US Capitol Riots Hearing: Poll workers recount death threats by Trump supporters

The committee’s vice chair, Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, implored Americans to pay attention to the evidence being presented, declaring, “We cannot let America become a nation of conspiracy theories and thug violence.”

FPJ Web DeskUpdated: Wednesday, June 22, 2022, 09:26 AM IST
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Vice Chair Rep. Liz Cheney, Republican from Wyoming, gives opening remarks as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues to reveal its findings of a year-long investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, on Tuesday, June 21, 2022 | AP

The US House of Representatives Capitol Riots committee heard chilling, tearful testimony Tuesday that Donald Trump’s relentless pressure to overturn the 2020 presidential election provoked widespread threats to the “backbone of our democracy”— election workers and local officials who fended off the defeated president’s demands despite personal risks.

The speaker of Arizona's statehouse, Rusty Bowers, told the committee probing last year's Capitol riot that the harassment continues to this day.

A Georgia vote counter said she was afraid to leave home after ex-President Donald Trump specifically targeted her. The House of Representatives panel accuses Trump of an attempted coup.

And these public testimonies have revealed more of Donald Trump's plan to overturn the 2020 US election.

Trump's 'playbook'

The committee's chairman Bennie Thompson said pressuring public servants into "betraying their oaths" was a crucial part of Trump's "playbook".

In the US federal system, voters elect the president through their states. Each state is assigned a number of electors proportionally to its population. Candidates who win a state carry its electors.

Trump’s pressure campaign and fraud allegations targeted swing states that he won in 2016 but lost to President Joe Biden in 2020.

The select committee has conducted a nearly yearlong investigation into how Trump supporters invaded Congress on January 6, 2021 to disrupt lawmakers as they certified Democrat Joe Biden's election victory.

On Tuesday, in the fourth public hearing so far, the panel heard from election workers in the states of Arizona and Georgia. Biden defeated Trump in both states, which had previously backed Republicans for the White House.

A nation of 'conspiracy theories and thug violence'

The committee’s vice chair, Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, implored Americans to pay attention to the evidence being presented, declaring, “We cannot let America become a nation of conspiracy theories and thug violence.”

One key witness was Republican Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who testified about Trump’s phone call asking him to “find 11,780” votes that could flip his state to prevent Biden’s election victory.

While the committee cannot charge Trump with any crimes, the Justice Department is watching the panel’s work closely.

Trump defended himself on social media, describing his phone call to Raffensperger as “perfect,” similar to the way he described the 2020 call with Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelenskyy that resulted in his first impeachment.

Republican witnesses turn on Trump

Multiple witnesses told the committee that Trump was personally involved in the effort to put forward slates of fake electors in key battleground states -- a key part of the broader effort to overturn Biden's legitimate election victory.

Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, testified that she received a call from Trump and conservative lawyer John Eastman after the election about helping to assemble the electors.

"In this effort, what did the President say when he called you?" an investigator with the committee asked McDaniel, according to video of her testimony played during the hearing.

"Essentially, he turned the call over to Mr. Eastman, who then proceeded to talk about the importance of the RNC helping the campaign gather these contingent electors in case any of the legal challenges that were ongoing change the result of any dates," McDaniel responded.

"I think more just helping them reach out and assemble them but .... my understanding is the campaign did take the lead and we just were helping them in that role," she added.

'Find me votes'

Lawmakers also heard from Republican poll organisers in Georgia about their difficulty in stamping out conspiracies fanned by Trump.

Gabriel Sterling, a top election official in Georgia, told the committee that fighting the election scam claims "was like a shovel trying to empty the ocean".

His boss - Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, whom Trump repeatedly pressed to "find" the votes he needed to win the state - ticked through a laundry list of allegations made by the Trump team in legal action against the state.

"In their lawsuits, they alleged 10,315 dead people [voted]," Raffensperger said, but a thorough review found a total of only four.

The public testimony from Raffensperger came weeks after he appeared before a special grand jury in Georgia investigating whether Trump and others illegally tried to intervene in the state’s 2020 election. Raffensperger beat a Trump-backed challenger in last month’s primary election.

(with inputs from agencies)

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