Threats, pressure, and intent: Jan. 6 probe offers harrowing evidence of bogus overturn scheme

Threats, pressure, and intent: Jan. 6 probe offers harrowing evidence of bogus overturn scheme

For its fourth hearing, the January 6 committee provided the nation with a battery of new details about a plot that investigators say former President Donald Trump, his attorneys, advisers, members of his administration, and some members of Congress deployed so that the 45th president could stay in power despite losing the 2020 election to now-President Joe Biden. 

Testimony on Tuesday was frequently riveting as witnesses relived their first-hand experiences going toe to toe with the former president and a bevy of his attorneys bent on advancing baseless claims and conspiracy theories about a “rigged” election, compromised voting machines, and election workers in cahoots against him. 

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, his deputy Gabriel Sterling and Russell Bowers, the Arizona House of Representatives Speaker, all testified. All are Republicans and to a witness, they described experiences with an obstinate Trump who repeatedly pressured them to say there was fraud in the election where there was none.

The committee also heard harrowing testimony from Shaye Moss, a former election worker from Fulton County, Georgia who found herself and her family scapegoated by the former President of the United States, and their lives completely upended.

Their testimony as well as deposition provided to the committee by officials like Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and others, established an even clearer and more direct connection between Trump and a plot to advance bogus slates of electors for the joint session of Congress on Jan. 6. 

And critically, with a wall of witnesses that have already come forward under subpoena and voluntarily, the panel threw down the gauntlet for Trump’s White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, to testify. 

“Our committee is certain that Donald Trump does not want Pat Cipollone to testify,” committee vicechair Liz Cheney said Tuesday. “The American people deserve to hear from Mr. Cipollone personally. He should appear before this committee and we are working to secure his testimony.”

‘In this effort, what did the president say when he called you?

RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel cooperated with the Jan. 6 committee long before Tuesday’s hearing and while being deposed on video, she told investigators, that Trump and lawyer John Eastman called her after the election and talked about the need to have Trump’s electors in place. 

“Essentially, he turned the call over to Eastman who then proceeded to talk about the importance of the RNC helping the campaign gather these contingent electors in case any of the legal challenges that were ongoing change the result of any dates,” McDaniel said. 

The RNC, she added, was “just helping” the campaign reach out to the so-called alternate electors so they could be assembled. 

But, she qualified, it was the Trump campaign that “did take the lead and we were just helping them in that role.” 

Not everyone in the GOP wanted to partake, however. 

During questioning led by committee member and Rep. Adam Schiff, Russell Bowers testified about how he was targeted by Trump and his attorney Rudy Giuliani to overturn Trump’s loss in Arizona. Biden won fair and square and no fraud was ever detected. 

During the hearing, Trump issued a statement accusing Bowers of being a “Republican in Name Only” and further claimed that Bowers told him the election was “rigged” and he was the true winner. Schiff asked Bowers on the spot if that was true. 

Under oath before Congress, Bowers replied: “Anywhere, anyone, any time someone has said that I said the election was ‘rigged’ that would not be true.”

When Schiff asked him outright if he told Trump the election had been “rigged,” Bowers offered a resounding and simple response.

“No,” he said. 

He did describe, however, a call with Giuliani where Bowers pointedly asked the president’s lawyer to show him proof of fraudulent votes. 

Trump, Giuliani and many of the 45th president’s allies regularly shopped those conspiracy theories about dead people voting in huge numbers along with “undocumented” Americans. 

Bowers could hear Trump tell Giuliani on the call “Give him what he needs.” 

“I will,” Giuliani said. 

But the evidence of fraud never came. Bowers kept asking for it but Giuliani never, not once, delivered.

The president’s attorney even acknowledged this to him during the call. 

“He said, ‘we’ve got lots of theories, we just don’t have the evidence,’” Bowers recalled.

It was so incredible to Bowers that he though maybe it was a “gaffe” by Giuliani or he wasn’t aware of what he had actually said. 

“Afterwards, we kind of laughed about it,” he testified. 

When Giuliani then asked him to hold an official meeting in the state capitol building to explore the allegations of voter fraud, Bowers told him again: He did not believe there was fraud.

“I did not want to be used as a pawn,” Bowers recalled telling Giuliani. 

When Giuliani brought up the Eastman theory about removing and replacing Biden’s electors, Bowers said he was taken aback. 

“That’s totally new to me and I’ve never heard of such a thing,” he said of the strategy. 

Bowers was unconvinced and offered to connect Giuliani with attorneys who could analyze the laws around electors.

“But,” Bowers told him, “You’re asking me to do something that would break my oath and I won’t break my oath.” 

During a different call between Bowers and Eastman, the Arizona Republican cut to the chase and asked Eastman what he would have him do? 

Eastman asked him to hold a vote to decertify electors in Arizona “because they had the authority to do so.” 

If there was fraud, if there was proof of anything credible, Bowers told the panel he would have considered the request more seriously. 

But there simply wasn’t proof. 

Eastman told him: “Just do it and let the courts sort it out.” 

