By Jessie Seigel / Washington, D.C.
At press time today on Tuesday, June 28, all hell broke loose. At a sudden, newly scheduled January 6 House committee hearing, surprise witness Cassidy Hutchinson testified to Donald Trump’s out-of-control determination not only to incite the attack on the Capitol, but to lead it. Hutchinson, former top aide to Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, calmly and with poise testified to Trump’s demands that metal detectors be taken down so that his armed followers could attend his January 6 rally without the Secret Service disarming them. Trump said that he didn’t care that they had weapons because they weren’t there to hurt him.
Hutchinson also told of the former president’s physical attack on his Secret Service agents when, for his safety, they refused to let him lead the armed mob to the Capitol. Not to mention the apparently more common unstable presidential tantrums, thrown dishes, and ketchup dripping down walls.
These revelations are so dramatic—and so incriminating—that, in the moment, they could overshadow the revelations from the hearings preceding them last week. But it is important to understand the manipulations by which Trump and his minions tried to overthrow the government—the ones that failed, leading him to take even more extreme measures, including the threat to Vice President Mike Pence’s life, and the lives of those in Congress. These were set out masterfully by the committee last Tuesday and Thursday, as detailed below.
That scheme was to have swing states send fake Trump electoral slates to Vice President Mike Pence, who would then count them, thereby installing Trump as president. Or—if that werenot possible—at least to create a battle in the joint session of Congress over competing Trump and Biden slates, thus causing sufficient chaos so that the electoral vote count for Biden could not be completed on January 6. This would have delayed the transition of power and left room for Trump to retain control of the government indefinitely. As MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow reasoned in analyzing last week’s hearings, everything else Trump and his minions did was geared toward getting that plot to work.
The Plot and DOJ’s Resistance
The key to the scheme’s success was creating fake electoral slates in numerous states and persuading those states’ officials to substitute them for the Biden electoral slates. In this nefarious endeavor, Trump targeted every level of government from top to bottom—from the vice president down to local election workers. As revealed by the committee’s evidence, he worked with and directed the Republican National Committee and others to organize the effort.
Trump also tried every which way to get the Justice Department (DOJ) to legitimize his lies—including repeated attempts to get the DOJ to call the election corrupt, to appoint a special counsel to investigate alleged election fraud and, finally, to send a letter to Georgia and five other state legislatures urging them to consider altering their election results.
The DOJ draft letter to Georgia claimed that the DOJ’s investigations had “identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple states, including the state of Georgia.” It also said: “In light of these developments, the department recommends that the Georgia General Assembly should convene in special session” and consider approving a new slate of electors. The letter suggested that a separate (fake) slate of electors supporting Trump had already been transmitted to Washington, D.C.
Having determined that there was no fraud—not to mention that the Justice Department had no legal authority to intrude on the states’ determinations—the DOJ refused to send the letter.
Because Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen refused to do his bidding, Trump attempted to replace him with an obscure DOJ Civil Division attorney, Jeffrey Clark, who was willing to send the illegal letter out to the states.
As Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson put it, this would have “put the full weight of the Justice Department behind the effort to overturn the election.”
Trump’s effort to put Clark in charge of the Justice Department came to a head on Sunday, January 3, 2021, two days before the January 6 attack, when all the President’s other avenues for stopping the ceremonial count for Biden had been foiled. If Trump had succeeded in putting Clark in charge on January 3, and the letter had been sent, it could have been used as official justification for the attempted political coup planned for two days later.
But the leaders of the DOJ—then Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue—scurried to meet with Trump that Sunday. Rosen got White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to set up the meeting, which also included Steve Engel, Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel in the Trump Administration, and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone.
Before the meeting, Donoghue set up a conference call with assistant attorneys general (AAGs), explained the situation, and all those in the meeting agreed that if Rosen was fired, they would resign en masse.
At the meeting, both Donoghue and Engel told Trump to his face that if he fired Rosen in favor of Clark—who had no skills or experience appropriate to the role of attorney general, and who would put Trump’s illegal plan in play—they would, to a person, resign. Moreover, all the AAGs would resign, and many or most of the U.S. attorneys could well follow suit. They said that this would be bad both for Trump and the nation. It did not appear that concern for the nation would move Trump, but Steve Engel of the Office of Legal Counsel, told the President that if he did this, the big story in the media would not be the contents of the letter but the fact that they all resigned. Therefore, Trump decided not to fire Rosen and install Clark in his place after all.
(On the morning of the June 23 hearing, at which these facts were aired, DOJ law enforcement, pursuant to its own criminal investigation, conducted a search of Clark’s home, and confiscated electronic records.)
