Panel Ties Trump to Fake Elector Plan, Mapping His Attack on Democracy & More news

 

WASHINGTON — The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack directly tied Donald J. Trump on Tuesday to a scheme to put forward fake slates of pro-Trump electors and presented fresh details on how the former president sought to bully, cajole and bluff his way into invalidating his 2020 defeat in states around the country.

Using sworn in-person testimony from Republicans and videotaped depositions from other officials, the panel showed how the former president and a group of allies laid siege to state lawmakers and election officials after the balloting in a wide-ranging plot to reverse the outcome. The campaign led to harassment and threats of violence against anyone who resisted.

The hearing on Tuesday amounted to the most comprehensive picture to date of a president who directed an attack on democracy itself and repeatedly reached into its essential machinery — the administration of free and fair elections.

It was the committee’s fourth hearing, and it captured how, long before a throng of his supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Mr. Trump used election lies to whip up violence against anyone who dared to deny his false claims of victory.

“The president’s lie was and is a dangerous cancer on the body politic,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff, the California Democrat who led the questioning on Tuesday. “If you can convince Americans they cannot trust their own elections, that any time they lose is somehow illegitimate, then what is left but violence to determine who should govern?”

Over nearly three hours, the committee demonstrated how Mr. Trump and his supporters — including his personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, and his chief of staff, Mark Meadows — sought to persuade state officials to avoid certifying vote counts to give Mr. Trump a victory in the Electoral College.

Mr. Trump also sought to persuade lawmakers to create the slates of alternate electors, hoping that Vice President Mike Pence might use them to subvert the normal democratic process when he oversaw the official count of electoral votes on Jan. 6. And the panel presented evidence tying Representative Andy Biggs of Arizona and Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin to the plan.

The committee offered testimony from four public servants who stood up to the former president, rejecting his increasingly desperate pleas for help — often at great personal expense.

“I didn’t want to be used as a pawn,” Rusty Bowers, the speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, testified. Mr. Bowers, a Republican, told the committee that he rebuffed Mr. Trump’s attempts to get him to create slates of pro-Trump electors in his state, explaining to the former president, “You are asking me to do something against my oath, and I will not break my oath.”

Such defiance, however, came at a cost.

Mr. Bowers told the committee that after bucking Mr. Trump, a truck was driven through his neighborhood playing a recording that declared him to be a pedophile. Mr. Bowers, who spoke about the Constitution in reverential and spiritual terms, had tears in his eyes as he described his gravely ill daughter enduring some of the harassment outside their house. (She died last year.)

In similar fashion, Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, testified that after he turned down Mr. Trump’s request in a phone call to find the votes that would throw him the election, his wife of 40 years received “sexualized” threats by text and people broke into his daughter-in-law’s house.

“It’s turned my life upside-down,” Wandrea Moss, a Georgia election worker who was implicated by name in one of Mr. Trump’s false election fraud allegations, said in her own emotional testimony. Ms. Moss, who is known as Shaye, added, “It’s affected my life in a major way — in every way — all because of lies.”

And the panel contrasted the willingness of the four officials to speak out with the refusal of many of Mr. Trump’s allies and others around him to tell investigators what they know. In particular, Representative Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming and the panel’s vice chairwoman, singled out Pat Cipollone, Mr. Trump’s White House counsel, who repeatedly pushed back on his efforts to overturn the election.

“Our committee is certain that Donald Trump does not want Mr. Cipollone to testify here,” she said. “But we think the American people deserve to hear from Mr. Cipollone personally. He should appear before this committee, and we are working to secure his testimony.”

The plan to enlist the help of state lawmakers to create fake slates of electors appears to have begun just days after the election when a pro-Trump lawyer, Cleta Mitchell, sent an email suggesting the idea to John Eastman, another lawyer close to Mr. Trump.

“A movement is stirring,” Ms. Mitchell wrote in the email, introduced as evidence at the hearing. “But needs constitutional support.”

By Nov. 18, 2020, the committee said, another pro-Trump lawyer, Kenneth Chesebro, had joined the effort, writing a memo suggesting that the Trump campaign should organize its allies in several swing states to draft fake slates of electors. Around Thanksgiving, still others signed on to the plan, including Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Meadows, according to a recorded deposition from Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to Mr. Meadows.

