Five takeaways from the latest Jan. 6 hearing
The House committee examining last year’s attack on the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday advanced its ongoing case against former President Trump for his role in the deadly riot, tapping the experiences of Republican state election officials who had been pressured directly by Trump to overturn the 2020 election results.
Those officials — representing Arizona and Georgia, where Trump won handily in 2016 but lost in 2020 — told the select committee that they had supported Trump’s reelection bid but refused his demands to “find” votes or decertify President Biden’s victory for a simple reason: It would have broken state and federal laws.
“I had to be faithful to the Constitution. And that’s what I swore an oath to do,” said Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Republican secretary of state.
“We just followed the law, and we followed the Constitution. And at the end of the day, President Trump came up short,” he said.
Here are five takeaways from Tuesday’s hearing.
Trump was the driving force behind effort to nullify Biden votes
The select committee has highlighted the many figures in Trump’s inner circle who were active in the campaign to flip the election results, including his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and a key adviser, John Eastman, who drafted the dubious legal scaffolding on which the effort was based.
But the investigators have returned again and again to their central allegation that Trump was the driving force behind it all — a theme that was again front and center during Tuesday’s hearing with state officials.
Rusty Bowers, the Republican Speaker of the Arizona House, said Trump and Giuliani together phoned him after the election with claims that hundreds of thousands of illegal votes had been cast in the state between two classes of ineligible voters: undocumented immigrants and dead people. Bowers said he asked for evidence, which Giuliani said he could provide. (He never did). And then Trump jumped in.
“The president interrupted and said, ‘Give the man what he needs, Rudy,’” Bowers said.
Ronna McDaniel, the head of the Republican National Committee (RNC), said Trump had initiated a call in which Eastman asked the RNC for help with fielding an alternative slate of Trump electors — one not approved by state legislators — in certain states won by Biden.
And, in the most infamous case, Trump had called Raffensperger directly with a request to “find 11,780 votes” — the exact number he needed to top Biden’s margin of victory in Georgia. There was an urgency in the effort: The committee revealed that Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows texted or called Raffensperger’s office 18 times to arrange that discussion.
“We investigated — I could have shared the numbers with you,” Raffensperger said. “There were no votes to find. That was an accurate count that had been certified.”
Attorneys warned it was illegal — and Giuliani acknowledged ‘evidence’ issues
Like the claims of election fraud themselves, the false elector scheme was hatched early on, with Trump campaign attorney Cleta Mitchell telling the committee the false electors idea came up “right after the election. It might have been before the election.”
Trump campaign attorneys acknowledged they sought to distance themselves as Giuliani and another pro-Trump lawyer, Kenneth Chesebro, pushed what they deemed to be illegal.
Trump campaign lawyer Justin Clark said he told others, “I don’t think this is appropriate or, you know, this isn’t the right thing to do. I don’t remember how I phrased it, but I got into a little bit of a back-and-forth,” he said, before adding, “I’m out.”
Another campaign attorney, Matt Morgan, had an associate reach out to Chesebro “politely to say, ‘This is your task. You are responsible for the Electoral College issues moving forward.’ And this was my way of taking that responsibility to zero.”
The scheme was also rejected by the White House counsel’s office, which, according to a committee attorney, deemed it “not legally sound.”
Cassidy Hutchinson, former special assistant to the president and Meadows, said that message was relayed to “Mr. Meadows, Mr. Giuliani, and a few of Mr. Giuliani’s associates.”
Giuliani was also hitting resistance from the very lawmakers he was trying to pressure, who said he was never able to deliver the evidence of alleged voter fraud.
“[Giuliani] said, ‘We’ve got lots of theories. We just don’t have the evidence,’” Bowers said. “And I don’t know if that was a gaffe or maybe he didn’t think through what he said.”
The committee alluded to the role the Justice Department could play in weighing the legality of the scheme.
“Whether his actions were criminal will ultimately be for others to decide,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said during the hearing.
“But what he did was without a doubt unconstitutional,” he added.
More involvement from lawmakers in Trump’s plans
Two lawmakers were involved in forwarding the false elector scheme as late as the morning of Jan. 6, 2021: Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.).
Johnson tried to hand-deliver two of the certificates to Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, as he arrived at the Capitol that morning to oversee the electoral vote count, according to one of the select committee’s lawyers.
“Johnson needs to hand something to VPOTUS please advise. … Alternate slate of electors for MI and WI because archivist didn’t receive them,” Johnson aide Sean Riley texted to a Pence staffer in an exchange the committee displayed.
“Do not give that to him,” Chris Hodgson, Pence’s aide, responded.
A spokeswoman for Johnson tweeted Tuesday that Johnson had “no foreknowledge” of the scheme and called the texts “a staff to staff exchange.”
Bowers also testified that he heard from Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) that morning.
“He asked if I would sign on both to a letter that had been sent from my state, and/or that I would support the decertification of the electors,” Bowers said.
“I said I would not,” Bowers added.
Total disregard for legal exposure of Trump staff and state officials
Those roped into the false elector scheme voiced regret — and resentment — to the committee, saying there was little regard for the legal trouble that might face aides or state officials who went along with it.
Robert Sinners, who was Trump’s Election Day operations director in Georgia, said he and others involved were just “kind of useful idiots or rubes at that point.”
“I’m angry. I’m angry because I think in a sense no one really cared if people were potentially putting themselves in jeopardy,” Sinners said in a taped deposition.
But Sinners was unaware that many of the campaign lawyers had advised against the strategy.
“I absolutely would not have [participated] had I known that the three main lawyers for the campaign that I’d spoken to in the past and were leading up were not on board,” he said.
Andrew Hitt, a former Wisconsin Republican Party chairman who was subpoenaed due to his role in the scheme in January, said he was told the fake certificates “would only count if a court ruled in our favor.”
“So that would have been using our electors — well, it would have been using our electors in ways that we weren’t told about and we wouldn’t have supported,” he said in a video clip of his deposition shared by the committee.
And Bowers said Eastman had pressed him to decertify the election results and leave the rest for a judge to decide.
“I said, ‘What would you have me do?’” Bowers said. “And he said, ‘Just do it and let the court sort it out.’”
Panel dedicated to refuting Trump claims
The committee played a series of Trump’s most fantastic claims of voter fraud.
“The real truth is I won by 400,000 votes, at least,” he says in one clip of his call with Raffensperger.
“I think you’re going to find that they are shredding ballots because they have to get rid of the ballots because the ballots are unsigned, the ballots are — are corrupt and they’re brand new and they don’t have seals and there’s a whole thing with the ballots,” he says in another.
Later he claims his staffers watched another video of Georgia officials “in slow motion, instant replay” while they handled ballots, “and the minimum it was was 18,000 ballots, all for Biden.”
The committee took pains to reach those who may still believe Trump won the state, giving Raffensperger and his deputy, Gabriel Sterling, ample time to refute such claims and give a detailed explanation of how ballots are counted and verified.
The officials explained how three different recounts, one done by hand, all achieved nearly identical results.
The results, Sterling said, were “.0099 percent on the margin.”
That did stop Trump from focusing on a tape of workers handling ballots, igniting a conspiracy theory about Shaye Moss, an election worker, and her mother, Ruby Freeman, handling “suitcases of ballots.”
“What’s really frustrating is the president’s attorneys had this same videotape. They saw the exact same things the rest of us could see. And they chose to mislead state senators and the public about what was on that video,” Sterling said.
The committee gave Freeman the last word.
“Do you know how it feels to have the President of the United States to target you? The president of the United States is supposed to represent every American, not to target one. But he targeted me,” she said via a taped deposition.
Mychael Schnell contributed.