January 6 hearings: Officials feared for lives after Trump's election pressure, panel says

House committee member says subpoenaing former vice president Mike Pence is 'certainly a possibility'

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Donald Trump's relentless pressure to overturn the 2020 presidential election led to widespread personal threats against election workers and local officials who fended off his efforts, a congressional panel said on Tuesday.

The House of Representatives special committee heard emotional testimony from election workers who felt their lives were in danger after their personal information was published online following Mr Trump's defeat.

"Pressuring public servants into betraying their oaths was a fundamental part of the playbook,” the committee’s chairman, Bennie Thompson, said of Mr Trump and his allies.

"A handful of election officials in several key states stood between Donald Trump and the upending of American democracy.”

The committee has spent nearly a year investigating the deadly January 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol.

In a series of hearings outlining its findings, the panel has described how Mr Trump was responsible for fuelling the anger that led to the riot.

His pressure campaign on election workers was most intense in the state of Georgia, where Democrat Joe Biden narrowly won after years of Republican presidential.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his deputy, Gabriel Sterling, testified about becoming two of Mr Trump's top targets as he floated conspiracy theories and they refused to back down to his pressure.

The committee played audio of the call where Mr Trump asked the officials to “find 11,780” votes that could flip the state to prevent Mr Biden’s election victory.

“There were not votes to find,” Mr Raffensperger said.

He said he and his team went through “every single allegation” and down every “rabbit hole” that Mr Trump and his allies presented to state election officials.

But Mr Trump would not accept it. He told Mr Raffensperger that it could only be dishonesty or incompetence that they could not find the necessary amount of votes.

Competing against his lies was like a “shovel trying to empty the ocean", Mr Sterling said.

He said he could not convince even some of his own family members that the election outcome was valid.

The hearing also examined how Mr Trump’s threats put state officials in danger.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson described how her “stomach sunk” when she heard the sounds of protesters outside her home one night after the election when she was putting her child to bed.

She wondered if they had guns or were going to attack her house.

“That was the scariest moment,” not knowing what’s going to happen, Ms Benson said.

Another Michigan official, Senate majority leader Mike Shirkey, told the committee about receiving 4,000 text messages after Mr Trump published his phone number online.

Bryan Cutler, the Pennsylvania House Speaker, said his information was also revealed online, prompting protesters to show up at his house when his 15-year-old son was home alone.

Arizona’s Republican state House Speaker Rusty Bowers, who testified in person at the hearing, spoke about phone calls from Mr Trump and his allies asking him to decertify Arizona’s legitimate electors and replace them.

Mr Bowers said he repeatedly asked Mr Trump’s attorneys to show evidence of widespread fraud, but they did not provide any.

Mr Bowers said people stood outside his house with loudspeakers and said one man with a gun verbally threatened his neighbour.

He teared up as he spoke of his daughter, who he said was “gravely ill", and his wife becoming upset as people swarmed outside.

Witness Rusty Bowers, Arizona House Speaker, gets emotional as he answers questions. EPA

As the House of Representatives select panel focuses attention on what it says was an illegal scheme backed by Mr Trump to overturn the results of the 2020 elections, a poll shows most Americans believe the former president should face charges.

In three earlier hearings, Trump advisers said they had warned him of the illegality of trying to overturn Democrat Joe Biden's victory by persuading then vice president Mike Pence to block a normally pro forma process.

One committee member, Adam Schiff, told CNN on Sunday that calling in Mr Pence was “certainly a possibility”.

“We're not excluding anyone or anything at this point,” Mr Schiff said.

Mr Pence faced intense pressure from Mr Trump to break with history and refuse on January 6 to formally certify Mr Biden's victory.

But even after Trump supporters stormed the building, with some chanting “Hang Mike Pence”, he refused to leave the complex and returned to the Senate chamber late at night to carry out the certification.

Mr Trump remains as divisive a political figure as ever, inspiring furious loyalty among followers and great disdain from his critics.

The public's division came through starkly in a new ABC News/Ipsos poll about the committee's work.

The poll, taken on June 17 and 18, found that 58 per cent of Americans believed Mr Trump should be charged with a crime for his role in the January 6 events, up from 52 per cent in April.

But while nearly all Democrats said Mr Trump bore considerable responsibility for the January 6 riot, only a quarter of Republicans agreed.

And significantly, only 9 per cent of Americans said they were following the hearings very closely.

- News agencies contributed to this report.

Updated: June 24, 2022, 5:50 AM
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