Georgia's Raffensperger among witnesses for next 1/6 hearing | www.WDIO.com

Georgia's Raffensperger among witnesses for next 1/6 hearing

Brad Raffensperger Brad Raffensperger |  Photo: ABC News / YouTube

FARNOUSH AMIRI Associated Press
Updated: June 21, 2022 04:18 PM
Created: June 21, 2022 10:46 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House 1/6 committee outlined on Tuesday Donald Trump’s relentless pressure to overturn the 2020 presidential election, aiming to show it led to widespread personal threats on the stewards of American democracy — election workers and local officials who fended off the defeated president’s efforts.

The panel investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack at the U.S. Capitol resumed with a focus on Trump’s efforts to undo Joe Biden’s victory in the most local way — by leaning on officials in key battleground states to reject ballots outright or to submit alternative electors for the final tally in Congress. The pressure was fueled by the defeated president’s false claims of voter fraud which, the panel says, led directly to the riot at the Capitol.

Chairman Bennie Thompson declared, “A handful of election officials in several key states stood between Donald Trump and the upending of American democracy.”

The hearing opened with chilling accounts of the barrage of verbal attacks facing state and local elected officials, including Arizona’s Republican House speaker Rusty Bowers who said he was subject to a “disturbing” smear campaign online, bull-horn protests at his home and a pistol-wielding man taunting his family and neighbors.

Bowers walked through an account of being called by Trump on a Sunday after returning from church when the defeated president laid out his proposal to have the state replace its electors for Joe Biden with those favoring Trump.

"I said, Look, you're asking me to do something that is counter to my oath," Bowers testified before the committee.

Bowers insisted on seeing Trump's evidence of voter fraud, which he said Trump's team never produced beyond vague allegations. He recalled Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani at one point told him, “'We’ve got lots of theories, we just don’t have the evidence.'”

Trump wanted Bowers to hold a hearing at the state Capitol, but the Republican leader said there was already a “circus” atmosphere over the election. The panel showed video footage of protesters at the Arizona state house including a key figure, the horned-hat wearing Jacob Chansley, who was later arrested at the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot.

Trump nevertheless pressed the Arizona official, including in a follow-up call, suggesting he expected a better response from a fellow Republican.

But Bowers testified under oath that because of his faith, including a belief the U.S. Constitution is divinely inspired, what the president was asking him to do was “foreign to my very being.”

Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, the panel’s vice chair, embraced Bowers during a break in the hearing.

She implored Americans to pay attention to the evidence being presented, declaring, “Donald Trump didn’t care about the threats of violence. He did not condemn them, he made no effort to stop them.”

"We cannot let America become a nation of conspiracy theories and thug violence.”

The public hearing, the fourth by the panel this month, stemmed from its yearlong investigation into Trump’s unprecedented attempt to remain in power, a sprawling scheme that the chairman of the Jan. 6 committee has likened to an “attempted coup.”

Thompson, D-Miss., pointed to recent election disputes in New Mexico and said, "The danger hasn’t gone away. It’s corrupting our democratic institutions."

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger testified about Trump's phone call asking him to "find 11,780” votes that could flip his state to prevent Biden’s election victory.

Raffensperger and his deputy Gabe Sterling were key witnesses, along with Wandrea “Shay” Moss, a former Georgia election worker who, with her mother, has said they faced such severe public harassment from Trump allies they felt unable to live normal lives.

While the committee cannot charge Trump with any crimes, the Justice Department is watching the panel’s work closely. Trump’s actions in Georgia are also the subject of a grand jury investigation, with the district attorney expected to announce findings this year.

Trump defended himself on social media, describing his phone call to Raffensperger as “perfect,” similar to the way he described his 2020 call with Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelenskyy that resulted in his first impeachment.

During the call, days before the Jan. 6 attack, Trump repeatedly cited disproven claims of fraud and raised the prospect of a “criminal offense” if Georgia officials did not change the state's count. The state had counted its votes three times before certifying Biden’s win by a margin of 11,779.

The public testimony from Raffensperger came weeks after he appeared before a special grand jury in Georgia investigating whether Trump and others illegally tried to intervene in the state’s 2020 election, and after Raffensperger beat a Trump-backed challenger in last month’s primary election.

Sterling, Raffensperger's chief operating officer, became a notable figure in Georgia’s long post-election counting, and recounting, of the presidential ballots, with his regular updates often broadcast live to a divided nation. At one point, the soft-spoken Republican implored Americans to tone down the heated rhetoric.

“Death threats, physical threats, intimidation — it’s too much, it’s not right,” he said.

Bowers also revealed a second phone call with Trump in December 2020 that he said was mainly small talk, although Trump also referenced their first conversation.

Moss, who had worked for the Fulton County elections department since 2012, and her mother, Ruby Freeman, a temporary election worker, filed a defamation lawsuit in December 2021. Moss claimed conservative outlet One America News Network and Giuliani falsely spread allegations that she and her mother engaged in ballot fraud during the election. The case against OAN has since been dismissed with a settlement.

The select committee also worked to untangle the elaborate “fake electors” scheme that sought to have representatives in as many as seven battlegrounds — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Nevada and New Mexico — sign certificates falsely stating that Trump, not Biden, had won their states.

Conservative law professor John Eastman, a lawyer for Trump, pushed the fake electors in the weeks after the election. Trump and Eastman convened hundreds of electors on a call on Jan. 2, 2021, encouraging them to send alternative slates from their states where Trump’s team was claiming fraud.

