Trump led pressure campaign on state election officials, Jan. 6 panel says

Fake electors planned to hide overnight in Michigan Capitol; Benson describes terror as Trump supporters surrounded her home

By: - June 21, 2022 9:29 pm

The pro-Trump insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021 | Alex Kent

Former President Donald Trump was directly involved in efforts to pressure state officials in Georgia, Arizona and elsewhere to overturn the 2020 election results in their states, according to evidence the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack presented Tuesday at the panel’s fourth hearing this month.

Trump and his attorneys knew that several claims of fraud were untrue, but pushed them anyway as part of a pressure campaign on state elections officials to change the results of the election that also included members of Congress, the committee said.

“Pressuring public servants to violate their oaths was a fundamental part of the playbook,” said committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat. “A handful of election officials in several key states stood between Donald Trump and the upending of American democracy.”

Trump and his lawyers called and met in person with lawmakers in crucial states including Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

“Trump had a direct and personal role in this effort,” the panel’s vice chair, Wyoming Republican Liz Cheney, said.

Republican lawmakers, U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, were also involved, the committee said.

The committee showed a text exchange between Johnson Chief of Staff Sean Riley and Chris Hodgson, an aide to then-Vice President Mike Pence. Riley said Johnson needed to hand Pence an “alternate slate of electors” for Michigan and Wisconsin because the national archivist didn’t receive them.

“Do not give that to him,” Hodgson responded.

Alexa Henning, a spokeswoman for Johnson, tweeted on Tuesday that Johnson had no knowledge of the exchange.

“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,” she wrote. “This was a staff to staff exchange. His new Chief of Staff contacted the Vice President’s office…. There was no further action taken.”

Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, a Republican, testified Tuesday that Biggs phoned him on the morning of Jan. 6, asking him to sign onto a letter asking Congress to decertify the state’s electors, Bowers said. The Arizona speaker said he declined that request. 

A spokesman for Biggs did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

‘I told him in no uncertain terms that was insane and inappropriate’

Former Michigan GOP Chairwoman Laura Cox, who headed the state party at the time of the 2020 election, said in pre-recorded testimony played Tuesday that fake Trump-supporting Electoral College delegates in Michigan had planned to “hide overnight” in the state Capitol in an attempt to overturn election results.

Former Michigan GOP Chairwoman Laura Cox in her pre-recorded testimony aired during the Jan. 6 committee hearing on Tuesday, June 21. | Screenshot

According to Cox, Robert Norton, an official from Hillsdale College in south central Michigan, told her of the fake electors’ plans to spend the night in the Capitol in a bid to submit a false certificate to Congress declaring Trump the winner of the state’s electoral votes in December 2020.  In reality, Biden won the election by 154,000 votes.

“He told me that the Michigan Republican electors were planning to meet in the Capitol and hide overnight so that they could fulfill the role of casting their vote per law in the Michigan chambers,” Cox said in her pre-recorded testimony. “And I told him in no uncertain terms that that was insane and inappropriate.”

Michigan Republican Party Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock, one of the fake electors and a staunch Trump supporter who continues to promote the lie that Biden lost the election, has previously said that Trump’s campaign directed the operation to have 16 fake Electoral College delegates submit the false certificate.

Ultimately, the fake electors did not stay overnight in the Capitol, and they were not permitted to enter the building during the Dec. 14 Electoral College meeting. However, they still submitted a certificate falsely declaring Trump the winner of the 2020 election.

Since then, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, has said there’s enough evidence for federal prosecutors to charge the fake electors with crimes. Earlier this year, Nessel said she referred the state’s investigation into the fake electors to federal officials.

Secretary of State Benson: ‘Are they going to attack my house? I’m in here with my kid’

Trump’s lies about the 2020 election often left state election officials to face an increasingly irate public who believed the former president’s falsehoods, said Jan. 6 committee member Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who led most of Tuesday’s questioning.

“Anyone who got in the way of Donald Trump’s continued hold on power after he lost the election was the subject of a dangerous  and escalating campaign of pressure,” Schiff said. “This pressure campaign brought angry phone calls and texts, armed protests, intimidation, and all too often threats of violence and death.”

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in Detroit May 17, 2022 | Ken Coleman

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, described in pre-recorded testimony aired Tuesday the threats she faced at her Detroit home in December 2020.

“Are they coming with guns?” Benson said of her thoughts as Trump supporters crowded around her home and yelled, “stop the steal,” “you’re a threat to democracy,” and “you’re a threat to free and honest elections.”

“Are they going to attack my house?” Benson continued. “I’m in here with my kid, you know, I’m trying to put him to bed. That was the scariest moment, just not knowing what was going to happen.”

In a statement released following the airing of her testimony on Tuesday, Benson said election officials are “facing an unprecedented wave of continuous, unrelenting harassment and threats.”

“People have come to my home or threatened me, my staff, and many of the hundreds of clerks and local election officials in our state,” Benson said. “As a result there is an omnipresent feeling of anxiety and dread that permeates our daily lives, and our families’ lives.”

The secretary of state went on to say that the threats “are a direct extension of the efforts to spread false information about the security and accuracy of our elections that we’ve all endured in the years since 2020.”

This, Benson said, has resulted in Democratic, Republican and independent election officials becoming the targets of harassment and violence throughout Michigan and the United States. For example, she said Tina Barton, the former Republican clerk of Rochester Hills, received a “deluge of threats after she told the truth about the 2020 election.”

