In the weeks after the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump engaged in an unrelenting campaign targeting state and local officials -- many of them fellow Republicans -- riling up his supporters and putting in physical danger officials who refused to help overturn his election loss, according to new information outlined Tuesday by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
At its fourth public hearing, the committee laid out how menace and violence trailed Trump’s election falsehoods, afflicting everyone who resisted, from high-level elected officials to ordinary election workers. And they showed how a series of ominous episodes foreshadowed the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, as Trump’s supporters invaded a state legislative building in Arizona, barged into the home of an election worker’s grandmother in Georgia to make a “citizen’s arrest,” and sent thousands of threatening text messages to officials around the country.
The committee Tuesday disclosed new evidence of Trump’s personal involvement in one element of the effort to overturn the election: Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, testified that Trump himself called to ask for the party’s help organizing the false elector strategy.
This scheme, orchestrated by Trump’s outside advisers, convened Trump’s electors in December 2020 in key swing states won by Biden, even though the White House counsel’s office and his own campaign’s top lawyers agreed they had no legal standing. McDaniel’s testimony offered the first evidence of Trump’s direct ties to the fake electors plot.
The hearing also included new details about Republican lawmakers of interest to the Jan. 6 investigation. Text messages provided to the committee showed that, as Congress prepared to meet, a staffer to Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., tried to arrange for Johnson to personally hand Vice President Mike Pence the certificates signed by the fake Trump electors in Wisconsin and Michigan, presumably making it more difficult for the vice president to recognize only Biden’s votes.
“Do not give that to him,” an aide to Pence responded. (A Johnson staffer tweeted after the hearing that the Wisconsin 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.”)
[Alone in Washington, Rusty Bowers tells world what happened in Arizona]
This hearing included some of the most emotional testimony so far. Mother-and-daughter election workers in Georgia, Ruby Freeman and Wandrea ArShaye “Shaye” Moss, described how their lives were upended after Trump falsely accused them of engaging in fraud while counting votes on election night at an arena in Atlanta. Moss became tearful as she testified, as did Freeman, who was seated in the hearing room immediately behind her daughter.
“Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States target you?” asked Freeman, whom Trump named 18 times during a Jan. 2, 2021, phone call to Georgia’s secretary of state. “The president of the United States is supposed to represent every American, not to target one. But he targeted me.”
The hearing also included the story of Arizona House Speaker Russell “Rusty” Bowers, a Republican, who told the committee how he resisted personal entreaties from Trump to take actions that he believed would violate his conscience, his religious faith and his allegiance to the U.S. Constitution.
“You’re asking me to do something against my oath, and I’m not going to break my oath,” Bowers testified that he told the president during one of the several calls and meetings in which Trump and his allies pressured him to overturn Biden’s win in Arizona.
Sitting ramrod straight, his voice at times breaking, Bowers detailed how Trump first called him as he and his wife were arriving home from church on a Sunday in late November. As Bowers sat in the car in his driveway, he explained that he could not replace Biden’s electors without proof of fraud. Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, who was also on the line, promised to provide it.
It was the start of a pattern, Bowers said. In phone calls and a meeting in Phoenix, Bowers repeatedly told Trump, Giuliani and attorney John Eastman that they were asking him to violate the Constitution but providing no proof of the fraud they claimed took place. During one meeting, he said, Giuliani told him, “We’ve got lots of theories -- we just don’t have the evidence.”
“No one provided me -- ever -- such evidence,” Bowers added.
Bowers said Eastman counseled him, “Just do it and let the courts sort it out.”
He later riveted the hearing room by reading aloud from a journal he kept at the time.
“It is painful to have friends who have been such a help to me turn on me with such rancor,” the passage read. “I do not want to be a winner by cheating. I will not play with laws I swore allegiance to with any contrived desire toward deflection of my deep, foundational desire to follow God’s will as I believe he led my conscience to embrace.”
The committee played footage that had not been public before, demonstrating how some of Trump’s supporters responded to Bowers’s resistance. In the security footage, a group of protesters can be seen flooding into a House legislative building in Phoenix, led by Jacob Chansley, the so-called QAnon Shaman, who was later sentenced to serve 41 months in prison for invading the floor of the U.S. Senate on Jan. 6. Bowers said the group was crying out his name during the episode.
