Death threats prompted Georgia poll worker Ruby Freeman to leave her home for two months after Donald Trump falsely said she inserted fraudulent ballots into the 2020 election. Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, said people who believed Trump’s lies broke into his widowed daughter-in-law’s home. The top Republican in Arizona’s State House described crowds outside of his home harrassing his family while they were caring for his “gravely ill” daughter inside.
At the fourth public hearing by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol on Tuesday, current and former state officials explained in harrowing detail how Trump’s scheme to overturn the election disrupted their lives, sometimes in ways they were still recovering from well over a year later.
Rusty Bowers, the Arizona House Speaker, grew visibly emotional multiple times as he testified about the abuse he and his family endured after he resisted the Trump campaign’s efforts to get him to work to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the state. “I didn’t want to be a pawn,” he said. Bowers shared a passage from his diary describing how John Eastman, a lawyer advising Trump, had asked him to convene a session of the state legislature to install a slate of fake electors for Trump. “I do not want to be a winner by cheating,” Bowers read. “I will not play with laws I swore allegiance to.”
After Bowers, a Republican, stood up to Trump’s pressure, his home and neighborhood became the site of loud and threatening protests for days. One of them took to a loudspeaker to call Bowers a “pedophile.” Inside his home, his 42-year-old daughter was dying and upset by what was happening outside, as was his wife, who is a “valiant person, very strong, quiet, very strong woman,” he said. “It was disturbing.” Their daughter would pass away a few weeks later.
Bowers testified that multiple people in Trump’s inner circle worked to persuade him. Rudy Guiliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, asked him to hold a hearing to showcase the allegations of voter fraud, which he argued would enable the legislature to decertify the election results. Bowers said Giuliani was unable to substantiate any of the claims. “We have lots of theories,” Guiliani told him. “We don’t have the evidence.”
Arizona was one of a handful of states that Trump lost and then targeted in the weeks after the 2020 election.
“Donald Trump had a direct and personal role in this effort, as did Rudy Giuliani, as did John Eastman,” Rep. Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming and the vice chair of the committee, said on Tuesday. “In other words, the same people who were attempting to pressure Vice President Mike Pence to reject electoral votes illegally, were also simultaneously working to reverse the outcome of the 2020 election at the state level.”
The committee showed testimony that Trump himself activated the Republican Party’s apparatus to build alternative groups of false electors in those states. In video testimony, Ronna McDaniels, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, described Trump bringing Eastman onto a phone call so that Eastman could tell her that Trump needed the RNC to help assemble fake electors. “Essentially, he turned the call over to Mr. 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 changed the result of any of the states,” McDaniels said. “My understanding is the campaign did take the lead and we just were helping them in that role.”
The panel also revealed new evidence that a staff member for one of Trump’s strongest allies in Congress, Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, tried to submit a list of fake electors to Vice President Mike Pence before Pence presided over the congressional certification of the Electoral College.
Legal experts say establishing that Trump was directly involved in the fake electors scheme would be a key component in a criminal case against the former president.
“There’s been a lot of discussion lately about whether federal and state prosecutors can prove intent, but these issues that were advanced today relating to President Trump’s role in pushing phony electoral slates are the easiest on intent,” says Norm Eisen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who served as counsel to the House during its first impeachment of Trump. “No matter what he may believe about whether he won or lost the election, he’s not allowed to be part of submitting a forged electoral slate.”
No state drew more interest from Trump after the election than Georgia. During Tuesday’s hearing, Raffensperger explained the pressure campaign he faced from Trump and others, intent on reversing Biden’s victory in the state. He described being “doxxed” —his phone number and other personal information shared online—allowing right-wing extremists to intimidate him. His wife of 40 years, he said, received a “sexualized text, which was disgusting.” Some people broke into his daughter-in-law’s home. “My son passed,” he said. “She’s a widow.”
The last witness of the hearing, Shaye Moss, described the trauma she and her mother experienced as Georgia election workers who wound up in Trump’s crosshairs. Both Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, were at the center of a conspiracy theory promulgated by Trump’s campaign, which disseminated surveillance footage from their Fulton County vote counting station. A lawyer for Trump used a spliced clip to falsely suggest they took 18,000 fraudulent ballots out of a suitcase and illegally inserted them into a voting machine. As the committee pointed out Tuesday, Trump mentioned Freeman’s name 18 times in an infamous phone call with Raffensperger, when the president asked him to “find 11,780 votes”—the number he needed to overtake Biden in Georgia.
Moss testified about receiving vile threats from Trump supporters, one of whom said she and her mother should “hang for treason.” Her mother was forced to move out of her home for two months.
The harassment “turned my life upside down.” Moss told the committee. “I don’t want anyone knowing my name … I don’t want to go anywhere. I second guess everything that I do. It’s affected my life in a major way, in every way. All because of lies.”
“There is nowhere I feel safe,” Moss went on, “I felt horrible for picking this job.”
Committee members are planning to hold at least three more hearings. The next one is scheduled for Thursday and will examine Trump’s efforts to get the Department of Justice behind his attempted coup. Later hearings will look at the extremist groups that stormed the Capitol, such as the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, and go over the 187 minutes of the Capitol riot in detail.
Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who handled much of the questioning during Tuesday’s hearing, said those who testified deserved praise for showing courage and putting “their oath to the Constitution above their loyalty to one man or to one party.”
“The system held,” Schiff said, “but barely.”
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