The fake electors idea was designed to set up a challenge on Jan. 6, 2021, when Congress met in joint session, with Vice President Mike Pence presiding over what is typically a ceremonial role to accept the states' vote tallies. But the effort collapsed, as Pence refused Trump’s repeated demands that he simply halt the certification of Biden’s win — a power he believed he did not possess in his purely ceremonial role.

At least 20 people in connection with the fake electors scheme were subpoenaed by the House panel. The committee says it will also show that it has gathered enough evidence through its more than 1,000 interviews and tens of thousands of documents to connect the varying efforts to overturn the election directly to Trump.

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Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington and Bob Christie in Phoenix contributed to this report.

----- Earlier Story:

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is set to testify Tuesday at the House Jan. 6 committee about the extraordinary pressure he faced from former President Donald Trump to "find 11,780” votes that could flip the state to prevent Joe Biden’s election victory

Raffensperger, along with his deputy Gabe Sterling and Arizona’s state House Speaker Rusty Bowers, are scheduled to be the key witnesses when the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection resumes on Tuesday.

The focus will be on how the former president and his allies vigorously pressured officials in key battleground states with schemes to reject ballots or entire state tallies to upend the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Additionally, the panel will underscore how Trump knew his unrelenting pressure campaign could potentially cause violence against state and local officials and their families but pursued it anyway, according to a select committee aide.

“We will show courageous state officials who stood up and said they wouldn’t go along with this plan to either call legislatures back into session or decertify the results for Joe Biden,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., one of the Democratic members of the committee, told CNN on Sunday.

The hearing, the fourth by the panel this month, is the latest effort to delve into Trump's unprecedented attempt to remain in power, a sprawling scheme that the chairman of the Jan. 6 committee has likened to an “attempted coup." The committee will review how Trump leaned on Raffensperger to invalidate ballots that voters had cast for Biden. And then he tapped state legislators in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and other disputed states to reject the election results from their own voters.

While the committee cannot charge Trump with any crimes, the Justice Department is watching the panel’s work closely. Trump’s actions in Georgia are also the subject of a grand jury investigation, with the district attorney expected to announce findings this year.

Raffensperger, Georgia's top election official, rebuffed Trump's request that he “find” enough votes to overturn Biden’s win in the state — a request caught on tape during a phone call days before the Jan. 6 attack.

During the call, Trump repeatedly cited disproven claims of fraud and raised the prospect of a “criminal offense” if Georgia officials did not change the vote count. The state had counted its votes three times before certifying Biden’s win by a 11,779 margin.

Sterling, Raffensperger's chief operating officer, became a notable figure in Georgia’s long post-election counting, and recounting, of the presidential ballots, with his regular updates often broadcast live to a divided nation. At one point, the mild-spoken Republican implored Americans to tone down the heated rhetoric.

“Death threats, physical threats, intimidation — it’s too much, it’s not right,” said Sterling, a Republican.

Bowers is expected to discuss the pressure he faced to overturn Arizona's results — requests from Trump advisers the Republican state leader on Monday called “juvenile.”

In an interview with The Associated Press after arriving in Washington ahead of the hearing, Bowers said he is expected to be asked about a call with Trump during which lawyer Rudy Giuliani floated an idea to replace Arizona's electors with those who would vote for Trump.

Bowers also revealed a second phone call with Trump in December 2020 that he said was mainly small talk, although Trump also referenced their first conversation.

Also testifying Tuesday is Wandrea “Shay” Moss, one of two Georgia election workers who filed a defamation lawsuit in December 2020 against a conservative website. Moss claimed One America News Network falsely spread allegations that she and her mother engaged in ballot fraud during the election.

The lawsuit, which was settled in April, also names Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani as a vocal proponent of the baseless claim, which the mother and daughter say led to intense harassment, both in-person and online.

The select committee also plans Tuesday to untangle the elaborate “fake electors” scheme that was aimed at halting Biden's election win. The plan saw fake electors in seven battlegrounds — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Nevada and New Mexico — sign certificates falsely stating that Trump, not Biden, had won their states.

Conservative law professor John Eastman, a lawyer for Trump, pushed the fake electors in the weeks after the election. Trump and Eastman convened hundreds of electors on a call on Jan. 2, 2021, encouraging them to send alternative electors from their states where Trump’s team was claiming fraud.

The fake electoral certificates were produced and mailed to the National Archives and Congress. But the effort failed in the end, as Vice President Mike Pence refused Trump’s repeated demands that he halt the certification of Biden’s win on Jan. 6, 2021 — a power he did not possess in his purely ceremonial role.

The committee says it will also show Tuesday that it has gathered enough evidence through its more than 1,000 interviews and tens of thousands of documents to connect the varying efforts to overturn the election directly to Trump.

At least 20 people in connection with the fake electors scheme were subpoenaed by the House panel, including former Trump campaign members, state party officials and state lawmakers.

“We will show during a hearing what the president’s role was in trying to get states to name alternate slates of electors, how that scheme depended initially on hopes that the legislatures would reconvene and bless it,” Schiff said.

Schiff told the Los Angeles Times on Monday that the hearing will also dig into the “intimate role” former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows had in the plot to pressure Georgia state legislators and elections officials.

The public testimony from Raffensperger comes weeks after he appeared before a special grand jury in Georgia, which is investigating whether Trump and others illegally tried to meddle in the state’s 2020 election.

In retaliation for Raffensperger's refusal to support his election lies, Trump recruited a primary challenger in an effort to remove him from office. But Raffensperger narrowly held back the threat in last month’s primary, leaving him positioned to compete against a Democrat in the general election.

Credits

FARNOUSH AMIRI Associated Press

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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