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‘We’ll have catastrophe’: Jan. 6 committee warns Trump-led threat to elections is ongoing

Arizona's GOP state House speaker calls efforts to overturn election 'tragic parody'

Republican and Democratic members of the Jan. 6 select committee greet Arizona GOP House Speaker Rusty Bowers after his testimony Tuesday.
Republican and Democratic members of the Jan. 6 select committee greet Arizona GOP House Speaker Rusty Bowers after his testimony Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

ANALYSIS — Former President Donald Trump, paradoxically, could be better positioned to overturn the 2024 election than he was in 2020.

That was the warning issued Tuesday by Rep. Bennie Thompson, chair of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot and the weeks leading up to it. Trump’s contention that Democrats “stole” the 2020 election from him in several key swing states “was all based on a lie,” the Mississippi Democrat said, adding: “Donald Trump knew it, and did it anyway.”

“The lie hasn’t gone away. It’s corrupting our democratic institutions. People who believe that lie are now seeking positions of public trust,” Thompson said during the panel’s fourth public hearing this month.

“We won’t have close calls” if Trump world’s ongoing efforts to do things like install Make America Great Again-aligned officials in local and state positions to oversee and certify elections succeed, Thompson warned. “We’ll have catastrophe.”

Jan. 6 panel member Adam B. Schiff, the California Democrat who deals with myriad threats as chair of the House Intelligence Committee, had his own warning: “The system held, but barely.”

The select committee wasted no time Tuesday getting right to new disclosures about the Trump team’s efforts to defy the will of voters. Rusty Bowers, Republican speaker of the Arizona state House, told Schiff that a Trump statement, issued earlier Tuesday, that he had told Trump the 2020 election was “rigged” was yet another false statement, yet another election-related lie.

Former Trump attorney Cleta Mitchell appeared to confirm previous testimony from some of the former president’s onetime aides, saying efforts to overturn the election actually began “right after the election — it might have been before the election.”

That suggests the then-president’s closest advisers — and perhaps even Trump — expected to lose to now-President Joe Biden before voters went to the polls on Election Day. Here are three other takeaways from Tuesday’s hearing.

‘We’ve got lots of theories’

Bowers delivered Tuesday’s most powerful testimony, saying he repeatedly asked then-Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis for evidence to support their stolen election claims. Though he told the committee he wanted a second Trump term, Bowers made clear he never saw evidence of stolen election claims.

“We’ve got lots of theories, we just don’t have the evidence,” Giuliani replied, according to Bowers, who said he and his staff later “kind of laughed about it.”

Giuliani, whom the committee has repeatedly placed in a leading role of Trump world’s efforts, claimed on calls to Bowers that thousands of deceased U.S. citizens and undocumented migrants voted in Arizona. Bowers testified that Giuliani and Bowers never provided a shred of evidence.

Remarkably, the state House speaker said he told Giuliani that his requests that he help with efforts to switch Arizona’s Electoral College votes from Biden to Trump not only defied his oath of office but were not possible under state law. The former New York mayor’s reply, paraphrased by Bowers: “Just let the courts figure it all out.”

Notably, that came after Trump — aided by then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the conservative Federalist Society — had spent four years painting federal courts red and installing a conservative majority on the Supreme Court.

Bowers also addressed Trump’s Tuesday statement, in which the former president called his fellow Republican “the latest RINO to play along with the Unselect Committee.” Trump contended that Bowers “told me that the election was rigged and that I won Arizona.”

Not so, Bowers told the select committee: “I did have a conversation with the president. That certainly isn’t it,” adding: “Anywhere, anyone, anytime has said that I said the election was rigged — that would not be true.”

Bowers, who called the effort to overturn the election a “tragic parody,” was under oath Tuesday, subject to federal perjury laws. Trump was not.

‘Alternate state electors’

The select committee showed evidence Tuesday and heard testimony that suggested a much broader Trump world effort than previously known — including, allegedly, in the U.S. Senate.

More individuals were working behind the scenes to bring about Trump’s demands than had been previously made public. That help, it turns out, appears not to have been limited to the states.

The select committee displayed an alleged text message from Sean Riley, an aide to Wisconsin GOP Sen. Ron Johnson, asking an aide to then-Vice President Mike Pence that his boss could hand something to Trump’s loyal No. 2.

“What is it?” Pence aide Chris Hodgson wrote back.

“Alternate slate of electors for MI and WI because archivist didn’t receive them,” Riley responded, prompting this direction from Hodgson: “Do not give that to him.” That’s because “alternate” could be another word for illegal.

Section 3 of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment prohibits anyone from serving in the House or Senate, or as president or vice president, who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.”

Johnson, during the hearing, was focused on other matters.

“My experience in the private sector taught me about the beauty of the free-market system,” his official account tweeted. “The business world is tough and I’ve learned many lessons from it that I carry with me every day.”

A Johnson aide claimed in a tweet that her boss “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.”

Alexa Henning, in a tweet, called the attempted handoff a “staff-to-staff exchange” even though Riley said the handoff would be carried out by Johnson. “The Vice President’s office said not to give it to him and we did not,” Henning tweeted. “There was no further action taken. End of story.”

Only that it certainly won’t be.

Some Democratic activists called on social media for Johnson to resign. Wisconsin’s other senator, Democrat Tammy Baldwin, tweeted: “Trying to deliver fake electors to Vice President Pence on #January6th is direct support for Trump’s conspiracy to overturn the will of the people in Wisconsin.”

‘Numbers were the numbers’

Trump’s “stolen” and “rigged” elections claims are defied by simple math and electoral realities, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Tuesday.

There is a White House-size hole in Trump’s claims: He was actually a drag on other GOP candidates in the Peach State. Raffensperger told the panel the then-president lost the state because too many Republican voters abandoned him.

“Twenty-eight thousand Georgians skipped the presidential race, and yet they voted down ballot in other races,” Raffensperger told Schiff, who led the panel’s questioning Tuesday. “The Republican congressmen ended up getting 33,000 more votes than President Trump. That’s why President Trump came up short.”

Trump was told this over and over. He simply did not care, witnesses have told the panel during each of its public hearings and beforehand in taped depositions.

“But why wouldn’t you want to find the right answer, Brad, instead of keep saying that the numbers are right?” Trump asked Georgia’s secretary of state in a recorded phone conversation after the November 2020 election. “And, Brad, we just want the truth. It’s simple. … And the real truth is I won by 400,000 votes, at least.”

That aligns with what Bowers told the committee Giuliani insinuated to him: “Aren’t we all Republicans here? I would think we’d get a better reception.”

The nonprofit group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington tweeted that Trump’s call with Raffensperger “likely violated multiple laws,” adding: “It is some of the most egregious conduct we’ve ever seen from a US president.”

A version of this piece first appeared in the subscription-only CQ Senate newsletter.

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