Jan. 6 Committee Focuses on Trump Efforts to Sway State Legislatures, Secretaries of State

Jan. 6 Committee Focuses on Trump Efforts to Sway State Legislatures, Secretaries of State
Former President Donald Trump is displayed on a screen during the fourth hearing on the Jan. 6 investigation in the Cannon House Office Building in Washington on June 21, 2022. (Al Drago/Pool via Getty Images)
Joseph Lord

The House Jan. 6 Committee on June 21 held its fourth day of public hearings, during which it argued that President Donald Trump had organized a pressure campaign against state legislatures and secretaries of state to get them to reject the results of elections in their states, which Trump said were rife with fraud.

Tuesday's hearing comes after the committee, during its first three hearings, has sought to make a case that Trump led an organized behind-the-scenes effort to "overturn the 2020 election."

Committee members have rejected Trump's claims of election fraud, and have suggested in various interviews that they hope for a criminal conviction to come as a result of the hearings.

During the third day of hearings, the committee focused on the ways that it said Trump's efforts to prevent congressional certification of 2020 electors put Vice President Mike Pence's life in danger.
In the fourth round of hearings, the committee turned its eye to the state level, particularly focusing on the key battleground states of Georgia and Arizona, where they said Trump tried to continue efforts to overturn the reported results of elections.

Committee Continues to Present Jan. 6 Rally as 'Threat to Our Democracy'

During opening statements, several prominent members of the Jan. 6 commission made dire declarations about the continuing "threat to our democracy" posed by election fraud claims and the Jan. 6 rally.

Trump's "lies" about election fraud, Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said, "[haven't] gone away" and are "corrupting our democratic institutions."

Only a few officials, Thompson added in a comment setting the mood for the day, stood between Trump and the "upending of democracy."

In her own opening statement, Ranking Member Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) suggested that Trump implicitly endorsed the violence that unfolded on Jan. 6 and sought to make the United States "a nation of ... thug violence."

"Donald Trump did not care about the threats of violence. He did not condemn them, he made no effort to stop them. He went forward with his fake allegations anyway," said Cheney.

"You will hear about a number of threats and efforts to pressure state officials to reverse the election outcome. One of our witnesses today—Gabriel Sterling—explicitly warned President Trump about potential violence on Dec. 1, 2020, more than a month before Jan. 6. You will see excerpts from that video repeatedly today," she said.

"We cannot let America become a nation of conspiracy theories and thug violence," Cheney concluded.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who took the lead in presenting evidence during the fourth day of hearings, sounded a similar chord in a statement to another media outlet, saying that "more than a year [after Jan. 6], the threat to our democracy is as grave as ever. Jan. 6 was not a day in isolation, but the violent culmination of multiple efforts to overturn the last presidential election and interfere with the peaceful transfer of power for the first time in our history."

Committee Targets Trump's 'Particular Obsession' With Georgia

A key focus of Tuesday's hearings was Trump's efforts to challenge election results in Georgia, which reportedly went to President Joe Biden by the narrowest of margins.

Trump "had a particular obsession with Georgia," Thompson said.

President Joe Biden's reported win in Georgia, which has long been a GOP-stronghold, was among the most hotly-contested of any state.

A contested claim originating with the Trump campaign held that election workers in Atlanta, following a timely pipe explosion, had booted GOP workers from a polling place. After the GOP poll watchers were kicked out, the claim goes, Democrat-aligned election workers had altered results with "suitcases full of ballots" to change the result of the election.

The claim was a key focus of the commission's fourth day of hearings, and they roundly rejected the claim.

The footage alleging to show these "suitcases full of ballots" was obtained and released by One America News. Rudy Giuliani—a key Trump ally in disputes over election fraud—called the video a "smoking gun" at a Senate rally in Georgia.

Seeking to discredit the claim, which Trump allies have continued to point to, the Jan. 6 panel heard from several witnesses, including Georgia election official Gabe Sterling, who said that the claim was false.

They also pointed to the ruling of Attorney General Bill Barr's Department of Justice that the claim was false.

The claim, the commission and Sterling said, endangered the lives of election workers.

Georgia Secretary of State Insists Office Checked for Election Fraud

Headlining the hearing was Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who won the ire of Trump and his supporters for his handling of the 2020 election in the state.

During his own testimony, Raffensperger said he had also faced a great deal of pressure to look further into claims of election fraud, which he ultimately rejected.

Particularly insistent, according to Raffensperger, was former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who reportedly reached out to Raffensperger's office a total of 18 times to set up a phone call between Trump and Raffensperger.

Raffensperger, who recently won his primary election over Trump-backed challenger Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.), insisted that his office had been diligent ensuring that election fraud had not taken place.

"Every allegation we checked. We ran down the rabbit trail to make sure our numbers were accurate," Raffensperger insisted.

Again, the commission noted scattered acts of violence against Raffensperger's family in order to bolster their claims of Trump causing an outburst of "thug violence."

Raffensperger said that he and his wife had both received thousands of messages following his decision to reject Trump's claims. Their daughter-in-law, Raffensperger said, also had her home broken into.

