WASHINGTON — The Jan. 6 committee returned Tuesday focused on then-President Donald Trump’s direct efforts to pressure state officials to overturn the 2020 election — an effort to build on the theme of their prior hearing that showcased the aggressive effort to strong-arm former Vice President Mike Pence.
Committee members are seeking to lay out how Trump’s pressure campaign not only undermined democracy, but also put the lives of local and state election figures and their families in serious danger.
“Like Mike Pence, these public servants wouldn’t go along with Donald Trump’s scheme. And when they wouldn’t embrace the big lie and substitute the will of the voters with Donald Trump’s will to remain in power, Donald Trump worked to ensure they’d face the consequences,” Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the committee, said in his opening statement.
“Threats to people’s livelihoods and lives. Threats of violence that Donald Trump knew about and amplified.”
Rusty Bowers, the Republican speaker of the Arizona House, testified about the effort by Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani to have the state Legislature pick a new slate of electors that would favor Trump.
Bowers told the committee that he knew Trump’s request to be unconstitutional — and repeatedly refused.
“It is a tenet of my faith that the Constitution is divinely inspired, that this is my most basic foundational belief,” said Bowers, who is Mormon. “And so for me to do that because somebody just asked me to, is foreign to my very being; I will not do it.”
Bowers became emotional as he told the committee about the toll this episode has taken on him and his family. He said Trump supporters have driven trucks through his neighborhood with video panels falsely proclaiming him to be a pedophile. In one instance, a man possessing a pistol began arguing with him and one of his neighbors about the election.
This all came as his daughter was gravely ill, Bowers said, tears in his eyes. She died on Jan. 28, 2021, several weeks after the attack on the Capitol.
“So it was disturbing,” he testified. “It’s disturbing.”
To illustrate some of the violent threats, the committee played videos of pro-Trump protesters chanting “Stop the steal!” and “You’re a tyrant and a felon” outside the home of Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who earlier told the panel she thought they were going to attack her and her children “with guns.”
In the committee video, a script was shown that was used by Trump campaign staff to call state lawmakers and ask them to help overturn the election. The video also included voicemails trying to pressure state officials that were left by Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor and Trump aide.
The committee investigating the Capitol attack will hear testimony from GOP witnesses from Georgia and Arizona, state officials who stood up to the former president in the weeks after the 2020 election and rebuffed his attempts to thwart the will of voters there.
Two top Georgia election officials — Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger and top aide Gabriel Sterling — testified about a now-infamous phone call four days before the attack in which Trump explicitly told them to “find 11,780 votes” that would put him ahead of Democrat Joe Biden in the state.
But they also discussed threats to election workers fueled by Trump and his allies floating a disproven conspiracy that Fulton County officials had found a suitcase of thousands of ballots.
Sterling testified what led him to go on a televised tirade on Nov. 30, 2020, and issued a stern warning that Trump’s election lies would get someone killed. He had received a call from an official from Dominion Voting Systems, who he described as “audibly shaken” and who told him that a young contractor had been receiving threats from QAnon supporters.
Later, Sterling searched Twitter and found the young man’s name with a GIF of a noose.
“For lack of a better word, I just lost it,” Sterling said. “ I lost my temper but it seemed necessary at the time because it was just getting worse.”
Both men are cooperating with a Fulton County special grand jury investigation into whether Trump violated election law by pressuring the Georgia officials.
Trump released a statement ahead of Bowers’ testimony, insisting that the Bowers told Trump he had won Arizona.
“Bowers should hope there’s not a tape of the conversation,” Trump said in the statement. He did not provide a recording.
On Thursday, the Jan. 6 committee is set to hold its fifth public hearing, focused on how Trump pressured top Justice Department officials to investigate false claims of widespread voter fraud.