The House Select Committee investigating the events of January 6 has already richly documented the emptiness of former president Trump’s election-fraud claims, exposed the length and depth of his plan to overthrow the election results anyway, and shown again and again the central role of Trump and a small group of cronies in a criminal conspiracy to steal the presidency. On Tuesday, the committee zeroed in on one specific arena in which Trump concentrated much of his crusade of lies: my own home state of Georgia.
Tuesday’s hearing, the fourth, was billed as an examination of Trump’s efforts to pressure state and local elected officials to join his insurrectionary plot. The first witness, Arizona House Speaker Russell Bowers, was a Trump voter who came across as a deeply religious conservative Republican shocked to his core by the demands the ex-president and his cronies were placing on him in an effort to discredit Biden’s victory.
Anticipating the damage Bowers might do to his reputation, Trump went after him in a statement just before the hearing began, calling him (unconvincingly) a RINO and claiming that the legislator had earlier told him the election had been “rigged” in Arizona. The very dignified Bowers indignantly denied this claim when asked about it by the committee’s chief questioner at the hearing, Adam Schiff.
But the bulk of the hearing was a detailed look at Trump’s personal effort to stage an electoral coup in Georgia — another 2020 battleground state in which the election machinery was firmly in the hands of Republicans who publicly refuted Trump’s lies. GOP secretary of state Brad Raffensperger and his chief operating officer (during the 2020 elections), Gabriel Sterling, were led carefully by Schiff through a detailed, and even redundant, exposure of Team Trump’s false assertions about what happened in their state. Most of the lies involved a completely disproven claim that election workers in Democratic-controlled Fulton County (Atlanta) brought out “suitcases” of fake ballots — at least 13,000, Trump and Rudy Giuliani kept asserting — and had them counted late on Election Night.
Despite being told directly and indirectly by Georgia officials and by his own attorney general that the claims were bunk, Trump made them the foundation of the famous January 2, 2021, phone call to Raffensperger, on which he demanded that the secretary of state “find” him enough ballots to overturn Biden’s victory in Georgia. Schiff played excerpts from the call to allow terse commentary from Raffensperger about its outrageous nature. A local prosecutor has convened a grand jury to determine if Trump’s demands were criminal in nature.
The House Select Committee also spent some time documenting the direct and indirect threats that Trump, his associates, and his followers made to Georgia election officials as part of their pressure campaign. Sterling explained the background of his own sensational public plea to Trump on December 1, 2020, to call off the dogs after he realized the extent of the threats local-election officials in Georgia were receiving from MAGA folk. (“Stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence. Someone is going to get hurt, someone is going to get shot, someone is going to get killed. And it’s not right.”) And in an emphatic conclusion to the hearing, the committee heard testimony from Shaye Moss, the innocent Fulton County election official who was at the heart of the MAGA Georgia conspiracy theory, and from her mother, Ruby Freeman, another election worker whom Trump himself named as a villain 18 times in his conversation with Raffensperger. Both women were threatened extensively after being singled out by Trump and Giuliani. Moss regretted ever serving the public as an election worker, while Freeman was driven out of her home by threats. After being groundlessly called a “professional vote scammer and hustler” by Trump, Freeman said in searing taped testimony:
[Do]o you know how it feels to have the president of the United States target you? The president is supposed to represent every American, not to target one. But he targeted me, Lady Ruby, a small-business owner, a mother, a proud American citizen who stood up to help Fulton County run an election in the middle of a pandemic.
So this particular hearing filled out our picture of Trump and his enablers as not simply liars and insurrectionists but bullies who went after anyone who got in his way. Raffensperger has already had his moment of vindication from Republican primary voters in Georgia, who, on May 24, spurned a Trump-generated effort to purge him. For other witnesses, the January 6 committee provided quite a megaphone.