Former President Donald Trump’s team not only pressured GOP state officials to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election he lost, but they knew there was no authority to do so, a key Republican witness said in testimony Tuesday.
“We’ve got lots of theories, but we just don’t have the evidence,” Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, according to Bowers, who testified to that Tuesday under oath before the Jan. 6 committee.
That was one of the eye-opening findings of the Jan. 6 committee’s fourth hearing that showed the depth and breadth of Trump and his allies’ pressure on local and state officials. But there was more.
Here are five takeaways from the hearing:
1. Trump’s team knew it had no evidence or authority for its schemes
Bowers, a Republican who voted for Trump, said Giuliani wanted him to decertify the election by replacing the slate of popularly elected Biden electors with fake Trump ones.
Bowers, whose testimony was arguably the most compelling of any Jan. 6 witness so far, said he didn’t know if Giuliani’s comment that he had no “evidence” was a “gaffe,” but that the multiple witnesses to the comment “afterwards, kind of laughed about it.”
Bowers also testified that lawyer John Eastman, who was advising Trump and was at the center of the schemes to help him hold onto power, urged Bowers to decertify the electors – even if they didn’t think or know if it defied the Constitution.
“Just do it, and let the courts sort it out,” Bowers said Eastman told him.
2. Pressure was widespread, institutional and helped destroy personal lives
Bowers testified that Trump asked him to entertain the idea of replacing Biden’s slate of electors and replace them with people who were pro-Trump. He said he didn’t “want to be used as a pawn,” and told the president, “You are asking me to do something to break my oath and I will not break my oath.”
Bowers refused to bow to the pressure, citing his faith and oath to the Constitution, but he paid a price for that. He described a “new pattern in our lives” when groups would come to his home on Saturdays and sometimes issue threats.
He said his “gravely ill daughter” was upset by what was happening outside.
“So it was disturbing, just disturbing,” he said.
The pressure was widespread, from a multimillion-dollar ad campaign and the institutional help of the Republican National Committee to Trump meeting with state lawmakers in person, making threatening phone calls, as well as delivering public speeches and tweets that spurred threats, protests at houses and doxxing of personal information.
Trump targeted Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, an election worker in Georgia, and her mother, Ruby Freeman. Moss testified that when that happened, she was inundated with threats, including one on Facebook Messenger in which someone wrote “Be glad it’s 2020 and not 1920.” Moss is Black.
Moss tearfully testified that her life has been turned “upside down.” She said she won’t tell people her name anymore, hand out her business card, even go to the grocery store. She said she’s gained 60 pounds and doesn’t “want to do anything” or “go anywhere.”
“It’s affected my life in a major way,” she said, adding, “all because of lies.”
All this, in a desperate attempt by Trump and his allies to help Trump hold onto power.
3. Members of Congress were in on the pressure campaign
One area that will see more follow up is spelling out just how involved certain members of Congress were. Tuesday’s hearing revealed, for example, that Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs and Sen. Ron Johnson played roles.
Bowers testified that Biggs urged him to sign on to the decertification of electors. The committee also showed text messages between an aide to Johnson, Sean Riley, and Vice President Mike Pence’s head of legislative affairs, Chris Hodgson. The text exchange revealed that Johnson wanted to hand new slates of electors for Michigan and Wisconsin to Pence on Jan. 6, but Johnson’s staffer was rebuffed. Here’s the exchange:
RILEY: “Johnson needs to hand something to VPOTUS please advise.”
HODGSON: “What is it?”
RILEY: “Alternate slate of electors for MI and WI because archivist didn’t receive them.”
HODGSON: “Do not give that to him.”
For its part, Johnson’s office is now trying to distance the senator from the scheme. A spokesperson says 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.”
These aren’t the first members of Congress to be shown as somehow involved in the pressure campaign. It was also previously reported that Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan sent a text to Mark Meadows forwarding a theory that could be used to pressure Pence to throw out votes on Jan. 6.
There are also questions about a tour Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., gave the day before the riot – with people who wound up storming the Capitol and who were taking photos of hallways and stairwells.
And committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney has said the panel learned that Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Scott Perry and “Multiple other Republican congressmen also sought presidential pardons for their roles in attempting to overturn the 2020 election.” Perry denied the allegation.
4. Democracy is fragile, relies on people and their willingness to do what’s right
The American elections system has long been revered around the world. As compared to other countries, the United States has had (largely) clean elections free of corruption. America’s long history of peaceful transfers of power – until 2021 – has become a model.
That was attacked Jan. 6. The institutions survived, but only because of people.
“We say our institutions held,” Thompson said. “But what does that really mean? Democratic institutions aren’t abstractions or ideas. They’re local officials who oversee elections. Secretaries of state, people in whom we’ve placed our trust that they’ll carry out their duties. But what if they don’t?”
That was made clear Tuesday. What if Bowers, for example, had gone along with Trump’s ruse? What if, facing threats, lawmakers and elections officials in Georgia or Michigan or Pennsylvania or Wisconsin went along?
The lynchpin that holds the democratic system together is people willing to do what’s right. How long can and will that last, if those people who want to do what’s right are not supported by party leaders and elected officials in both parties and especially when their side loses?
5. Polarization on the right has become poisonous
Imagine a world in which Joe Biden lost reelection and in the transition period did even a tenth of what witnesses are saying Trump did – the phone calls, the arm-twisting, the denial of reality, the pressuring of state elections officials and spurring threats of violence.
Imagine that then dozens of Democrats who worked in his White House and on his campaign trying to get him reelected and state officials who wanted Biden to win all then testified to that pressure campaign.
Do you think Republicans would be sitting on their hands, complaining about the lack of cross examination?
Cheney implored people watching at home to “focus on the evidence. Don’t be distracted by politics. This is serious. We can’t allow America to become a nation of conspiracies and thug violence.”
But there’s little evidence any of this will change most conservatives’ minds. Trump supporters have long been selling themselves a narrative of Trump that they have internalized. That has become nearly impossible to pierce, especially with facts.
Georgia election official Gabriel Sterling got to this point well. He noted that he argued with family members who were believing what Trump was telling them about a stolen election that wasn’t.
“The problem you have is you’re getting into people’s hearts,” Sterling said.
He relayed a story about a lawyer he knew sympathetic to Trump. Sterling took him through allegations they investigated and showed him, one by one, that they didn’t stand up to scrutiny.
“I just know in my heart that they cheated,” Sterling said was the lawyer’s response. “And so, once you get past the heart, the facts don’t matter as much.”
When facts don’t matter, that’s a scary place to be.