Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election inspired his supporters to undertake campaigns of harassment and threats against state legislators and election officials, including a break-in at the home of a targeted official’s family member, witnesses told the House January 6 select committee on Tuesday.
The panel’s fourth hearing examined the pressure campaign Mr Trump and his allies mounted to convince legislators in Arizona, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and other swing states to implement a fringe legal theory under which they could replace electors for Mr Biden — who voters chose on election day — with pro-Trump electors, as well as the consequences of the false claims of fraud put forth by Mr Trump and his allies.
Mr Trump and his allies spent the weeks leading up to the January 6 attack on the Capitol pushing numerous false claims of fraud in disputed states, most infamously in Georgia, where Mr Trump and his attorney Rudy Giuliani accused two Fulton County election workers — Wandrea “Shaye” Moss and her mother Ruby Freeman — of having secreted a suitcase full of illicit ballots into a counting centre.
No such suitcase existed, only a standard rolling container used to transport legitimate ballots, but Mr Trump and Mr Giuliani continued to accuse the two women of committing election fraud to benefit Mr Biden.
Speaking at the hearing, Ms Moss recalled checking Facebook after being informed of Mr Giuliani’s false accusations against her and seeing “a lot of horrible things,” including death threats and racist abuse directed at her and her mother.
Not long after, she and her mother fled their homes on advice from FBI agents who suggested they remain in hiding until at least Inauguration Day, 20 January.
“I felt horrible. I felt like it was all my fault,” she said while describing how, in that moment, she regretted having ever become an election worker.
“I could have done anything else, but that’s what I decided to do and now they’re lying and spreading rumours and lies and attacking my mom,” she said. “I felt bad for my mom and I felt horrible for picking this job and being the one that always wants to help … I just felt like it was my fault for putting my family in this situation”.
Her mother, Ms Freeman, also spoke to the select committee in an emotional videotaped deposition, in which she described the havoc Mr Trump’s lies have wreaked on her life in the nearly two years since the 2020 election.
She said she had spent years building her own fashion business under the name “Lady Ruby,” the name everyone in her community knew her by. She recalled the shirt she’d worn on election day, which was emblazoned with the words “I am Lady Ruby,” had enabled Mr Trump’s supporters to identify her and her daughter.
“I haven’t worn it since and I’ll never wear it again,” she said.
“Now I won’t even introduce myself by my name anymore. 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 get nervous when I have to give my name for food orders, I’m always concerned of who’s around me,” she said. “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 and his ally Rudy Giuliani decided to scapegoat me and my daughter.”
Asked how her life has been affected by the ex-president’s decision to make her a target, Ms Moss said her life had been “turned upside-down” by the fallout from the false allegations.
“I no longer give out my business card. I don’t transfer calls. 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, haven’t been anywhere at all,” she said. “ I’ve gained about 60 pounds, I just don’t do nothing anymore — I don’t want to go anywhere”.
Ms Freeman and Ms Moss were not the only people in Georgia who Mr Trump’s supporters targeted.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the top Peach State election official who Mr Trump infamously pushed to “find” non-existent votes that could be used to overturn Mr Biden’s victory after he became the first Democrat to carry the state since 1992, said Mr Trump’s followers published his personal email and mobile phone numbers after he refused to heed the then-president’s demands, leading to him receiving text messages from “all over the country”.
The Georgia official became a target of Mr Trump’s ire after rebuffing the then-president’s demand to somehow discover votes that would allow him to overtake Mr Biden’s lead in the state. In one infamous phone call, Mr Trump suggested Mr Raffensperger would be guilty of an unspecified crime if he did not do his bidding.
“I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have because we won the state,” he said, according to a recording of the 2 January phone call.
After Mr Trump targeted him, Mr Raffensperger said his wife also began receiving vulgar messages from the ex-president’s supporters.
“Hers typically came in as sexualised texts, which were disgusting,” he said, adding that he and his wife have known each other since their high school days.
“We’ve been married for over 40 years now, so they started going after her, probably to put pressure on me … so that happened,” he said.
Some of Mr Trump’s followers went further than simply sending vulgar texts to an elected official’s wife by choosing to burglarise the home where his late son once lived.
“Some people broke into my daughter-in-law’s home,” he recalled. He added that he and his wife were “very concerned” for her safety, particularly because she had her two children living with her at the time.
Asked why he had chosen to remain in his position and run for re-election even after enduring such harassment from Mr Trump and his followers, Mr Raffensperger replied: “Because I knew that we had to follow the law, we had followed the constitution. I think sometimes moments require you to stand up and just take the shots, you’re doing your job”.
After court challenges failed, legislators became Mr Trump’s target
Although Mr Trump and his allies were unsuccessful in pressuring Mr Raffensperger to do anything that would undermine Mr Biden’s receipt of Georgia’s electoral votes, they already had another plan in the works.
The Trump legal team next embraced a theory put forth by several campaign attorneys, including ex-Chapman University law school professor John Eastman, which posited that state legislatures possess the ultimate authority to decide who will receive their states’ electoral votes. One Trump campaign attorney, former Foley and Lardner partner Cleta Mitchell, told the panel in a deposition that the Trump legal team began considering using state legislatures to overturn the election almost immediately after the election — or perhaps before.
In fundraising emails and social media posts, Mr Trump began telling his supporters that state legislatures could somehow salvage his loss to Mr Biden, even going so far as to encourage supporters to call and text legislators in key states.
