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The one-sided nature of yesterday’s House hearing began with the Democratic chairman, Bennie Thompson, pronouncing Donald Trump guilty as charged.
The panel had important witnesses from Georgia and Arizona lined up to tell their stories, and yet this sounded like a prosecutor’s opening statement, underscoring the fact that the Jan. 6 committee has no Republicans offering a semblance of the defense.
Liz Cheney was somewhat better in her here’s-what-you’ll-see opening, playing clips of Bill Barr saying the Trumpian allegations about Georgia were bull****.
Adam Schiff showed no restraint, calling Trump’s “lies” as “a dangerous cancer on the body politic.”
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But the taped testimony of top Republican state officials – being called by Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis, street protests and one who got 4,000 texts after Trump revealed his phone number – was powerful.
Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, who campaigned with Trump, responded to a Trump statement claiming that he had told the president after the election that it was rigged and he won the state. Bowers testified that was “false” and that Joe Biden won the state.
In a post-election call from Trump and Giuliani claiming to have evidence of dead people and illegal immigrants voting – never provided – they told the speaker he could remove Biden’s electors and replace them with Trump electors.
With cold-eyed intensity, Bowers said he told them they were asking him to violate his oath, which he “swore to the Constitution,” and told the panel that was “foreign to my very being.”
In a subsequent meeting with Giuliani and Ellis, Rudy told Bowers that “we’ve got lots of theories, we just don’t have the evidence.”
Trump called again, and his lawyer John Eastman called days later and flatly asked Bowers to “decertify the electors…just do it and let the courts sort it out.” Bowers refused.
When Schiff asked about a group of so-called “fake electors” who anointed themselves Trump electors in Phoenix, Bowers dismissed that, later speaking of threats, harassment and regular protests at his home where until recently he has been called a pedophile, pervert and corrupt politician, sometimes over blaring loudspeakers. He said the protests had upset his gravely ill daughter. Bowers was a riveting witness.
Gabe Sterling, the top aide to another Republican, just-reelected Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, dismissed a “conspiracy theory” about “suitcases” of ballots in Atlanta being hidden under a table – supposedly all for Biden – then run through voting machines multiple times. Giuliani called this a “smoking gun” and that Democrats “stole” the Georgia election.
Sterling said election workers were going home and putting in sealed bins, not suitcases, to be normally processed. When ordered to keep counting, he said, they ran these ballots through the machines, rerunning only a miniscule fraction because of errors and deleting the first attempt.
Asked about an angry press conference in which he warned “someone’s gonna get hurt, someone’s gonna get shot, someone’s gonna get killed,” Sterling said “I lost it.” He had just seen a Twitter threat against an election worker saying “you committed treason,” with an image of a twisting noose. “I just got irate. I lost my temper,” Sterling said.
As a witness, Raffensperger was low-key and chose his words carefully, using neutral language to avoid rubbing salt in the wounds.
It was Raffensperger who got the famous 67-minute call on Jan. 2 in which Trump raised the “suitcases” allegation of 18,000 Biden votes and said: “I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have because we won the state.”
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“There were no votes to find… We just followed the law,” the secretary of state testified.
What’s gotten less media attention is what Trump said before and after, saying Raffensperger could be in legal jeopardy for failing to act. “That’s a criminal offense… It’s more illegal for you,” Trump told him.
The Georgia official seemed most concerned that his wife’s phone was flooded with “sexualized attacks, which were disgusting,” and that people broke into the home of his daughter-in-law, a widow with children.
The final witness, Shaye Moss, said she was flooded with Facebook threats after Giuliani attacked the video of her and her mother counting ballots.
Nervous and upset, the black Georgia election worker said there were “a lot of threats. Wishing death upon me. Telling me I’ll be in jail with my mother… A lot of them racist. A lot of them were just hateful… It’s turned my life upside down… I just don’t do nothing anymore, I don’t want to go anywhere any more… All because of lies.” She quit her job. Her panicked grandmother once called to say people had come to her home to make a “citizen’s arrest.”
Shaye’s mother, Ruby Freeman, said she left her house for two months for safety at the FBI’s urging: “I felt homeless… There is nowhere I feel safe. Do you know what it feels like to have the president of the United States target you?”
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Much of these efforts at state capitals, while reported at the time, was overshadowed by the craziness of the post-election period. The laser focus on the president and his top allies trying to pressure state Republicans into dumping the Biden electors seems even more brazen with the passage of time – and less scrutinized, on a national basis, than the runup to the Capitol riot.
Bottom line: While these hearings may not move the political needle – especially with dwindling ratings for daytime hearings – yesterday’s session successfully made the case that the former president and his lawyers pressured honest public officials who were trying to follow the law. Once again, these are Republicans providing these stark accounts, not journalists citing unnamed sources. Beyond the usual media hype, that has been the strength of the House hearings.