Bowers had already told Trump directly by this time that he would not do anything illegal. 

On another call between Bowers and John Eastman, Bowers testifies that Eastman asked him to “take a vote to overthrow,” he corrects himself, “to decertify electors because they had the authority to do so.”

— Brandi Buchman (@Brandi_Buchman) June 21, 2022

Deposition provided by Mark Meadow’s aide Cassidy Hutchinson also illuminated a meeting between Giuliani and the White House Counsel’s Office. 

Meadows, Hutchinson testified, was expressly told that the alternate elector gambit was not legally viable. Whether Trump was informed about this particular conversation, Hutchinson did not say but when the committee met last week to unpack Eastman’s role in the plot, they established that Eastman did tell Trump that having Pence work to stop or delay the certification on Jan. 6 was not legally possible. 

The president’s men in Congress 

Rep. Andy Biggs, an Arizona Republican, has already refused to cooperate with the committee following a subpoena issued to him in May. 

But Bowers was able to fill in some of the blanks Biggs has left open. He testified on Tuesday that Biggs called him on the morning of Jan. 6 and asked him directly to overturn the results of the 2020 election in his state. 

The Dec. 14 deadline for such challenges had long come and gone. Trump’s claims in court over widespread fraud had been knocked down and dismissed by judge after judge, including some of Trump’s own appointees. 

“He asked if I would sign on, both to a letter that had been sent from my state, and/or that I would support the decertification of the electors. I said I would not, “ Bowers said. 

Biggs was far from the only ally to Trump in Congress who was actively pushing to stop the certification on Jan. 6. 

Text messages released by the committee Tuesday now show that Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, reached out to an aide for then-Vice President Mike Pence.

“Johnson needs to hand something to VPOTUS please advise,” a text from Johnson’s aide Sean Riley stated. 

Chris Hodgson, Pence’s aide, asked: “What is it?” 

Riley told Hodgson that the senator wanted to personally deliver “alternate slates of electors for MI and WI because archivist didn’t receive them.”

Hodgson was quick to shoot back: “Do not give that to him.” 

Pence, as his counsel and chief of staff confirmed through their testimony last week, was already under huge amounts of pressure by the president. 

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for Johnson, Alexa Henning, said the lawmaker had “no involvement in the creation of an alternate slate of electors and had no foreknowledge that it was going to be delivered to our office.”

It was a “staff to staff exchange,” Henning said. 

The threats kept coming

Gabriel Sterling told the committee he “had enough” and “lost it” after a project manager for Dominion Voting Systems received a hate-filled message online in December 2020. It was a GIF of a noose slowly twisting with the contractor’s name on it.

That prompted Sterling to hold a press conference where he demanded Trump do something to quell the disinformation and inflammatory rhetoric. Trump responded by retweeting a link to Sterling’s press conference. 

“Rigged election,” Trump wrote. “Show signatures and envelopes. Texpose the massive voter fraud in Georgia. What is the secretary of state and BrianKempGA afraid of. They know what we will find!”

It was the straw that broke the camel’s back, GA Secy of State COO G. Sterling said. He saw the threats online. Saw this person being accused of treason, accompanied by a slowly twisting gif of a noose. “For lack of a better word, I lost it. I just got irate.” Trump’s reply:

— Brandi Buchman (@Brandi_Buchman) June 21, 2022

The push by the Trump campaign in Georgia was intense.

Schiff highlighted Tuesday that Mark Meadows called him Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger no less than 18 times to set up a meeting between the secretary and Trump.

Sterling’s personal information was doxxed. Bowers and Raffensperger both experienced similar harassment. Trump supporters showed up at Bowers’ home on one occasion, screaming outside of it where his “gravely ill” daughter was forced to listen to it inside. 

“it was disturbing, just disturbing,” Bowers recalled. 

A similar fate befell Fulton County, Georgia election worker Wandrea ArShaye “Shaye” Moss. Both she and her mother, Ruby Freeman, were targeted by the president and Giuliani.

Both Trump and Giuliani publicly amplified the debunked conspiracy theory that Moss and Freeman manipulated ballots at the State Farm Arena. Moss was accused by Giuliani of handing her mother a “USB drives” containing votes for Biden. Giuliani said she passed them off like they were vials of cocaine. 

Schiff asked Moss Tuesday what the “USB drive” really was. 

“A ginger mint,” Moss said. 

Ruby Freeman told the committee that when Trump called her out by name and accused her of fraud, her entire life was upended. 

She could no longer wear a shirt with her nickname, Lady Ruby, on it, for fear of reprisal. 

“I wore that shirt on election Day 2020. I haven’t worn it since, and I’ll never wear it again. Now I won’t even introduce myself by name anymore,” Freeman said in recorded video deposition.

The next hearing is Thursday, June 23 at 3 p.m. ET and the committee is expected to hear testimony from Justice Department officials about the former president’s attempted capture of that institution as Jan. 6 approached. 

We talk to expert Brandi Buchman about everything you need to know for the Jan. 6 committee, hearings, and investigation on Daily Kos’ The Brief podcast

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