By Mary Clare Jalonick | Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The House committee investigating the Capitol insurrection heard from election workers and state officials on Tuesday as they described President Donald Trump’s pressure to overturn his 2020 election defeat. On Thursday, the nine-member panel will hear from former Justice Department officials who refused Trump’s entreaties 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 shifted to Congress, where his false declarations of widespread election fraud led directly to the riot on Jan. 6, 2021, when hundreds of his supporters violently breached the Capitol and interrupted the certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory.
In July, the panel will hold at least two more hearings that are expected to focus on the far-right domestic extremists who attacked 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 about the extraordinary pressure they faced from Trump after the election to try and invalidate Biden’s win.
Arizona’s House speaker, Rusty Bowers, testified about phone calls from Trump and his allies asking him to decertify Arizona’s legitimate electors and replace them. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger told of the now-infamous phone call when Trump asked officials there to “find 11,780” votes.
The officials did not give in.
“You are asking me to do something against my oath, and I will not break my oath,” Bowers said he told Trump and his allies. He recalled lawyer John Eastman, a chief architect of Trump’s plan to create slates of fake electors, telling him to “just do it and let the courts sort it out.”
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 went down down every “rabbit hole,” finding nothing. But Trump wouldn’t accept it.
TRUMP’S PRESSURE ON PENCE
The committee’s third hearing last week featured testimony from former aides to Vice President Mike Pence. The aides described the then-president’s efforts to persuade Pence to veer from his ceremonial role and object as Congress counted the electoral votes on Jan. 6.
Pence concluded from the start, his former counsel Greg Jacob told the committee, that “there is no justifiable basis to conclude that the vice president has that kind of authority.”
Trump did not let up, even after 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 the rioters outside the Capitol calling for Pence’s death.
“Donald Trump turned the mob on him,” said Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the panel.
PUSHBACK FROM TRUMP’S AIDES
The hearings have repeatedly showed how Trump moved forward with his baseless claims of fraud even as his top advisors told them they weren’t true.
The committee played video testimony from several aides who said they disagreed with the plan or tried to talk Trump out of it — even though few of them spoke out publicly at the time. Even his daughter, Ivanka Trump, said she “accepted” the conclusion of former Attorney General Bill Barr, who resigned after telling the president there was no evidence of widespread fraud.
The efforts to persuade Trump started on election night, when the race was still too close to call. Lawyer Rudy Giuliani told Trump to just go ahead and declare victory. Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said in one interview clip that he told Trump it was “way too early” for such a pronouncement. But Trump did it anyway.
“Frankly, we did win this election,” Trump said before the cameras.
The committee used video clips of testimony from Barr, who told Trump he had looked into the allegations and found no evidence that any of them were true. He said he tried convince Trump, but felt that the president was becoming “detached from reality” and had no “interest in what the actual facts were.”
THE VIOLENCE, AND REAL LIVES UPENDED
The committee has also used the hearings to tell the stories of the people who have been hurt, either in the violence of Jan. 6 or through harassment from those who believe the election was stolen.
Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards testified about the traumatic brain injury she suffered after being pushed to he concrete when the first rioters breached the makeshift barriers around the Capitol. She described a “war scene” out of the movies and hours of hand-to-hand combat.
“They were throwing up — I saw friends with blood all over their faces,” said Edwards, who still has not returned to the unit where she worked. “It was carnage. It was chaos.”
On Tuesday, two election workers from Georgia who became the center of false conspiracy theories tearfully testified about how it has upended their lives.
The Justice Department has debunked claims that Wandrea “Shaye” Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, introduced suitcases of illegal ballots and committed other acts of election fraud to try to alter the outcome — a conspiracy theory pushed by Giuliani and Trump. But Moss says she no longer leaves her house and it has affected her life “in every way” after receiving violent and racist threats from Trump’s supporters.
In video testimony, Freeman said she no longer advertises her local business with her name on it: “Lady Ruby.”
“I’ve lost my name, and I’ve lost my reputation. I’ve lost my sense of security,” Freeman said.
On Thursday, the hearing will move to another pressure campaign — Trump’s efforts to have Justice Department officials declare the election corrupt, and a scheme within the department to go after states to change the results. Former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, who took over after Barr resigned, and his deputy, Richard Donoghue, will testify about how they successfully resisted that pressure.
The two hearings after that, expected to cover domestic extremism and Trump’s actions inside the White House, will be held in July. And they may not be the last before the panel issues final reports later this year.
“We are picking up new evidence on a daily basis with enormous velocity,” said Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, a member of the committee. “And so we’re constantly incorporating and including the new information that’s coming out.”
Another panel member suggested they could still subpoena Pence — it’s “certainly a possibility,” said California Rep. Adam Schiff.
“We would still, I think, like to have several high-profile people come before our committee,” Schiff said.
Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro, Farnoush Amiri and Kevin Freking contributed.
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