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Opinion Rusty Bowers proves to be the Jan. 6 committee’s most compelling witness yet

Arizona House Speaker Russell "Rusty" Bowers (R) testifies before the House Jan. 6 committee on June 21. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Whether or not the accumulating pile of evidence against Donald Trump induces Attorney General Merrick Garland to indict the defeated former president or his associates for their attempted coup, all but the MAGA cultists should understand that Trump and his chief of staff Mark Meadows personally executed the illegal scheme to create alternate slates of electors.

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Jan. 6 committee, put these matters into context on Tuesday: Trump, who improperly pressured then-Vice President Mike Pence to throw the election to him, did the same with state officials — yet another illegal effort to justify disrupting the congressional proceeding to count electoral votes. Moreover, Trump unleashed and amplified threats against those who refused to go along, Thompson explained.

Most informed Americans already know about Trump’s effort to cajole Georgia state election officials to “find” just enough votes to flip the state. The shocker on Tuesday was that Trump, his lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Meadows were also directly involved in the efforts to overturn Arizona’s results as well.

No doubt anticipating the damage this revelation would do to his case, Trump attacked Arizona House Speaker Russell “Rusty” Bowers (R) before Tuesday’s hearing, claiming that Bowers had previously told him that the election was “rigged.” Bowers, perhaps the most compelling and effective witness the committee has questioned to date, stated clearly that Trump’s claim was false. He had not made such a statement, Bowers said, and Trump’s claim that Bowers said Trump won the state was “also false.”

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Bowers, who supported Trump in the 2020 election, testified in unequivocal terms about the former president’s pressure campaign. He recalled asking Trump and Giuliani at least twice during a call after the election for proof of noncitizens or dead people voting. Bowers said he “never” received such information.

Editorial cartoon by Ann Telnaes: An oath means nothing to Trump

Bowers was asked to hold a “committee” to hear the supposed evidence; he refused, adding that he didn’t want to be used as a “pawn.” The purpose of such a committee, he said, would be to replace Biden electors with Trump electors. “You are asking me to do something that is counter to my oath, when I swore to the Constitution to uphold it,” he testified telling Giuliani. “This is totally foreign as an idea or a theory to me.” He added that such an action would also be a violation of his faith and described in moving terms the threats of violence he received and the angry mobs that assembled outside his home.

Bowers also relayed what he thought might be a gaffe from Giuliani, that “we’ve got lots of theories; we just don’t have the evidence.” If ever Trump’s team made a confession of bad faith, this would be it.

In another call, Trump lawyer John Eastman called Bowers and asked him to vote to “decertify” Arizona’s electors. Bowers again refused. “I took an oath,” Bowers said he told Eastman. “For me to take that [course] would be counter to my oath.” Bowers asked, “What would you have me do?” Eastman responded that Bowers should just do it and let the courts sort it out. Bowers asked incredulously if he was supposed to “do something that’s never been done in history — the history of the United States” with no proof. “No, sir,” he said.

On the morning of Jan. 6, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) called Bowers and asked to support decertification. Once again, he said no. Asked to replace electors, Bowers said he didn’t even have authority to call the legislature into session.

Video testimony from others underscore that the White House counsel and the top three lawyers for the Trump campaign all believed that any attempt to assemble alternate electors would be illegal. Two Trump campaign lawyers testified they thought the plan was illegal and bowed out. Meanwhile, a fake elector confessed he was a “useful rube” for the campaign and never would have participated if he knew key campaign lawyers objected.

Some witnesses said they were told they should vote for phony electors in “secret.” One group reportedly planned to hide out in Michigan’s Capitol to hold a vote in the state’s chambers. Texts obtained by the committee showed that a staffer said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) wanted to deliver a fake electoral slate to Pence personally. All told, electors in seven states signed documents falsely stating they were duly authorized electors. These individuals were clearly lied to, just as the Trump voters had been.

Asked about the fake electors who met in Phoenix and relayed their vote to D.C., Bowers concluded them to be “a tragic parody.” His words about his fidelity to his faith and the Constitution should haunt the MAGA troops who continue to push the “big lie.”

Other state Republicans related similar interactions with Trump’s lawyers pleading for them to put forward fake slates of electors. But none of these accounts were as compelling as the noble presence of Bowers. That the GOP stands behind Trump and Eastman and not figures such as Bowers tells voters all they need to know about today’s GOP.