Opinion 4 lessons from Trump’s pressure campaign on election officials

Wandrea ArShaye “Shaye” Moss, a former Georgia election worker, wipes her eyes as she testifies during the House Jan. 6 committee's fourth hearing on June 21. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
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The House Jan. 6 committee on Tuesday provided multiple memorable moments, including Arizona House Speaker Russell “Rusty” Bowers’s moving devotion to the Constitution.

Beyond that, viewers should draw at least four conclusions about former president Donald Trump’s campaign to pressure election officials:

1

Forget the excuses about Trump’s “intent”

The evidence the committee presented on Tuesday largely destroyed the bogus argument that “intent” is a barrier to prosecution. Bowers’s testimony about Rudy Giuliani’s supposed gaffe that the Trump camp had “lots of theories” but no “evidence” was as damning a confession as any.

The attempts to deceive electors also point to corrupt intent. Former Michigan GOP chair Laura Cox testified that the Trump campaign told her that fake electors would “hide overnight” in the state Capitol to cast votes in the chamber. She said she responded “in no uncertain terms that that was insane and inappropriate.”

Meanwhile, an Arizona elector testified that he was misled and not told about the concerns of Trump campaign lawyers. He assured investigators he would not have participated in the plot to devise fake electors had he known the full truth. This was not a scheme operated in good faith.

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As for Trump personally, aides including the White House counsel, former attorney general William P. Barr and other Justice Department officials all shot down his false claims of fraud and rejected his rationalization for fake electors. Trump heard the same thing from state officials.

Bowers told Trump he wouldn’t participate in the illegal scheme. And Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger also told Trump his claims were false. Trump’s request that Raffensperger “find” just enough votes to flip the state should remove any doubt that Trump acted corruptly — especially given Trump’s retweet of a statement from one of his lawyers, L. Lin Wood, that Raffensperger would go to jail, and his unsubtle threats that Raffensperger would face criminal prosecution if he failed to comply.

Let’s be clear: Trump’s insistence that he “won” was, if anything, a motive — but not a defense. Far too many mainstream reporters have asserted that Trump cannot be successfully prosecuted if he “really” believed he won the election. This is not true. Trump could not avoid legal liability for bribing then-Vice President Mike Pence to hand him the election solely because he legitimately believed the election was stolen. Same goes for his efforts to procure phony electors despite warnings it was illegal.

2

Trump promoted violence against election officials

Bowers in his testimony described the vicious attacks and threats he was subjected to following the election. Gabriel Sterling, chief operating officer for Georgia’s secretary of state, and Wandrea ArShaye “Shaye” Moss, a former Georgia election worker, similarly detailed how Trump and his deranged followers put them in danger of crazed mobs by promoting the “big lie.”

Moss described the absurd lies from Giuliani that triggered an avalanche of threats. The mob even pushed their way into Moss’s grandmother’s house. Their lives were ruined; their psyches were damaged. Moss’s mother, in video testimony before the committee, pleaded: “Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States target you? The president of the United States is supposed to represent every American. Not to target one.”

Neither Trump nor other Republicans had condemned that conduct. The testimony was as infuriating as it was troubling. This is what happens in totalitarian countries run by bullies and thugs.

Republicans have rightly reacted with outrage to the assassination plot against Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. Why, then, have they tolerated this sort of threatening behavior against election officials? Why do they continue to support the man who incited mobs to terrorize ordinary Americans?

3

State prosecutors in other swing states should start investigations

Electoral college certificates declaring Trump the winner in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were amateurish at best, but obviously fraudulent. The side-by-side comparison of the shoddy fake slates and the official certification reflects a ham-handed effort to create a phony paper trail that would justify stealing the election from the rightful winner. Nevertheless, sneaking around to create bogus documents should be fodder for criminal investigations in all these states.

4

Voters should worry about the “clear and present danger” from state election deniers

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), at the onset of Tuesday’s hearing, made the point that not a single legislature went back into session to undo the election. But would the crop of MAGA election deniers running for office in 2022 do the same?

With more than 100 election deniers on the ballot in November, it’s easy to imagine what might have occurred had one of these individuals, not Raffensperger, been Georgia’s secretary of state in 2020. What would have happened if a MAGA flunky, not Bowers, was House speaker in Arizona?

As Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Jan. 6 committee, put it: “The danger hasn’t gone away. The lie hasn’t gone away. It’s corrupting our democratic institutions. People who believe that lie are now seeking positions of public trust.”

The committee’s vice chair, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), similarly warned that “institutions don’t defend themselves.” The best way to defend the institution of elections would be to punish those who tried to steal an election and undo the will of the people.

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