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State Republicans say Trump wanted them to break law to keep him in power

(The Hill) – Former President Trump’s campaign to press GOP state officials to overturn the results of the 2020 election violated state laws, defied the Constitution and led directly to violent threats against those figures that continues to this day, a number of those Republicans testified Tuesday on Capitol Hill.

Appearing before the House committee investigating last year’s attack on the U.S. Capitol, the Republican election officials said Trump’s team, led by the president himself, made fantastic allegations of voter fraud — all of them false — and asked numerous state figures to break the law to keep Trump in power despite his clear defeat.

“The numbers are the numbers and the number’s don’t lie,” said Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, whom Trump had pressed to “find” 11,780 votes — the number that would have made him the winner. 

Raffensperger noted that three separate recount efforts in the Peach State all found Joe Biden to be the winner by a “remarkably” similar margin. 

“What I knew is we didn’t have any more votes to find,” he said.

Their testimony provided the latest affirmation of the select committee’s central accusation against the former president: that Trump had abused the powers of the White House to promote a lie — that the election was stolen — and nullify the wishes of voters in several key states where the margins were slimmest. It was that campaign, in the committee’s telling, that led directly to the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6. 

“The President’s lie was and is a dangerous cancer on the body politic,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a member of the select committee. “If you can convince Americans that they cannot trust their own elections, that any time they lose it is somehow illegitimate, then what is left but violence to determine who should govern.” 

To make their case, the committee returned to a tactic that’s practically defined the public-hearing phase of their investigation: allowing Republicans to provide the details of Trump’s alleged wrongdoing. 

The GOP officials — representing Arizona and Georgia, two battlegrounds that became a focus of Trump’s efforts — said they all supported Trump’s reelection, but couldn’t comply with his demands for the simple reason that they were illegal. 

Central to Trump’s campaign was the farming out false claims of election fraud to state officials asking them to intervene in delaying the certification of vote totals, a move that included an effort to send fake certificates to Washington signed by “alternate” electors. 

The committee showed Trump played a central role in that effort. 

Ronna McDaniels, head of the Republican National Committee, told investigators that it was the former president who initiated a call asking the RNC to help with the fake electors scheme. His chief of staff Mark Meadows called or texted 18 times to arrange Trump’s now infamous call with Raffensperger. And it was Trump, along with personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, who reached out to Arizona Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers (R) asking him to “replace” electors.

“I didn’t want to be used as a pawn,” Bowers said.

“You are asking me to do something that is counter to my oath when I swore to the Constitution to uphold it, and I also swore to the Constitution and the laws of the state of Arizona. And this is totally foreign as an idea or a theory to me, and I would never do anything of such magnitude without deep consultation with qualified attorneys,” Bowers said.

Bowers said Trump and Giuliani phoned him directly after the election with claims that, between undocumented immigrants and dead people, hundreds of thousands of illegal votes had been cast in the Grand Canyon state. Giuliani, Bowers said, claimed to have ready evidence of the fraud, but never provided it. And he later acknowledged that there was no evidence, only “theories.” 

“[Giuliani] said, ‘We’ve got lots of theories. We just don’t have the evidence,’” Bowers said. “And I don’t know if that was a gaffe or maybe he didn’t think through what he said.”

Other Trump campaign attorneys acknowledged as much, testifying they sought to distance themselves as Giuliani and another pro-Trump lawyer, Kenneth Chesebro, pushed what they deemed to be illegal. 

Trump campaign lawyer Justin Clark said he told others, “I don’t think this is appropriate or, you know, this isn’t the right thing to do. I don’t remember how I phrased it, but I got into a little bit of a back and forth,” he said, before adding “I’m out.”

Another campaign attorney, Matt Morgan, had an associate reach out to Chesebro “politely to say, ‘This is your task. You are responsible for the Electoral College issues moving forward.’ And this was my way of taking that responsibility to zero.”

Those roped into the false elector scheme voiced regret — and resentment — to the committee.

Robert Sinners, who was Trump’s election day operations director in Georgia, said he and others involved were just “kind of useful idiots or rubes at that point.”

“I’m angry. I’m angry because I think in a sense no one really cared if people were potentially putting themselves in jeopardy,” Sinners said in a taped deposition.

But Sinners was unaware that many of the campaign lawyers had advised against the strategy.

“I absolutely would not have [participated] had I known that the three main lawyers for the campaign that I’d spoken to in the past and were leading up were not on board.”

Andrew Hitt, a former Wisconsin Republican Party chair who was subpoenaed due to his role in the scheme in January, said he was told the fake certificates “would only count if a court ruled in our favor.” 

“So that would have been using our electors — well, it would have been using our electors in ways that we weren’t told about and we wouldn’t have supported,” he said in a video clip of his deposition shared by the committee.

Other revelations offered by the committee Tuesday were the previously unknown efforts by two lawmakers the morning of Jan. 6 in forwarding the false electors scheme, which were evidently going to be flown to D.C.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) tried to hand deliver two of the certificates to Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, as he arrived at the Capitol that morning to oversee the electoral vote count, according to one of the select committee’s lawyers. 

“Johnson needs to hand something to VPOTUS please advise…alternate slate of electors for MI and WI because archivist didn’t receive them,” Johnson aide Sean Riley texted to a Pence staffer in an exchange the committee displayed.

“Don’t give that to him,” Chris Hodgson, Pence’s aide responded.

A spokeswoman for Johnson tweeted Tuesday that Johnson had “no foreknowledge” of the scheme and called the texts “a staff to staff exchange.”

Bowers also testified that he heard from Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) that morning.  

“He asked if I would sign on both to a letter that had been sent from my state, and/or that I would support the decertification of the electors,” Bower said. 

“I said I would not,” Bowers added.

The officials also described how their decision to buck Trump’s demands led to a fierce backlash from Trump’s supporters, including protests outside their homes, violent threats against themselves and their families — including death threats — and a wave of calls, emails and texts that have forced them to reimagine how they conduct their everyday lives. 

One poll worker in Georgia, whom Trump and Giuliani wrongly accused of cheating the system to pad Joe Biden’s numbers, said she’s afraid to go to the grocery store for fear of being recognized, won’t give out business cards and gained 60 pounds.

“This turned my life upside down,” said Wandrea Arshaye Moss. “All because of lies. For me doing my job.”

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