Mary Claire Jalonik | Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The House Committee investigating the Capitol uprising heard Tuesday from election officials and government officials who described pressure from President Donald Trump to reverse his defeat in the 2020 election. On Thursday, a nine-member panel will hear former Justice Department officials who refused Trump’s requests to declare the election “corrupt.”
The committee’s fourth and fifth hearings this week are part of an attempt to show how Trump’s pressure eventually shifted to Congress, where his false allegations of wide-ranging election fraud led directly to the January 6, 2021 riots when hundreds of his supporters forcibly entered Capitol and interrupted the confirmation of President Joe Biden’s election victory.
The commission will hold at least two more hearings in July that are expected to focus on the far-right domestic extremists who attacked the Capitol and what Trump was doing in the White House as the violence unfolded.
TRUMP PRESSURE ON STATES
State officials testified at Tuesday’s hearing about the extreme pressure they faced from Trump after the election to try to annul Biden’s victory.
Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers testified to phone calls from Trump and his allies asking them to de-certify legitimate Arizona voters and replace them. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger spoke of the infamous phone call in which Trump asked officials to “find 11,780” votes.
The officials didn’t budge.
“You ask me to do something against my oath and I will not break my oath,” Bowers told Trump and his allies. He recalled how lawyer John Eastman, the chief architect of Trump’s plan to create fake voter rolls, told him to “just do it and the courts will sort it out.”
Bowers said he repeatedly asked the Trump team for evidence of the wide-ranging fraud they claimed, but they never did.
Raffensperger said his team investigated all of Trump’s claims and checked every rabbit hole but found nothing. But Trump didn’t accept it.
TRUMP PRESSURE ON PENS
At the committee’s third hearing last week, testimony was presented from former aides to Vice President Mike Pence. Aides recounted the then-president’s efforts to persuade Pence to relinquish his ceremonial role and object to the Jan. 6 count of electoral votes by Congress.
Pence concluded early on that his former adviser, Greg Jacob, had told the committee that “there is no legal basis to conclude that the vice president has such powers.”
Trump did not give up even after his supporters broke into the Capitol and Pence hid in an unknown location – at one point only 40 feet from the rioters, the committee said. On the same day, Trump tweeted that Pence did not have the “courage” to do what was necessary.
The committee showed a video of the Capitol rioters calling for Pence’s death.
“Donald Trump set the mob on him,” said Mississippi Rep. Benny Thompson, chairman of the commission.
ANSWERS TO TRUMP
The hearings repeatedly showed Trump pushing his baseless claims of fraud even when his top advisers told them they weren’t true.
The committee played video footage of testimonies from several aides who said they disagreed with the plan or tried to talk Trump out of it, though few of them spoke publicly at the time. Even his daughter Ivanka Trump said she “agrees” with the conclusion of former Attorney General Bill Barr, who resigned after telling the president there was no evidence of widespread fraud.
Attempts to convince Trump began on election night, when the race was still too close to completion. Lawyer Rudy Giuliani advised Trump to simply declare victory. Trump’s campaign manager Bill Stepien said in an interview that he told Trump it was “too early” for such a statement. But Trump did it anyway.
“Honestly, we won this election,” Trump said in front of the cameras.
The committee used videotaped testimony from Barr, who told Trump that he looked into the allegations and found no evidence that any of them were true. He said he tried to persuade Trump, but felt the president was becoming “detached from reality” and “not interested in the real facts.”
VIOLENCE AND REAL LIFE TURNED UP
The committee also used the hearings to tell the stories of people who suffered either as a result of the January 6 violence or as a result of harassment by those who believe the election was stolen.
Capitol police officer Caroline Edwards testified of a head injury she sustained after she was pushed onto concrete when the first rioters breached makeshift barriers around the Capitol. She described the “war scene” from the films and many hours of hand-to-hand combat.
“They vomited – I saw friends with bloody faces,” said Edwards, who still hasn’t returned to her unit. “It was a massacre. It was chaos.”
On Tuesday, two election officials from Georgia who have become the center of false conspiracy theories tearfully testified about how it turned their lives upside down.
The Justice Department has denied allegations that Vandrea “Shay” Moss and her mother Ruby Freeman brought in suitcases of illegal ballots and committed other acts of election fraud to try to change the outcome, a conspiracy theory promoted by Giuliani and Trump. But Moss says she no longer leaves the house and it has affected her life “in every way” after receiving violent and racist threats from Trump supporters.
In video evidence, Freeman said she no longer advertises her local business under her own name: “Lady Ruby.”
“I lost my name and my reputation. I lost my sense of security,” Freeman said.
On Thursday, the hearing will move on to another pressure campaign — Trump’s efforts to get Justice Department officials to declare the election corrupt, and within the Department a scheme to target states to change the results. Former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, who took over after Barr’s resignation, and his deputy, Richard Donoghue, will testify about how they successfully resisted this pressure.
Two follow-up hearings, expected to focus on domestic extremism and Trump’s actions in the White House, will take place in July. And they may not be the last before the group releases final reports later this year.
“We’re gathering new evidence every day at a tremendous rate,” said Maryland Rep. Jamie Ruskin, a member of the committee. “And so we’re constantly plugging in and plugging in new information that’s coming out.”
Another committee member suggested that they could still take Pence to court — it’s “of course possible,” California Rep. Adam Schiff said.
“I think we’d still like to have a few dignitaries testify before our committee,” Schiff said.
Associated Press contributors Lisa Mascaro, Farnoush Amiri, and Kevin Fracking contributed.