Benson also noted that Antrim County Clerk Sheryl Guy, “a lifelong Republican who has worked in the clerk’s office for decades, no longer plans to run for re-election because of the abuse she endures for admitting a human error – a mistake that was quickly fixed and had no impact on the certified results of the election – that was used to falsely fuel a national conspiracy theory that resulted in subsequent litigation.”

Trump, attorneys personally pressured officials

Three Republican officials, Bowers, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and the chief operating officer in Raffensperger’s office, Gabriel Sterling, related their experiences with Trump’s pressure campaign. 

Trump and his attorney, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, called Bowers after the election, claiming a host of election fraud issues, including votes being cast by dead people and immigrants without legal authorization to be in the country.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Georgia Secretary of State Chief Operating Officer Gabriel Sterling testify during the fourth hearing held by the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol on June 21, 2022. | Photo by Michael Reynolds/Getty Images

Bowers asked repeatedly for evidence of the claims, but the campaign was unable to provide any, he said.

Still, Trump and Giuliani asked Bowers to hold a committee hearing to investigate fraud and Bowers refused, he said Tuesday.

“And I didn’t want to have that in the House,” Bowers said. “I did not feel that the evidence … merited a hearing and I didn’t want to be used as a pawn.”

Trump lawyer John Eastman also called Jan. 4, asking Bowers to hold a vote to decertify the election results. Bowers said that would have violated his oath of office.

“You’re asking me to do something that’s never been done in the history of the United States,” Bowers said he told Eastman. “And I’m going to put my state through that without sufficient proof? … That I would put us through that, my state that I swore to uphold, both in Constitution and in law? No, sir.’” 

Debunked claims in Georgia

The panel played clips from the well-documented Jan. 2, 2021 phone call, between Trump and Raffensperger when Trump asked the Georgia secretary of state to “find” nearly 12,000 ballots to reverse his loss in the state.

In the 67-minute call, Trump floated a discredited theory that 18,000 votes for Joe Biden had been stashed in suitcases and illegally scanned.

At the time of the call, Trump had been told by U.S. Justice Department officials that theory was false. After BJay Pak, the U.S. attorney in Atlanta, left office amid ongoing friction with Trump over the case, the president’s hand-picked replacement, Bobby Christine, also could not substantiate the claim, Raffensperger said Tuesday.

Raffensperger also debunked claims Trump made that thousands of ballots for dead people were counted, that mysterious votes were dropped off in the middle of the night, that large numbers of underage people, felons or unregistered people’s votes were counted, he said Tuesday.

On the call, Trump asked Raffensperger to change the vote totals and to call it a “recalculation.” 

Schiff asked if he could have lawfully done that, Raffensperger answered no.

“The numbers were the numbers,” Raffensperger said. “And we could not recalculate because we’ve made sure that we had checked every single allegation.”

Raffensperger’s office completed 300 investigations related to the 2020 presidential election, he said.

Trump can be heard on the call implyingRaffensperger could face criminal charges.

In another tactic, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted to try and win favors from election officials by sending Trump memorabilia, Schiff said. 

The committee also played a recording of a call during which Trump pressured Frances Watson, the chief investigator in the Georgia secretary of state’s office, asking her to do “whatever you can do.”

Meadows proposed following up by sending commemorative coins and signed “Make America Great Again” hats to investigators working with Watson, Schiff said, citing text messages from Meadows.

Sterling publicly implored Trump to accept the election results at the time, saying that his continued pressure would lead to violence.

On Tuesday, Sterling said he was inspired by a voting machine contractor who had received a threat on social media from Trump supporters.

The office had been “steeped” in similar threats, Sterling said, but that one in particular moved him to say something.

“I could not tell you why that particular one was the one that put me over the edge,” he said Tuesday. “But it did.”

“He did not condemn them,” Cheney said of Trump. “He made no effort to stop them. He went forward with his fake allegations anyway.”

The fake allegations inspired Trump’s supporters to intimidation and violence culminating in the attack on Jan. 6, Cheney said.

The committee played video of Trump supporters protesting at state legislatures and in front of officials’ homes. 

“The punishment for treason is death,” one said.

Those events were “a dangerous precursor to the violence we saw on January 6,” Schiff said.

Worker harassment

After the officials testified, the committee heard from Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, a former election worker in Fulton County, Georgia.

Giuliani publicized a video of Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, counting votes in Atlanta. He and Trump said the video showed the pair involved in voter fraud, which was not true. 

Giuliani mentioned Moss and Freeman by name at a December 2020 U.S. Senate hearing.

Wandrea ArShaye “Shaye” Moss (left), a former Georgia election worker, is comforted by her mother Ruby Freeman (right) as Moss testifies during the fourth hearing on the January 6th investigation in the Cannon House Office Building on June 21, 2022 in Washington, DC. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

In the following months, Trump supporters harassed Moss and Freeman, making threats and even on one occasion breaking into Moss’s grandmother’s home looking to make a “citizen’s arrest.”

Freeman said the FBI told her she had to leave her home for safety. She stayed away from her home for two months to escape the danger, she told the panel in a taped deposition.

“It was horrible,” she said.

Moss, who is Black, also testified that she had loved her job and been proud of her work in elections because of the significance voting rights held for people in her family and others who had not always enjoyed that right.

Moss quit her job, she told the panel. In fact, every full-time worker in the video Giuliani publicized had since left the office, she said.

“It turned my life upside down,” Moss said Tuesday.

Anna Gustafson contributed reporting to this story.

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Jacob Fischler
Jacob Fischler

Jacob covers federal policy as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Based in Oregon, he focuses on Western issues. His coverage areas include climate, energy development, public lands and infrastructure.