Jan. 6 witnesses to testify about Trump pressure to reject ballots
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 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.