• The San Juan Daily Star

Panel ties Trump to fake elector plan, mapping his attack on democracy

Donald Trump Jr., left, and Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, on Nov. 4, 2020, the day after Election Day, at the White House in Washington.

By Luke Broadwater and Alan Feuer

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack directly tied Donald Trump earlier this week 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 savage violence against anyone who resisted.

The hearing 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, 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 Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who led the questioning 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 Trump and his supporters — including his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and his chief of staff, Mark Meadows — sought to persuade state officials to avoid certifying vote counts to give Trump a victory in the Electoral College.

Trump also sought to persuade lawmakers to create 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 Republicans Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona and Sen. 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, speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, testified. Bowers, a Republican, told the committee that he rebuffed 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.

Bowers told the committee that after bucking Trump, a truck was driven through his neighborhood playing a recording that declared him to be a pedophile. 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 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 Trump’s false election fraud allegations, said in her emotional testimony. 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 Trump’s allies and others around him to tell investigators what they know. In particular, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the panel’s vice chair, singled out Pat Cipollone, 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 Trump.

“A movement is stirring,” 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 Giuliani and Meadows, according to a recorded deposition from Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to Meadows.

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

McDaniel testified that during a call with Trump, he put Eastman on the phone with her “to talk about the importance of the RNC 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 Meadows and Giuliani, according to Hutchinson.

And even those pushing the scheme conceded it was groundless.

“We’ve got lots of theories,” Bowers recalled Giuliani saying at a meeting with Arizona legislators. “We just don’t have the evidence.” On another occasion, as Bowers questioned 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.”

The hearing ended with testimony from Moss, an election worker who processed votes with her mother, Ruby Freeman, in Atlanta on Election Day. In early December, Giuliani appeared at 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.

Giuliani’s baseless allegations were amplified by right-wing media outlets and by Trump, who mentioned Moss’ name several times during his call with Raffensperger. After the accusations went viral, Moss received 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 FBI warned her that she could be in danger. 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 Moss.

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