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5 takeaways from the latest January 6 hearing

In the fourth hearing of the January 6 committee, state officials badgered by Trump to commit election fraud were on the stand.

Three white men with white hair, all wearing dark suits, white shirts and ties, stand while raising their right hands behind a large brown table.
Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, and Georgia’s chief operating officer for the Secretary of State, Gabriel Sterling, were sworn in during Tuesday’s hearing.
Michael Reynolds/Getty Images

In its fourth hearing on Tuesday, the select House committee investigating the January 6, 2021, Capitol attack focused on former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results by meddling in states, particularly Georgia and Arizona, and by working to shore up his campaign’s last-ditch strategy to undermine the counting of electoral votes on January 6.

The hearing provided new details about the scope of the latter plot in particular, which included efforts to pressure Vice President Mike Pence and was knowingly based on falsehoods. Below are some takeaways from it.

1) Sen. Ron Johnson’s slate of electors and the sprawling final scheme

The lobbying effort by Trump allies in Congress to keep him in power continued right until the joint session at the Capitol on January 6. Rusty Bowers, the Republican speaker of the Arizona House and the first witness to testify Tuesday, said that Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) lobbied him that morning to support decertifying the state’s electors whose votes would be counted that day.

The committee delved into just how much coordination the Trump campaign had done, in multiple states and in conjunction with party and state officials and members of Congress ahead of January 6, on its “alternate slates of electors” scheme.

The campaign worked with allies in states with election results they wanted to contest, to come up with alternate rosters of electors intended to serve as substitutes for the legitimate representatives to the Electoral College, who had already cast their votes for Joe Biden. The idea was that, when Pence gave the word, somehow these prepared slates of electors would replace these legitimate electoral votes. (For more on the fake electors plan, here’s an explainer from Vox’s Andrew Prokop in 2020, when the plan was being executed.)

In perhaps the biggest revelation of the day, the committee published text messages between aides to Pence and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) in which a Johnson staffer asked if his boss could give the vice president the paperwork from two slates of fake electors on the Senate floor. The Pence aide responded, “Do not give that to him.”

In a tweet, a Johnson spokesperson said that “the senator 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,” but did not deny he had intended to deliver the slates to Pence.

Although the committee had previously revealed that at least one member of Congress, Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA), had sought a pardon from Trump for his efforts to overturn the election, the hearing provided new details on just how Republican elected officials were actively abetting Trump’s efforts.

2) The absurd adventures of the fake electors

The committee also detailed the Trump campaign’s slapdash attempts to find fake electors as his campaign lawyers — those on what former campaign manager Bill Stepien described last week as on “Team Normal” — backed away.

While Bowers simply derided the fake electors in Arizona as “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight,” the efforts in other states were just as poorly thought out. In Michigan, former state Republican Party chair Laura Cox described a Trump campaign official’s plan to have electors hide overnight in the state capitol, to comply with a statutory requirement that electoral votes be cast in a state legislative chamber. She said she responded that that plan “was insane and inappropriate.”

One designated fake elector, Robert Sinners of Georgia, said in a taped deposition that he had been used by the Trump campaign in this effort as “a useful idiot” and “rube.” He said he was unaware that this was not a procedural backstop to preserve options if the Trump campaign’s long-shot litigation claiming election fraud succeeded, but rather an explicit attempt to thwart the will of the voters.

Such efforts came after Trump lawyers had washed their hands of the endeavor and handed it over to unofficial advisers like attorney John Eastman. Justin Clark, a top lawyer on the campaign, described efforts to create fake electoral slates in the states where the campaign had no ongoing litigation as “inappropriate,” while Matt Morgan, the campaign’s general counsel, said he wrote in an email to lawyer Ken Chesebro that “you are responsible for the Electoral College moving forward.” Morgan said in a taped deposition aired during the hearing that “that was my way of taking my responsibility to zero.”

3) A fresh Trump lie to frame the hearing

Less than an hour before the hearing began, Trump put out a statement attacking Bowers and claiming that the Arizona speaker had told him “that the election was rigged and that I won Arizona.”

This meant that the first questions to Bowers from Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) were about the statement. Speaking under oath, Bowers testified that Trump’s statement was false. “I did have a conversation with the president but that certainly isn’t it,” Bowers said. He went on to insist that “Anywhere, anyone, anytime, who said that I said the election was rigged, that would not be true.”

It marked the second consecutive hearing establishing that Trump had knowingly put out a false statement. In a hearing last week, the committee heard testimony about a statement Trump released on January 5, 2021, falsely claiming that Pence agreed with him about overturning the 2020 election. The statement followed an Oval Office meeting where Pence had explicitly told Trump that he would not cooperate on January 6 and would do his constitutional duty to simply preside over the joint session of Congress.

After the hearing, Schiff compared Trump’s Tuesday statement to a tweeted attack during his first impeachment trial on the former US Ambassador to Ukraine as she was testifying in a hearing. “It was like a replay of what he did with Marie Yovanovitch,” Schiff told Vox. “It’s just his modus operandi.”

4) Giuliani admitted there was no evidence of fraud

Trump and his top attorneys, Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis, and John Eastman, were repeatedly in touch with Bowers and pushing him to take various steps to nullify Biden’s win in Arizona and declare Trump the winner instead.

Trump’s team viewed Bowers’s support as necessary to overturn the election there because any effort to substitute the state’s legitimate electors would require a vote by the state legislature. Bowers testified that despite his constant requests for evidence of voter fraud from the Trump campaign, they never provided any such evidence.

This culminated, Bowers said, when Giuliani conceded to him, “We’ve got lots of theories. We just don’t have any evidence.”

5) The toll of going against Trump

Bowers offered up emotional testimony Tuesday, particularly when it came to the reasons he refused to accede to repeated entreaties from Trump and his attorneys to assist in their efforts to overturn the election. Bowers, a Mormon, cited his faith several times as a reason he refused to go along with Trump’s plot.

“It is a tenet of my faith that the Constitution is divinely inspired, one of my most basic foundational beliefs.” He added that taking actions contrary to the Constitution is “foreign to my very being.”

Bowers said that he has been subject to an ongoing campaign of harassment as a result. He testified that there are weekly protests at his house that include trucks driving by while playing videos that label him “a pedophile, a pervert [and] a corrupt politician.”

Bowers was one of three Republican officials to testify before the committee in the first panel of witnesses, along with Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state, and his top aide, Gabriel Sterling. Raffensperger testified about how his wife received “sexualized” threatening texts and that someone even broke into the house of his late son’s widow.

The only witness in the second panel was Shaye Moss, a former Georgia election worker whose mother, Ruby Freeman, was also an election worker. Both women faced a barrage of threats due to a Trump-promoted conspiracy theory about ballot counting in the state.

Freeman, who Trump called out by name, testified in a taped deposition that she moved out of her home for a period after the FBI recommended she do so.

“I won’t even introduce myself by my name anymore,” Freeman said. “I get nervous when I bump into someone. I know in the grocery store who says my name — I am worried about who is listening. ... I have lost my name and I have lost my reputation. I have lost my sense of security. All because a group of people starting with number 45 [Trump] and his ally, Rudy Giuliani, decided to scapegoat me — to push their own lies about how the presidential election was stolen.”

Update, June 21, 2022, 6 pm: This story was updated with further developments from the hearing.

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