Eventually, the Republican National Committee was brought in as well, Ronna McDaniel, the group’s chairwoman, said in a recorded deposition played at the hearing.

Ms. McDaniel testified that during a call with Mr. Trump, he put Mr. Eastman on the phone with her “to talk about the importance of the R.N.C. helping the campaign gather these contingent electors.”

All of this was allowed to go forward despite the fact that several lawyers for the Trump campaign felt it was illegal. The White House Counsel’s Office said as much during a meeting with Mr. Meadows and Mr. Giuliani, according to Ms. Hutchinson.

And even those pushing the scheme conceded it was groundless.

“We’ve got lots of theories,” Mr. Bowers recalled Mr. Giuliani saying at a meeting with Arizona legislators. “We just don’t have the evidence.” On another occasion, as Mr. Bowers questioned Mr. Eastman about how there could possibly be a legal way for him to simply name new electors, the lawyer had no answer, replying, “Just do it and let the courts work it out.”

Even after Arizona had certified its electors, Mr. Eastman and Mr. Biggs called Mr. Bowers, pushing him to launch a fresh attempt to decertify the vote after the fact.

Mr. Raffensperger and Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s top two election officials, recounted a similar story: pressure from Mr. Trump to overturn the election that ultimately led to threats and intimidation when they pushed back.

Mr. Raffensperger was on a call with Mr. Trump on Jan. 3, 2021, during which Mr. Trump pushed him to “find” enough votes to overturn the outcome and vaguely threatened him with “a criminal offense.” Mr. Sterling is perhaps best known for having given an impassioned speech on Dec. 1, 2020 in which he addressed Mr. Trump directly, telling him that his lies about the election were leading to violence against election workers.

“It has all gone too far — all of it,” Mr. Sterling said in the speech that was played at the hearing. He added, “It has to stop. Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or this language.”

Shortly after the election, Mr. Trump and his allies seized on conspiracy theories, falsely claiming that election workers in Atlanta had been caught on video quietly taking thousands of ballots from a suitcase and feeding them into counting machines. Even though the allegations were quickly investigated and debunked, Mr. Sterling said, Mr. Trump and his lawyers continued to push the claims in public and on social media.

Fighting back against this flood of misinformation, Mr. Sterling said, was like “a shovel trying to empty the ocean.”

The committee showed the breathtaking sweep of the pressure campaign across seven states, playing clips from officials in Michigan and Pennsylvania who were inundated with thousands of text messages, phone calls, protesters near their homes and threats. At one point, Bryan Cutler, the Republican House speaker in Pennsylvania, asked Mr. Trump’s legal team to stop its daily phone calls to him because they were inappropriate.

The plan found eager allies in Congress, however.

The committee showed texts that an aide to Mr. Johnson had sent to an aide to Mr. Pence indicating that Mr. Johnson wanted to hand-deliver a slate of fake electors from Wisconsin to the vice president on Jan. 6. Mr. Pence’s aide responded, “Do not give that to him.”

A spokesman for Mr. Johnson on Tuesday blamed the exchange on his chief of staff, saying that the senator “had no involvement” in creating an alternate set of electors.

The hearing ending with testimony from Ms. Moss, an election worker who processed votes with her mother, Ruby Freeman, in Atlanta on Election Day. In early December, Mr. Giuliani appeared a state legislative hearing in Georgia and falsely accused her and her mother of taking ballots from a suitcase and illegally running them through voting machines.

Mr. Giuliani’s baseless allegations were amplified by right-wing media outlets and by Mr. Trump, who mentioned Ms. Moss’s name several times during his call with Mr. Raffensperger. After the accusations went viral, Ms. Moss was subjected to racist threats by phone and text and became afraid to leave the house.

She told the committee that her mother fled her home after the F.B.I. warned her that she could be in danger. Ms. Moss also recalled a panicked call from her septuagenarian grandmother, who said people had arrived at her home seeking to make a “citizen’s arrest” of Ms. Moss.

 

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