Based on their in-person testimony under oath before the committee, Rosen, Donoghue, and Engel—all appointed to their positions under the Trump Administration—were instrumental in stopping this part of Trump’s plot.
Their testimony before the January 6 committee on June 23 was also devastating to Trump in another important way. Committee manager of the day, Illinois Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger, asked Donoghue, who had made notes of the meeting, how Trump responded to Rosen’s refusal to change the outcome of the election.
Donoghue reported that Trump said, “that’s not what I’m asking you to do. What I’m just asking you to do is say it was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican Congressmen.” Donoghue said this was an exact quote.
To which congressmen was Trump was referring? Who was in league with him? Could they have been Louie Gohmert, Andy Biggs, Paul Gosar, Matt Gaetz, and Mo Brooks, and Scott Perry, among others—who acted as Trump’s fraud propagandists and instigators of violence, and who later asked his administration for pardons?
But leave that question for now.
What did Trump do after his attempt to install Clark was thwarted?
He pulled two innocent local election workers, Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, and her mother, Ruby Freeman, out of obscurity and into harm’s way by repeatedly claiming that they were responsible for thousands of fake votes being counted for Biden in Georgia. Trump called them out by name—repeating Freeman’s name 18 times in one speech. In addition, Trump’s tipsy henchman, Rudy Giuliani, went down to Georgia, appearing before the Georgia legislature to show them a video he claimed was proof, but which actually showed only appropriate election activities.
This persecution of Moss and Freeman appears to have been Trump’s Hail Mary attempt to produce propaganda to justify the January 6 attack.
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
Georgia Secretary of State Raffensperger’s refusal to capitulate to Trump’s attempt to get him to “find” 11,780 votes is, at this point, well known. Raffensperger testified to the committee that his department investigated every single allegation raised and there was nothing substantial there: “They said that there was over 66,000 underage voters. We found that there was actually zero…They said that there was 2,423 nonregistered voters. There were zero. They said that there was 2,056 felons…We identified less than 74 or less that were actually still on a felony sentence. Every single allegation we checked, we ran down the rabbit trail to make sure that our numbers were accurate.”
When Raffensperger refused to go along with the utterly false fraud claims, Trump—who had power over the Justice Department—threatened Raffensperger with possible prosecution, saying: “the ballots are corrupt and you're going to find that they are — which is totally illegal…it's more illegal for you than it is for them. Because you know what they did and you're not reporting it. That's a — you know, that's a criminal — that's a criminal offense. And you know, you can't let that happen. That's — that's a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer. And that's a big risk.”
Raffensperger nevertheless stood firm. The punishment for his faithfulness to the law was getting his email and cell phone doxed. He testified that his wife received texts containing “sexualized attacks which were disgusting.” Raffensperger added, “They started going after her I think just to probably put pressure on me. Why don’t you just quit, walk away…and then some people broke into my daughter-in-law’s home and my son has passed and she’s a widow and has two kids. And so we’re very concerned about her safety also.”
Rusty Bowers, Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives told the committee of Rudy Giuliani’s attempts to persuade him that, based on the administration’s fraud allegations, he should get the Arizona legislature to substitute Trump slates for Biden slates: “He would say, aren't we all Republicans here? I — I would think we would get a better reception. I mean, I would think you would listen a little more open to my suggestions, that we're all Republicans.”
When Bowers repeatedly asked to be provided the evidence of fraud—specific names and how they voted—Giuliani claimed the proof would be provided, but it never was. Instead, in one of the many conversations in which Bowers raised his lack of legal authority to do what Giuliani was asking, Giuliani said “just do it and let the court sort it out.”
When Bowers did not comply, he was targeted by the Trumpists and apparently still is. Bowers said that, at home, they fear Saturdays because “various groups come by and they have had video panel trucks with videos of me proclaiming me to be a pedophile and a pervert and a corrupt politician and blaring loudspeakers in my neighborhood and leaving literature both on my property, and — but arguing and threatening with neighbors and with myself.” One person with three bars on his chest (a symbol of the Three Percenters anti-government militia), wearing a pistol, was vocally threatening his neighbor. In addition, Bowers noted, his daughter, who was gravely ill, was upset by what was happening outside.
But Bowers stood firm. Rep. Adam Schiff asked, given all the pressure, “Why did you feel, either in the absence of that evidence or with it, what they were asking you to do would violate your oath to the Constitution?”
Bowers replied, “…it is a tenet of my faith that the Constitution is divinely inspired, of my most basic foundational beliefs. And so, for me to do that because somebody just asked me to is foreign to my very being. I — I will not do it.”
