In December, 2020, in the midst of an intense White House effort to convince officials in battleground states to overturn the U.S. presidential election in favour of Donald Trump, Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers turned to his journal.
“I do not want to be a winner by cheating,” he wrote. “I will not play with laws I swore allegiance to.”
Mr. Bowers, a Republican, supported Mr. Trump. He wanted his party’s president to win. And he was under immense pressure to shift the election against Joe Biden, who won Arizona by just over 10,000 votes.
But Mr. Bowers refused, saying it was a tenet of his faith to uphold a U.S. Constitution he believes “is divinely inspired.”
More than 18 months after the election and the violent attack on the Capitol that followed, Mr. Bowers was speaking to the United States House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack. He appeared alongside other state officials lauded for their unwillingness to bend to Mr. Trump, who personally badgered people far from the White House to deliver the votes he needed to remain in office.
“A handful of election officials in several key states stood between Donald Trump and the upending of American democracy,” said committee chair Bennie Thompson. In the weeks after Mr. Trump’s election loss, he and his closest lieutenants waged what Mr. Thompson called a “relentless, destructive pressure campaign on state and local officials” – one that was “all based on a lie. Donald Trump knew it. He did it anyway.”
Following the vote on Nov. 3, 2020, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, made 18 attempts to set up a call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Mr. Meadows met with Frances Watson, the chief elections investigator supervising the vote audit in Georgia. Mr. Trump personally called Ms. Watson, asking her to do “whatever you can do,” and promising praise “when the right answer comes out.” In a 67-minute call with Mr. Raffensperger, Mr. Trump said “there’s no way” he could have lost in Georgia. “There’s nothing wrong with saying that that you’ve recalculated,” he told Mr. Raffensperger.
Georgia counted its five million ballots three times, finding only tiny discrepancies in each count – far from enough to change the outcome.
But public pressure to find otherwise, motivated by Mr. Trump’s claims, was intense. In Arizona, Mr. Bowers received more than 20,000 e-mails and tens of thousands of voicemails, a flood so overwhelming that “we were unable to work, or at least communicate,” he said. The pressure continues. Groups regularly send video-panel trucks past his house on weekends “with videos of me proclaiming me to be a pedophile and a pervert and a corrupt politician,” he said.
The Jan. 6 committee has curated its findings to their most potent revelations, staging a hearing that slips between live questions, video-taped depositions, surveillance camera footage and recordings of Mr. Trump himself.
Tuesday’s hearing was kept to Hollywood movie length, assembled into a narrative arc that built facts and arguments toward the emotional crescendo of two Georgia election workers, Ruby Freeman and her daughter Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, describing the toll of being falsely singled out by the White House as complicit in vote tampering.
Mr. Trump used Ms. Freeman’s name 18 times on his call with Mr. Raffensperger, calling her “a professional vote scammer and hustler.” Her family became a target of public outrage. They received death threats. Some people tried to barge into the home of Ms. Freeman’s mother, saying they had come to make a citizen’s arrest.
After that, “there is nowhere I feel safe. Nowhere,” Ms. Freeman said in a video-taped deposition. “The President of the United States is supposed to represent every American. Not to target one,” she added. “But he targeted me.”
The committee’s multimedia format gives coherence and resonance to the scattershot of news coverage that has, over the past 18 months, already revealed much of the evidence it has assembled.
Liz Cheney, the Republican vice-chairwoman of the Jan. 6 panel, urged those watching not to be “distracted by politics. This is serious. We cannot let America become a nation of conspiracy theories and thug violence.”
Yet it’s not clear what all this can achieve. The committee has delivered compelling evidence that Mr. Trump’s claims of election fraud had been repeatedly rebutted by state Republicans and his own White House counsel in the months leading up to Jan. 6. Mr. Trump nonetheless continued, and continues, to publicly declare himself the victim of a stolen election.
In a statement Tuesday, he described the committee members as “political Thugs.”
“Why won’t they discuss the massive voter fraud and irregularities that took place in the Election,” he wrote.
Those who have sought most persistently to parry those claims with facts have also had the greatest cause for disenchantment. Georgia election official Gabriel Sterling recounted a conversation with a lawyer in which he rebutted fraud allegations. “At the end he just said, ‘I just know in my heart they cheated,’” Mr. Sterling said.
Telling the truth about Mr. Trump’s loss, he said, has been “kind of like a shovel trying to empty the ocean.”
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