He also testified that protesters mobbed his neighborhood on a weekly basis, once accompanied by a truck playing videos calling him a pedophile. One man, he said, carried a pistol and wore “three bars on his chest” -- apparently a reference to the Three Percenters, a militia group involved with the Jan. 6 attack. Bowers broke up as he described how the protests distressed his wife, whom he described as “a valiant person,” and his daughter, who was gravely ill at the time. She died at age 42, a few weeks after Jan. 6.
Indeed, the bulk of the hearing was devoted to the dramatic human toll visited on the officials whom Trump, his allies and his supporters cajoled and harassed -- without remorse -- in an effort to line up allies willing to undo Biden’s win in swing states. When Trump tweeted the personal cellphone number of a Republican state senator in Michigan, the lawmaker quickly received 4,000 text messages, many of them nasty, he told the committee. A leading Republican lawmaker in Pennsylvania gave the committee voice mails showing that members of Trump’s legal team called him every day in the last week of November 2020, even after he requested they stop. “I just want to bring some facts to your attention and talk to you as a fellow Republican,” Giuliani said in one voice mail.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, one of the other two Republican officials to testify in person on Tuesday, told the committee he was inundated with nasty text messages after refusing to “find” votes to help Trump overtake Biden in the state, as Trump requested in the Jan. 2 call. Then, he said, his wife began receiving messages as well, many of them horrific and sexualized. Trump supporters also broke into the home of his son’s widow, he testified.
“The numbers are the numbers. The numbers don’t lie. We had many allegations and we investigated every single one of them,” Raffensperger said, recounting how his team determined how claims cited by Trump in the call were not accurate.
Among those claims was a false story circulated by Trump and Giuliani that a video taken at an arena in Atlanta where votes were counted showed election workers repeatedly scanning fraudulent Biden ballots that had been smuggled into the building in suitcases. Trump’s attorney general at the time, William Barr, told the committee that the Justice Department investigated the claim and found it had “no merit.” So, too, did Georgia officials.
But Trump and Giuliani continued to echo the claim, including at a legislative hearing in Georgia where Giuliani urged that the two workers, Freeman and Moss, be criminally charged.
Freeman told the committee that after being named by Giuliani and Trump, she had to leave her home for two months after the FBI said it was not safe.
“I’ve lost my name and I’ve lost my reputation. I’ve lost my sense of security all because a group of people starting with number 45″ -- a reference to Trump -- “and his ally Rudy Giuliani decided to scapegoat me and my daughter,” she said, in taped testimony played by the committee.
Moss, who testified live, explained to the committee that she had worked as an elections official for 10 years, taking satisfaction in helping elderly and disabled people vote. She had learned from her grandmother to treasure the right to vote, particularly since it had been withheld from many Black voters.
“It’s turned my life upside down,” said Moss, adding, “I don’t want anyone knowing my name. I don’t want to go anywhere with my mom because she might yell my name out over the grocery aisle or something. I don’t go to the grocery store at all. I haven’t been anywhere at all. . . . I second-guess everything I do. It’s affected my life in a major way -- in every way. All because of lies, for me doing my job, the same thing I’ve been doing forever.”
Moss and Freeman filed defamation lawsuits last year against Giuliani, as well as pro-Trump media outlets One America News and the Gateway Pundit. They settled with OAN in May for undisclosed terms. As part of the settlement, OAN aired a segment reporting that Georgia officials had concluded there was “no widespread voter fraud by election workers” at the State Farm Arena and that neither Moss nor Freeman engaged in ballot fraud or criminal misconduct.
Committee members praised the witnesses for standing up for democracy after the 2020 election -- and for willingly testifying about their experiences. Vice Chairwoman Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., contrasted their cooperation with that of other Trump aides, such as advisers Peter Navarro and Steve Bannon, who have refused. And she urged others, like White House counsel Pat Cipollone, apparently still in negotiations with the committee, to follow their lead.
Tuesday’s group, she said, provided “an example of what truly makes America great.”