At the end of his testimony, at Adam Schiff’s invitation, Bowers read a passage from his journal:
It is painful to have friends who have been such a help to me turn on me with such rancor. I may in the eyes of men not hold correct opinions or act according to their vision or convictions, but I do not take this current situation in a light manner, a fearful manner, or a vengeful manner. I do not want to be a winner by cheating. I will not play with laws I swore allegiance to. With any contrived desire towards deflection of my deep foundational desire to follow God's will as I believe He led my conscience to embrace. How else will I ever approach Him in the wilderness of life? Knowing that I ask this guidance only to show myself a coward in defending the course He let me take — He led me to take.
Most who saw this—including myself—were, in that moment, touched by the statement of this man who apparently was led by his conscience, and seemingly steered by a pure sense of right and wrong in the midst of the current great corruption.
Unfortunately, after the hearing, Bowers entirely erased this impression. Despite the depth of the corruption he faced and stood against, despite the destruction of American democracy Trump’s demands, if met, would have wrought, Bowers told AP: “If [Trump] is the nominee, if he was up against Biden, I’d vote for him again. Simply because what he did the first time, before Covid, was so good for the country. In my view it was great.”
This is equivalent to saying, if one lived in Germany in the 1930s: Hitler is a fascist monster who has destroyed German democracy—but I’m for him because he makes the trains run on time.
After that sort of compromise, I can’t help—with disappointment—see Bowers as just another rationalizing hypocrite, albeit of a slightly different stripe.
Trump’s attempts to subvert and destroy democracy are of the utmost importance to the nation. Nevertheless, in my view, the lowest, most vile act Trump and his minions committed was accusing Georgia election workers Wandrea “Shaye” Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman—ordinary, anonymous private citizens—of crimes they never committed in order to further his plot. He brought Trumpist rage down on them with no more consideration of the effect it would have on their lives than if they had been ants underfoot.
Trump used surveillance video of the vote count at the location where Moss and her mother had worked to falsely accuse them of processing “suitcases” full of fake ballots for Biden after most poll workers and election observers left. Trump’s henchman, Giuliani then posted about it on social media and the lie went out to millions of viewers.
There was no suitcase. There were only properly secured bins. In the video, Moss and her mother were merely doing their jobs. But they were harassed and put in danger to the point that, based on FBI advice, Freeman had to leave her home for two months. Two days before January 6, two people supposedly working for Trump ally Kanye West, came to Freeman’s house saying that people were going to come for her, and they had come to help. They claimed time was of the essence because in 48 hours something was going to happen to her, but if she “confessed” to processing fake ballots, someone important could help her. If not, she’d be arrested and sent to jail.
Fortunately, Freeman had the presence of mind to make them hold this conversation at the local police station, where it was, in part, filmed. But what was going to happen in 48 hours? The January 6 rally and invasion of the Capitol. And given the failure of his other efforts, what would Trump have considered essential to success? A confession that there had been election fraud in Georgia.
Moss testified in person to the ruinous effect on their lives. But her mother’s video testimony was the most chilling. Ruby Freeman said:
There is nowhere I feel safe. Nowhere. Do you know how it feels to have the President of the United States to 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 stands up to help Fulton County run an election in the middle of the pandemic.
As Adam Schiff then warned, “If the most powerful person in the world can bring the full weight of the Presidency down on an ordinary citizen who is merely doing her job with a lie as big and heavy as a mountain, who among us is safe?...Our democracy held because courageous people like those you heard from today put their oath to the Constitution above their loyalty to one man or to one party…The system held, but barely. And the question remains, will it hold again?... That we have lived in a democracy for more than 200 years does not mean we shall do so tomorrow.”
Fascism is on the march. It will not yield. Whatever ultimately comes out of the House hearings and the Department of Justice investigations—if DOJ’s ever come to fruition—these revelations are just the beginning of the fight to keep our democracy. But at least the battle has finally been joined.
Political columnist Jessie Seigel had a long career as a government attorney in which she honed her analytic skills. She has also twice received an Artist’s Fellowship from the Washington, D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities for her fiction, and has been a finalist for a number of literary awards. In addition, Seigel is an associate editor at the Potomac Review, a reviewer for The Washington Independent Review of Books, and a dabbler in political cartoons at Daily Kos. Of this balance in her work between the analytic and the imaginative, Seigel jokes, “I guess my right and left brains are well-balanced.” More on and from Seigel can be found at The Adventurous Writer, https://www.jessieseigel.com.