, and Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) wanted to hand the fake slates of electors from Michigan and Wisconsin to Pence on January 6.
Striding quickly past reporters today, Johnson told CNN’s chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju that he had “no idea” who asked him to share the fake electors with Pence. He said he had “no involvement” in the attempt to provide fake electors to overturn the legitimate outcome of the 2020 election and claimed he didn’t know who handed his office the envelope that was supposed to go to Pence. It was, he said, “some staff intern” who handed another staff member the envelope. When asked if he would try to find out, he said, “No. No, because there’s no conspiracy here. This is a complete non-story, guys. Complete non-story.”
I doubt I've ever been as moved by testimony at a congressional hearing as I was today. The professor captures effectively and eloquently what was said and its importance. But the video and the voices of the witnesses convey more — their strength and resolve in the face of crushing pressure, and the pain and disruption they've suffered by despicable mistreatment.
I was proud of the witnesses but disgusted beyond words that the President and those who worked for him could wield this much hate. And hate that inspired cruelty by manipulated citizens based on lies upon lies upon more lies.
If today's hearing doesn't penetrate the bubble and build a large majority supporting swift and harsh justice, America hasn't just lost its way. It's marching toward a cliff.
The image of the cowardly Wisconsin Senator Johnson, running away from owning his actions to undermine the Constitution he swore to protect and defend, is an apt metaphor for the entire Republican Party trying to duck and weave away from what it has collectively, energetically, done to destroy American democracy.
I am hoping I live long enough to see American democracy destroy the current version of the Republican Party.