Mike Shirkey, the Michigan state senate’s top Republican, told the panel in a deposition that he received roughly 4,000 text messages in a short period of time after Mr Trump posted his personal mobile phone to Facebook.
The committee also played an excerpt from a deposition by Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who described hearing protesters outside her home in late December 2020.
“We started to hear the noises outside my home and that’s when my stomach sank,” she said. “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. And so … that was the scariest moment, just not knowing what was going to happen.”
Another legislator, Pennsylvania House Speaker Bryan Cutler, recalled receiving daily voicemails from Mr Giuliani and Trump attorney Jenna Ellis over a period of weeks in late 2020 urging him to act to rescind Mr Biden’s win in the Keystone State. After he rebuffed the Trump team’s entreaties, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon summoned crowds of protesters to Mr Cutler’s home.
“There was, at least, three I think, outside that either my district office or my home … my son, Mike, my then 15-year-old son was home by himself for the first one,” he said in a videotaped deposition. “All of my personal information was doxxed [posted] online — it was my personal email, my personal cell phone, my home phone number — in fact, we had to disconnect our home phone for about three days because it would ring all hours of the night, would fill up with messages”.
One such state official, Arizona House Speaker Russell “Rusty” Bowers, recounted multiple phone calls between himself, Mr Trump, and campaign attorneys Rudolph Giuliani and Jenna Ellis, during which they pressured him to call the Arizona legislature into session so legislators could vote to decertify Mr Biden’s victory.
Mr Bowers appeared close to tears at some points as he told the panel how he repeatedly asked Mr Trump and his team for proof that Arizona’s election had been tainted by fraud. But he said no such proof ever materialised, and recounted how he told Mr Trump that he did not have the power to do as the then-president asked because it was illegal under Arizona law.
“I said look, you are asking me to do something that is counter to the oath I swore to the Constitution to uphold it — and I also swore to the Constitution and the laws of the state of Arizona — and this is totally foreign as an idea or a theory to me, and I would never do anything of such magnitude without deep consultation with qualified attorneys,” he said. “And I said, I’ve got some good attorneys, and I’m going to give you their names. But you’re asking me to do something against my oath and I will not break my oath”.
He said Arizona’s legislature had passed a law 40 years ago which said the state’s electoral votes would go to the popular vote winner.
“Once it was given to the people … it becomes a fundamental right,” he said.
Mr Trump appeared to take issue with Mr Bowers’ testimony even before he started speaking. The ex-president issued a statement just hours before the hearing in which he claimed that Mr Bowers had told him Arizona’s 2020 election had been “rigged” in a post-election phone call.
Mr Schiff opened his questioning of Mr Bowers by asking him about Mr Trump’s characterisation that morning of their conversation where the former president said Mr Bowers thought the election was “rigged.”
“I did have a conversation with the president – that certainly isn’t it”, he said. “Anywhere, anyone, anytime that said I said the election was rigged, that would not be true.”
Asked why he pushed back so hard against Mr Trump, he explained: “It’s a tenet of my faith that the Constitution is divinely inspired — of my most basic, foundational beliefs. And so for me to do that because someone asked me to is foreign to my very being. I will not do it.”
Under questioning from California Representative Adam Schiff, he read aloud a journal entry he’d written regarding his response to the pressure campaign.
“I do not want to be a winner by cheating. I will not play with laws I swore allegiance to with any contrived desire towards deflection of my deep foundational desire to follow God’s will, as I believe he led my conscience to embrace,” he said.
Mr Bowers also told the select committee of how his defiance of Mr Trump had brought on consequences for him and his family.
After being shown footage of armed protesters at the Arizona state capitol — including the infamous “QAnon Shaman” who would leave a threatening note for Mr Pence in the Senate chamber on January 6 — Mr Bowers told the committee that the protesters shown in the video — at least one of whom accused him of treason — had been chanting his name.
The Republican speaker also said that pro-Trump protesters repeatedly showed up at his home — occasionally bearing firearms — to accuse him of being a paedophile and a pervert.
Committee members promise ‘sweeping’ recommendations to prevent another Capitol attack
The select committee is more than halfway through a series of six hearings to present preliminary findings in its year-long investigation into the causes of the attack on the Capitol.
Previous hearings have revealed that Mr Trump was told he had lost the election before he began claiming to have been the victim of fraud on election night and that he knew the plan to have Mr Pence unilaterally reject electoral votes from swing states won by Mr Biden was illegal.
The panel’s two remaining hearings will examine Mr Trump’s effort to enlist the Department of Justice in his quest to retain the presidency against the wishes of voters, and the nexus between the Trump campaign, the Trump White House, and the violent extremist groups that participated in the Capitol attack.
“I think that you’ve seen throughout the hearings that we are putting forward very clearly a number of instances in which there are serious questions about the actions [of] the former president”, Vice Chairwoman Liz Cheney told reporters after the hearing. “We’ll continue to do. I think the testimony you saw today was particularly compelling with Republicans and Democrats both being in a position to say they did their duty. They stood for what was right.”
Ms Cheney praised the elected officials for doing so despite Mr Trump’s pressure, even though Mr Trump’s aides told him repeatedly his words were lies.
“We will have a whole set of sweeping recommendations coming out of our hearings as part of our report about what needs to be done to fortify ourselves against coups, insurrections and election fraud moving forward”, Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, a committee member, told reporters.
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