by Marie Claire Jalonik | The Associated Press
WASHINGTON – The House committee investigating the Capitol uprising heard Tuesday from election workers and state officials as they described pressure from President Donald Trump to reverse his 2020 election defeat. On Thursday, a nine-member panel will hear from former Justice Department officials who rejected Trump’s urge to declare the election “corrupt.”
The committee’s fourth and fifth hearings, held this week, are part of an effort to show how Trump’s pressure eventually transferred to Congress, where his false declarations of widespread electoral fraud directly rioted on January 6, 2021, when hundreds of his Supporters violently breached the capitol and obstructed the certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory.
In July, the panel will hold at least two more hearings, which are expected to focus on far-right domestic extremists attacking the Capitol and what Trump was doing inside the White House as the violence unfolded.
Trump’s pressure on states
State officials testified at Tuesday’s hearing that they faced extraordinary pressure from Trump after the election and attempted to invalidate Biden’s victory.
Arizona’s House speaker, Rusty Bowers, testified about phone calls from Trump and his aides asking them to remove and replace Arizona’s legitimate voters. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Riffensperger told about the now infamous phone call when Trump asked officials there to find “11,780” votes.
The officials did not.
“You’re asking me to do something against my oath, and I won’t break my oath,” Bowers said as he told Trump and his aides. “Just do it and let the courts sort it out,” he recalled, recalling attorney John Eastman, the chief architect of Trump’s plan to create slates of fake voters.
Bowers said he repeatedly asked Trump’s team for evidence of the widespread fraud they were claiming, but they never provided it.
Raffensperger said his team investigated all of Trump’s claims and trawled every “rabbit hole,” finding nothing. But Trump will not accept it.
Trump’s pressure on Pence
The committee’s third hearing last week featured testimony from former aides to Vice President Mike Pence. Allies described the then-president’s efforts to persuade Pence to step down from his formal role and purpose as Congress counted the electoral votes on January 6.
Pence concluded from the outset, with his former attorney Greg Jacob telling the committee, that “there is no reasonable basis for concluding that the vice president has that kind of authority.”
Trump did not give up, even though his supporters were breaking into the Capitol and Pence was hiding in an undisclosed location — at one point just 40 feet from the rioters, the committee said. Trump sent a tweet that afternoon saying that Pence did not have the “courage” to do what was necessary.
The committee played video of rioters outside the Capitol calling for Pence’s death.
“Donald Trump turned the crowd on him,” said Mississippi Representative Benny Thompson, the chair of the panel.
scuffle with Trump aides
The hearings have repeatedly shown how Trump proceeded with his baseless claims of fraud even as his top advisers told him they were not true.
The committee drew video testimony from several aides who said they disagreed with the plan or tried to speak to Trump – even though some of them spoke publicly at the time. Even his daughter, Ivanka Trump, said she “accepted” the findings of former Attorney General Bill Barr, who resigned after telling the president there was no evidence of widespread fraud.
Efforts to persuade Trump began on election night, when the race was still very close to the call. Lawyer Rudy Giuliani told Trump to just go ahead and declare victory. Trump campaign manager Bill Stepian said in an interview clip that he told Trump it was “too early” for such an announcement. But Trump did it anyway.
Trump said in front of the cameras, ‘Frankly, we won this election.
The committee used video clips of the testimony of Barr, who told Trump that he had looked into the allegations and found no evidence that any of them were true. He said he tried to convince Trump, but he felt the president was “separating from reality” and that he was “not interested in the real facts.”
Violence, and real life followed
The committee has also used the hearing to tell the stories of people who have been hurt either through the January 6 violence or through harassment from those who believe the election was stolen.
Capitol Police Officer Carolyn Edwards testified about the traumatic brain injury she suffered when she was pushed into concrete after rioters previously broke down temporary barriers around the Capitol. She described one of the films as “battle scenes” and hours of hand-to-hand combat.
“They were throwing up—I saw friends with blood on their faces,” said Edwards, who still hasn’t returned to the unit where he worked. “It was genocide. It was chaos.”
On Tuesday, two Georgia election activists who became the focus of false conspiracy theories testified in tears about how it had affected their lives.
The Justice Department has rejected claims that Wandrea “Shay” Moss and her mother Ruby Freeman presented suitcases of illegal ballots and committed other acts of electoral fraud to try to change the outcome – a conspiracy theory that Giuliani has been accused of. And was pushed by Trump. But Moss says she no longer leaves her home and has affected her life in “every way” after receiving violent and racial threats from Trump supporters.
In a video testimony, Freeman said she no longer advertises her local business with her own name: “Lady Ruby.”
“I’ve lost my name, and I’ve lost my reputation. I’ve lost my sense of security,” Freeman said.
what will happen next
On Thursday, the hearings will move into another pressure campaign — Trump’s efforts to get Justice Department officials to declare the election corrupt, and a plan within the department to go after states to change the outcome. Former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, who took over after Barr resigned, and his deputy, Richard Donoghue, will testify on how they successfully resisted that pressure.
Two of his subsequent hearings, expected to cover domestic extremism and Trump’s actions inside the White House, will be held in July. And they may not be final before the panel releases its final report later this year.
“We are picking up on new evidence on a daily basis with enormous velocity,” said Maryland Representative Jamie Ruskin, a member of the committee. “And so we’re constantly incorporating and including new information that’s coming out.”
Another panel member suggested they could still summon Pence — it’s “definitely a possibility,” said California Representative Adam Schiff.
“We still, I think, would love to have many high-profile people before our committee,” Schiff said.
Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro, Farnoush Amiri and Kevin Freking contributed.