The top Republican and Democratic lawmakers on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee clashed with each other Wednesday, trading accusations of lying and spreading disinformation, as the panel held a hearing on “election irregularities” in the 2020 presidential race.
The hearing was called by Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and included President Donald Trump’s campaign lawyers, former special counsel Ken Starr, a commissioner from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, and Christopher Krebs, the top U.S. cybersecurity official who was fired by Trump for asserting that the election was secure.
The hearing came days after the Electoral College confirmed that Joe Biden won with 306 votes to Trump’s 232.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., this week congratulated Biden on his victory and rejected Trump’s claims about fraud and attempts to get Congress involved in overturning the outcome.
The Trump campaign has lost as many as 60 court cases challenging the results in Georgia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Nevada, but Republicans led by Johnson and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., insisted that the cases were thrown out on procedural grounds and not on their merits.
Election Assistance Commission member Donald Palmer, a Republican, told the panel that he stood behind the commission’s certification of voting machines used in the 2020 election.
While Krebs continued to emphasize that the elections were secure and free of interference, Johnson said that voting machines, the tabulation systems and internet connections related to the conduct of elections are a “huge confusing mess.”
Krebs responded that with 95 percent of the precincts in the country using paper ballots as a backup, states were in a position to refute claims of fraud, but Johnson said that he agreed with Trump campaign lawyers that there was “fraud in this election. … I don’t have any doubt about that there was fraud.”
Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., the top Democrat on the panel, noted that dozens of court cases by the Trump campaign were rejected, including those in Wisconsin where a Republican judge threw out challenges to Biden’s victory.
The Trump campaign and its lawyers are “willingly fanning the flames of discontent, and they’re in the process of weakening institutions that are essential for our representative democracy,” Peters said.
Peters also said that Russian, Chinese and other adversaries were taking advantage of the false allegations and amplifying claims of fraud made by Trump and Republican lawmakers.
Johnson responded by saying Peters had falsely alleged that Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, and Johnson had disseminated “disinformation from Russia.”
Johnson was referring to an investigation he and Grassley were conducting about Biden’s effort during the Obama administration to root out corruption in Ukraine. U.S. intelligence agencies later warned that Russia was using a pro-Moscow Ukrainian lawmaker, Andriy Derkach, to push disinformation on Biden to members of Congress.
Democrats including Peters raised an alarm earlier this year by writing to the FBI voicing concerns that lawmakers were being targeted by Russian disinformation. The Treasury Department in September sanctioned Derkach for attempting to influence the 2020 election.
In Wednesday’s hearing Johnson accused Peters of lying about Johnson’s role in spreading disinformation. “I told you stop lying and you continue to do it,” Johnson said.
Peters responded that “this is not about you airing your grievances. … I don’t know what rabbit hole you’re running down.”
Trump campaign lawyers continued to press their claims that in multiple states voters cast their ballots twice, that votes had been cast in the names of deceased voters and that states altered rules to allow expanded mail-in ballots because of the COVID-19 pandemic in violation of state constitutions.