Still, Raffensperger said, "I knew we had followed the law, we had followed the Constitution."

Arizona House Speaker Testifies on Election Fraud Claims

One of the key witnesses during the Tuesday hearing was Arizona State House Speaker Rusty Bowers, a Republican.

His state, a key battleground state, was one of the most hotly-contested swing states during the 2020 election. Trump and his allies particularly set their sights on the blue stronghold of Maricopa County, where they said massive election fraud took place.

Republicans in the state House, agreeing with Trump's assessment, made an effort in February 2021 to pass legislation allowing the state House, when it sees fit, to reject the reported results of an election.

Bowers, who had rejected Trump's claims of election fraud, used his position as speaker to practically ensure that this bill would never pass, taking the unprecedented step of forcing it to win the approval of all 12 Arizona state House committees before it could come to the floor.

On Tuesday, Bowers testified against Trump's efforts to challenge the 2020 election in his state.

During his testimony, Bowers, who insisted that he had hoped that Trump would win the election, refuted Trump for allegedly misrepresenting his comments in a phone conversation.

In a past statement, Trump said: “In Nov. 2020, Bowers thanked me for getting him elected. He said he would have lost, and in fact expected to lose, if I hadn’t come along. During the conversation, he told me that the election was rigged and that I won Arizona … Bowers should hope there’s not a tape of the conversation.”

That statement, Bowers claimed, was false.

"I did have a conversation with the President—that certainly isn't it," Bowers said.

"There are parts of it that are true, there are parts of it that are not true," Bowers qualified later when asked about Trump's statement by Schiff.

“Anywhere, anyone anytime who has said that I said the election was rigged—that would not be true,” he said.

Bowers also rejected Trump's claims of election fraud in the state, saying that had never provided evidence that such widespread fraud took place.

In his testimony, Bowers said that several Trump allies, including Giuliani, Trump-adjacent attorney John Eastman, and Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) all pushed him to support the decertification of Arizona's electors, which Bowers said he refused to do.

Playing into their claims that Trump wanted to use "thug violence" to intimidate adversaries, the committee also noted that Bowers faced protests outside his home from Trump supporters hoping to stop the certification of Arizona's contested election results.

Hope of a Trump Indictment Underlies Hearings

Members of the Democrat-dominated Jan. 6 Committee have made no efforts to hide their hopes that Trump will face criminal charges for his actions on and leading up to Jan. 6.

“I would like to see the Justice Department investigate any credible allegation of criminal activity on the part of Donald Trump or anyone else,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said on ABC News’ “This Week.” “They need to be investigated if there’s credible evidence, which I think there is.”

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said the committee has laid out in various legal pleadings “the criminal statutes that we think have been violated,” and claimed that the panel has evidence that Trump knew Joe Biden won the 2020 election.

“I think we can prove to any reasonable, open-minded person that Donald Trump absolutely knew because he was surrounded by lawyers,” Raskin said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “He continues to spread it to this very day. He continues to foist that propaganda on his followers.”

"I certainly think the President is guilty of knowing what he did. Seditious conspiracy. Being involved in these, you know, kind of different segments of pressuring DOJ, Vice President, etc.," Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), one of two Republicans on the committee, said when asked during an appearance on ABC's "This Week" if Trump should face criminal charges.

It remains unclear whether the Department of Justice (DOJ) will take the unprecedented step of opening a criminal investigation of Trump, whatever the calls from members of the panel.

Arrested Jan. 6 Rallygoers Have Not Faced Insurrection Charges

Thus far, Attorney General Merrick Garland's DOJ, in one of the most resource-intensive manhunts in its history, has arrested over 840 people who attended the rally at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Despite claims that Jan. 6 constituted an "insurrection," top Jan. 6 attorney Joe McBride noted in an interview with The Epoch Times that nobody arrested in connection to the Capitol breach has faced insurrection charges.

Only a handful, 16 people at the time of publication, have been charged with sedition.

Sedition, defined under U.S. law as "[conspiracy] to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States ... or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States," carries a steeper maximum penalty than insurrection, with those found guilty liable for up to 20 years in federal prison.

However, an insurrection conviction, which only carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison, also strips those found guilty of the right to hold public office.

Thus, even as the DOJ and Democrats have continued to paint the Jan. 6 rally as an "insurrection," the DOJ apparently lacks confidence that such a charge could stick in a court of law.

Even after 17 months, the DOJ has said, the investigation is far from over. The DOJ says it is still looking for over 350 people who allegedly "committed violent acts on Capitol grounds."

A Trump indictment, however, would be a harder goal for the DOJ and Trump's opponents to achieve.

Practically every member of the Jan. 6 panel agrees that Trump committed criminal acts.

But, given their relatively limited legal power, the committee can do little more than make recommendations for criminal charges against the former president; from there, it will be up to Garland to decide on next steps. Whatever his views on the Jan. 6 rally and the events leading up to it, Garland may be hesitant to take such a dramatic and unprecedented step.