Panel links Trump to bogus election plan, mapping his attack on democracy

WASHINGTON — The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on Tuesday directly linked Donald J. Trump to a scheme to present fake pro-Trump voter lists and offered new details about how the former president sought to bully, cajole and bluff his way to invalidating his 2020 defeat in states across the country.

Using in-person sworn testimony from Republicans and videotaped depositions from other officials, the panel showed how the former president and a group of allies beleaguered state lawmakers and officials voters after the ballot in a wide-ranging plot to reverse the outcome. The campaign led to harassment and threats of violence against anyone who resisted.

Tuesday’s hearing painted the most comprehensive picture yet of a president who has led an attack on democracy itself and repeatedly hit upon its essential mechanism – the administration of free and fair elections.

This was the committee’s fourth hearing, and it showed how, long before a crowd of his supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Mr. Trump used election lies to stoke violence against anyone who dared to deny his false claims of victory. .

“The president’s lie was and is a dangerous cancer of the body politic,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff, the California Democrat who led the questioning on Tuesday. “If you can convince Americans that they can’t trust their own elections, that every time they lose is somehow illegitimate, then what’s left but violence to determine who should govern?”

For nearly three hours, the committee demonstrated how Mr. Trump and his supporters — including his personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, and his chief of staff, Mark Meadows — sought to persuade state officials to avoid certifying the vote count to give Mr. Trump an Electoral College victory.

Mr Trump has also sought to persuade lawmakers to create the alternate voter lists, hoping Vice President Mike Pence could use them to subvert the normal democratic process when he oversaw the official counting of electoral votes on January 6. . And the panel presented evidence. tying Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona and Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin to the plan.

The committee offered testimony from four officials who stood up to the former president, rejecting his increasingly desperate pleas for help – often at great expense.

“I didn’t want to be used as a pawn,” said Rusty Bowers, speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives. Mr. Bowers, a Republican, told the committee he had rebuffed Mr. Trump’s attempts to get him to create pro-Trump voter lists in his state, telling the former president: “You ask to do something against my oath, and I will not break my oath.

Such a challenge, however, came at a cost.

Mr. Bowers told the committee that after resisting Mr. Trump, a truck drove through his neighborhood playing a recording that declared him a pedophile. Mr Bowers, who spoke of 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 home. (She died last year.)

Similarly, Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, said that after he rejected Mr Trump’s request during a phone call to find the votes that would get him elected, his 40-year-old wife received ‘sexualized’ threats via text message and people broke into his daughter-in-law’s house.

“It turned my life upside down,” said Wandrea Moss, a Georgia election worker who was implicated by name in one of Mr. Trump’s bogus voter fraud allegations, in her own moving testimony. Ms Moss, known as Shaye, added: ‘It has affected my life in a major way – in every way – all because of the lies.

And the panel pitted the four officials’ willingness to speak out against the refusal of many of Mr. Trump’s allies and others around him to tell investigators what they know. In particular, Rep. Liz Cheney, a Republican from Wyoming and the panel’s vice chair, pointed to Pat Cipollone, Mr. Trump’s White House lawyer, who has repeatedly pushed back against his efforts to nullify 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 is expected to appear before this committee, and we are trying to get his testimony.

The plan to enlist the help of state lawmakers to create fake voter lists appears to have started 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 Mr. Atout.

“A movement is stirring,” Ms Mitchell wrote in the email, presented as evidence in court. “But needs constitutional support.”

On Nov. 18, 2020, the committee said, another pro-Trump lawyer, Kenneth Chesebro, had joined the effort, drafting a memo suggesting the Trump campaign should organize allies in several swing states to draft fake lists. of voters. Around Thanksgiving, more signed the plan, including Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Meadows, according to a recorded deposition from Cassidy Hutchinson, an assistant to Mr. Meadows.

Eventually, the Republican National Committee was also brought in, Ronna McDaniel, the group’s chairwoman, said in recorded deposition played during the hearing.

Ms. McDaniel testified that during a call with Mr. Trump, he put Mr. Eastman on the phone with her “to talk about how important it is for the RNC to help the campaign bring these contingent voters together.”

This was all allowed to go ahead despite several Trump campaign lawyers saying it was illegal. The White House legal counsel’s office said so during a meeting with Mr. Meadows and Mr. Giuliani, according to Ms. Hutchinson.

And even those defending the scheme admitted that it was baseless.

“We have a lot of theories,” Mr. Bowers recalled, Mr. Giuliani saying during a meeting with Arizona lawmakers. “We just don’t have the evidence.” On another occasion, when Mr. Bowers was questioning Mr. Eastman on how there might possibly be a legal way for him to simply nominate new voters, the lawyer had no answer, replying: “Do it and let the courts sort it out.

Even after Arizona certified its voters, Mr. Eastman and Mr. Biggs called Mr. Bowers, urging him to launch another attempt to decertify the vote after the fact.

Mr. Raffensperger and Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s two top election officials, told a similar story: Mr. Trump’s push to cancel the election that ultimately led to threats and intimidation when they pushed back.

Mr. Raffensperger was in a telephone conversation with Mr. Trump on January 3, 2021, during which Mr. Trump urged him to “find” enough votes to overturn the result and vaguely threatened him with “a criminal offence” . Mr. Sterling is perhaps best known for delivering an impassioned speech on December 1, 2020 in which he addressed Mr. Trump directly, telling him that his lies about the election were leading to violence against election workers.

“It’s all gone too far – all of that,” Mr Sterling said in the speech to the hearing. He added: “It has to stop. Mr. President, you did not condemn these actions or this language.

Shortly after the election, Mr. Trump and his allies seized on conspiracy theories, falsely claiming that Atlanta election officials were filmed stealthily taking thousands of ballots from a suitcase and to feed them into counting machines. Even though the allegations were quickly investigated and denied, Mr. Sterling said, Mr. Trump and his lawyers continued to push the allegations in public and on social media.

Tackling this flood of disinformation, Mr Sterling said, was like “a shovel trying to empty the ocean”.

The committee showed the jaw-dropping sweep of the pressure campaign across seven states, playing clips of officials in Michigan and Pennsylvania who were inundated with thousands of text messages, phone calls, protesters near their homes and threats. At one point Bryan Cutler, the Republican House Speaker in Pennsylvania, asked Mr. Trump’s legal team to stop his daily phone calls because they were inappropriate.

The plan, however, found enthusiastic allies in Congress.

The committee showed texts that an aide to Mr Johnson had sent to an aide to Mr Pence indicating that Mr Johnson wanted to hand-deliver a list of bogus Wisconsin voters to the vice president on Jan. 6. Mr Pence’s aide replied: ‘Don’t give it to him.

A spokesman for Mr Johnson on Tuesday blamed the swap on his chief of staff, saying the senator “had no involvement” in creating an alternative voters group.

The hearing ended with testimony from Ms. Moss, an election worker who processed votes with her mother, Ruby Freeman, in Atlanta on Election Day. In early December, Mr Giuliani appeared at a Georgia state legislative hearing and falsely accused her and her mother of taking ballots from a suitcase and illegally running them through machines to vote.

Mr. Giuliani’s baseless allegations were amplified by right-wing media and by Mr. Trump, who mentioned Ms. Moss’ name several times during his call with Mr. Raffensperger. After the accusations went viral, Ms Moss was subjected to racist threats by phone and text message and was scared to leave the house.

She told the committee that her mother fled her home after the FBI warned her that she might be in danger. Ms Moss also recalled a panicked call from her 70-year-old grandmother, who said people had arrived at her home attempting a ‘citizen arrest’ of Ms Moss.

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