I know a little about the kind of bravery we saw on display at the hearing of the House 1/6 Committee, but I don’t know it the way the witnesses do who testified today. What we saw this afternoon was extraordinary. Four people, each of whom came to do their jobs in different ways, probably for different reasons, were forced to decide between their personal honor and giving into pressure from their colleagues, friends, and people far more powerful than they were. But they came down on the same side, all four of them, standing up for what was right against anger and oppression and the exercise of raw power untethered to reality, morality, or democracy. What they did was brave. Full stop. There is no other way to see it or say it.
First came the Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, Rusty Bowers. He was pressured repeatedly by the President of the United States and his lawyer, Rudy Guiliani, to do something he knew to be outside the power of the Speakership and far outside his own sense of right and wrong. He was asked to conspire with these two men, one of whom had just lost his reelection as president, to set up an illegal scheme to use the Arizona House of Representatives to throw out the electoral votes which had been awarded to Joe Biden, who won in Arizona, and give them instead to Donald Trump, who lost.
Mr. Bowers asked Giuliani and Trump repeatedly for proof of the election fraud they said had occurred in the state – that hundreds of thousands of ineligible immigrants had voted in the election, along with more than 5,000 “dead people.” Bowers asked them for the names of these illegal and dead voters and how Trump and Giuliani knew who they had voted for. His point was sly, but ingenious: even if these ineligible and dead people had voted, how did Giuliani and Trump know who they had voted for, because their votes could have gone to either candidate. Congressman Adam Schiff Bowers asked if he ever received the “proof” promised by Trump and Giuliani, “during the phone calls, after, or until this day.”
“Never,” Bowers answered.
Bowers told Trump and Giuliani their theories were “foreign to me” and that he would need to consult with lawyers for the House of Representatives. “I said, ‘Look, you are asking me to do something that is counter to my oath,’ ” Bowers testified. “I will not do it.”
Later in his testimony, Bowers described the pressure campaign, intimidation, harassment, and threats he experienced from Trump supporters after he had failed to go along with the conspiracy to throw the election. Protestors showed up at his home repeatedly screaming through bullhorns and showed posters calling him a pedophile and filmed his home and threatened his neighbors. At one point, an apparent member of the “Three Percenters” threatened his neighbor and yelled at him as he wore a firearm in a holster at his waist. Bowers left his house and went over to the neighbor’s. “When I saw the gun, I knew I had to get close.”
In his testimony, Bowers was close to tears as he described how his daughter, Kacey, was inside the house dying from a terminal illness as the madness raged outside. Later, Trump allies would attempt to recall Bowers from his office as an Arizona representative. They failed. Trump himself hasn’t given up on the harassment. This morning he put out a statement calling Bowers a “RINO” (Republican In Name Only) and claimed that Bowers in a phone call “told me the election was rigged and that I won Arizona.” Asked if that was accurate, Bowers replied that it was true Trump had called him, but said “that part of it” wasn’t true.
The next witnesses were all from Georgia: Brad Raffensberger, the Secretary of State: Gabe Sterling, the COO in Raffensberger’s office; and Shaye Moss, a Georgia election worker whom Trump accused, along with her mother, of committing fraud as they counted votes on election night. What all three had in common, it turned out, was how their dedication to doing their jobs had ended up subjecting them to threats of violence, public harassment, and attacks by the President of the United States.
Ms. Moss’ mother, Ruby Freeman, summed it up best when she testified in a video deposition with the Committee: “There is nowhere I feel safe. Nowhere,” Freeman said. “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. But he targeted me, Lady Ruby, a small-business owner, a mother, a proud American citizen who stood up to help Fulton County run an election in the middle of a pandemic.” The week before January 6, the FBI warned Freeman that she should leave her home “for safety.” Because of continuing threats and harassment from Trump allies, she stayed away for two months.
Moss described receiving a phone call from her grandmother, who was screaming and crying on the phone because a group of men had pushed their way into her house looking for Moss and her daughter Ruby Freeman, saying they were there “to make a citizens arrest.” “I have never seen my grandmother cry,” Moss said. “I just felt so helpless and so horrible for her,” Moss said, breaking down as her mother, seated behind her, dabbed her own eyes with a Kleenex.
Raffensberger described receiving hundreds of text messages threatening him after the phone call from Trump asking him to “find” enough votes for him to win the state of Georgia. His wife soon began receiving the same kinds of texts, “horrific and sexualized,” as Raffensberger described them. He said Trump supporters broke into the home of his dead son’s widow looking for evidence that Raffensberger was a “traitor.”
The entire hearing was difficult to watch. Two of the witnesses, Bowers and Raffensberger, were elected officials who wanted their jobs as public officials bad enough to run for office. Sterling was an appointed official, but Moss and her mother were merely state employees hired to make elections run efficiently and to help citizens with registering to vote.
“I’ve always been told by my grandmother how important it is to vote and how people before me, a lot of people, older people in my family, did not have that right,” Moss testified. “So what I loved most about my job were the older voters. They like to call. They like to talk to you. I was excited always about sending out all the absentee ballots for the elderly disabled people. I even remember driving to a hospital to give someone her absentee ballot application.”
None of that mattered to Trump. It didn’t matter to Trump that Bowers told him repeatedly that what he was asking of him would cause him to violate his oath to the Constitution. It didn’t matter that Bowers considered the Constitution “divinely inspired” and a part of his faith.
What mattered to Trump was winning. If he couldn’t win reelection by getting more votes than his opponent, Trump would win by cheating, and in order to cheat, he had to pressure people to go along with his plans, and if they wouldn’t cave into his pressure, Trump unleashed his minions to send thousands of threatening text messages, to intimidate and drive people from their homes, to show up at their doorsteps armed with weapons, and break into their homes even when some of them, like Moss’s grandmother and the widow of Raffensberger’s son, were in no way personally involved in anything having to do with the election.
But what mattered today was something more than power. It was on display in that hearing room in the faces and voices of four very, very brave people. Bowers may have been speaking for all them when after the hearing was over, he told the Washington Post, “They can beat me, but they’re not going to bully me.”
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