Uglier Side of Trump’s 2020 Lies and Bullying Come Before Committee￼
(Arizona Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers. Photo credit: january6.house.gov)
The scope of Donald Trump’s effort to subvert the 2020 election widened in congressional testimony Tuesday as Republican state legislators, state election officials and local election workers described Trump’s pressure campaigns and bullying that targeted them and led to severe harassment for doing their jobs.
“There is nowhere I feel safe. Nowhere,” said Ruby Freeman, who, with her daughter, Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, were election workers at an Atlanta arena who were repeatedly named and smeared by Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, for what the men falsely said was stealing Georgia votes for Joe Biden.
“Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States to target you?” Freeman continued. “The president of the United States is supposed to represent every American, not to target one. But he targeted me.”
A video of the two women as they resumed processing ballots after an evening break was mischaracterized and widely circulated by Trump’s allies. Giuliani told Georgia’s state Senate that the Black women were criminals. Trump said they were part of a conspiracy to steal the election, which led his supporters to threaten and stalk the women, and even saw a vigilantes barge into Freeman’s elderly mother’s home to attempt a “citizen’s arrest” of her and Moss.
The January 6 hearings have shown that it was Trump and his minions – not Democrats, nor state officials who followed their oaths of office, nor local election workers who did their jobs – who were plotting to overturn the election, and who embraced lying, ignoring laws, harassment, and violence to seize the presidency.
“Donald Trump did not care about the threats of violence. He did not condemn them… He went forward with his fake allegations,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, R-WY, the panel’s co-chair. “We cannot let America become a nation of conspiracy theories and thug violence.”
From a legal standpoint, Tuesday’s hearings directly tied Trump to one scheme where complicit Republican Party officials and state office holders knowingly forged and signed fake Electoral College certificates that declared Trump, not Biden, won their state’s votes. That scheme emerged after Trump could not any Republican governor or GOD-led led legislature to reconvene to award him an Electoral College victory despite Biden winning the state’s popular vote.
But what stood out Tuesday was Trump’s boorish and boundary-breaking harassment of legislator leaders and top election officials who would not bend to his will to overturn their state’s election results. Trump’s ongoing claims that the election was stolen has sparked many copycat candidacies in 2022 among right-wing Republicans. That posturing continued Tuesday and targeted the panel’s opening witness, underscoring the threat that Trump’s cadre still poses.
Before the hearing began, Trump issued a statement saying that the first witness, Rusty Bowers, the Republican longtime speaker of its house, had personally told Trump in November 2020 that Arizona’s election had been “rigged” for Biden. Bowers was present to describe Trump’s efforts, with phone calls from the president Trump to lobbying by his legal team, to push Bowers to launch an unprecedented legislative process to retract Biden’s victory.
“Before we begin with the questions I have prepared for you, I want to ask you about a statement that former President Trump issued, which I received just prior to the hearing,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-CA. “Former President Trump begins by calling you a RINO, Republican in Name Only. He then references a conversation in November 2020, in which he claims that you told him that the election was rigged, and that he had won Arizona… Did you have such a conversation?”
“I did have a conversation with the president. That certainly isn’t it,” Bowers said. “Anywhere, anyone, anytime has said that I said the election was rigged – that would not be true.”
Bowers went on to testify that Trump pushed and then bullied him to convene a special legislative session to revoke Biden’s victory. (Michigan’s Senate President, Republican Mike Shirkey told the panel in a videotaped interview played Tuesday the same thing: Trump had pushed him to take the steps needed to declare him the state’s Electoral College vote winner.)
Bowers testified that he told Trump that he did not have the authority to do so under Arizona’s state constitution and the federal constitution, and that he would not violate his oath of office to do so. Shirkey told Trump much the same thing.
Then Trump moved onto a second ploy based on an untested legal theory by John Eastman, a lawyer who argued that state legislatures had the power to ignore the popular vote and appoint Electoral College slates of their choosing. The so-called fake-elector plan involved Ronna McDaniel, the Republican National Committee chairwoman, who Trump asked to promote it – another disclosure on Tuesday.
In that same conversation with Bowers, Trump claimed to speak on behalf of other senior Arizona lawmakers, Bowers recounted, to pressure the speaker to hold a hearing on Eastman’s theory — which would lend it credibility.
“I said to what end? To what end the hearing?” Bowers recounted. “He said, ‘Well, we have heard by an official high up in the Republican legislature that there is a legal theory or a legal ability in Arizona, that you can remove the electors of President Biden and replace them. And we would like to have a legitimate opportunity through the committee…’ And I said, ‘That’s totally new to me. I’ve never heard of any such thing.’ And he pressed that point.”
Trump’s lie-laced pressure tactics didn’t end there. Giuliani kept lobbying Bowers. Then came more bullying. When Bowers did not budge, Trump supporters went to his home and held menacing protests, he said. The protests occurred while his daughter was very ill at home and would soon pass away.
“We had a daughter who was gravely ill, who was upset by what was happening outside,” he said.
At Tuesday’s hearing, numerous Republican and Democratic legislators and state election officials described how Trump’s foot soldiers threatened them on social media, published their private contact information online, stalked them outside their homes – which neither Trump nor his team discouraged, as Cheney noted.
The officials who recounted this harassment included Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who testified Tuesday, Michigan’s Mike Shirkey, a Republican, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, and Pennsylvania House Speaker Bryan Cutler, a Republican.
Raffensperger recounted how someone broke into his daughter-in-law’s home after the election, which he attributed to the threats he received. When asked why he didn’t leave his job or cave to Trump, his reply was much the same as Bowers: he felt he had a public duty to oversee a constitutional process even if it meant that his party did not win the White House.
“I knew that we had followed the law, we had followed the Constitution,” Raffensperger said. “You’re doing your job. And that’s what we did.”
But not every witness on Tuesday had a story of valor under duty. Georgia’s Ruby Freeman said that the targeting of her by Trump and Giuliani led to the loss of her business, a loss of privacy and sense of security. She was afraid to use her name in public, she testified, because she feared it could provoke more harassment.
“I’ve lost my name and I’ve lost my reputation,” she said.
And her daughter, Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, told the committee that she had to leave her job as an election worker after a decade, leave her home and go into hiding – as advised by the FBI – and became deeply depressed. But she was most upset for the threats by Trump’s thugs to her grandmother – who called her in a panic when his foot soldiers barged into her house seeking to make a “citizens’ arrest” of her and her mother.
“It was my fault for putting my family in this situation,” she said, referring to her work as an election official.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Schiff replied.
But on Tuesday morning, Trump was back at it – putting false words into another witness’s mouth, as if nothing mattered except his return to power.