At Jan 6 Capitol riot hearing, election officials tell of harassment by Trump supporters

(From left) Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Georgia Secretary of State COO Gabriel Sterling taking their oaths at the hearing on June 21, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US state election officials on Tuesday (June 21) recounted how supporters of Mr Donald Trump threatened, insulted and harassed them, sometimes turning up at their homes, after they refused to help the former president overturn his 2020 election defeat.

The congressional committee investigating the deadly Jan 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters heard how a flood of calls and e-mail messages paralysed operations of the Arizona House of Representatives speaker's office.

"We excess of 20,000 emails and tens of thousands of voice mails and texts, which saturated our offices and we were unable to work, at least communicate," Speaker Rusty Bowers told the US House of Representatives Select Committee.

The committee shifted its focus on Tuesday to the Republican's pressuring of state officials as he sought to remain in the White House despite losing the November 2020 presidential election.

It was the fourth of at least six public hearings that the committee is holding this month on its nearly yearlong investigation of the attack, which took place as vice-president Mike Pence met with members of Congress to formally certify Mr Trump's defeat by Democrat Joe Biden.

The committee's seven Democrats and two Republicans have used the hearings to build their case that Mr Trump's efforts to overturn his defeat amounted to illegal conduct, far beyond normal politics.

Much of Tuesday's testimony tied the president directly to the pressure campaign, including an effort to replace state electors with officials expected to support Mr Trump's efforts to reverse the election outcome.

Mr Bowers said the harassment had continued in the weeks before the Capitol riot, with demonstrations at his house, an armed man who confronted his neighbour and other threats and insults that continued even when his daughter was gravely ill. She died in January 2021.

"It was disturbing, it was disturbing," Mr Bowers - who had campaigned for Mr Trump in 2020 and said he had wanted him to be re-elected - testified, his voice breaking.

At a raucous rally on Jan 6, Mr Trump urged supporters to march on the Capitol. He had seized on that date, when Mr Pence was to certify the election, as a last-ditch chance to hold onto the White House despite his loss at the polls.

Mr Bowers described conversations with Mr Trump and his close aides including his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and adviser John Eastman, who urged Mr Bowers to reject the election results.

"You're asking me to do something against my oath and I will not break my oath," Mr Bowers said, recounting a conversation with Mr Giuliani.

The committee also played audio and video recordings in which close Trump associates - and the president himself - urged state officials to reject the election results.

Georgia Secretary of State, Mr Brad Raffensperger, and Mr Gabriel Sterling, chief operating officer at the Georgia Secretary of State's office, described false allegations that Mr Trump and his supporters made about the vote in their state, including charges that thousands of dead or underage people had voted.

Mr Raffensperger said the state had conducted nearly 300 investigations into the allegations and found nothing wrong.

"Every single allegation we checked. We ran down the rabbit trail to make sure our numbers were accurate," he said.

The committee also heard from Ms Wandrea ArShaye Moss, a former Georgia state election worker who filed suit over threats - including racist threats - to herself, her mother and her grandmother, after Mr Trump targeted her by name following Mr Biden's win in her state in the presidential election.

"It has turned my life upside down," Ms Moss said.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation told Ms Moss' mother, Ms Ruby Freeman, to leave her home because of the threats.

"There is nowhere I feel safe. Nowhere. 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 target one," Ms Freeman said in videotaped testimony.

"But he targeted me, Lady Ruby, a small business owner, a mother, who stood up to help Fulton County run an election in the middle of the pandemic."

Reuters first reported the details of the ordeal that Ms Moss and Ms Freeman endured in December, when they described threats of lynching and racial slurs, along with alarming visits by strangers to their homes.

Mr Trump called Mr Raffensperger on Jan 2, 2021, telling Georgia's top election official in a recorded conversation to "find" enough votes for him to win Georgia. Mr Raffensperger has remained a frequent target of Mr Trump's criticism.

Mr Raffensperger nonetheless held off a Trump-backed challenger, Republican House member Jody Hice, to win the Republican Party's primary last month as he ran for re-election.

Mr Trump has denied wrongdoing, while repeating false accusations that he lost only because of widespread fraud that benefited Mr Biden.

Mr Trump and his supporters - including many Republican members of Congress - dismiss the Jan 6 panel as a political witch hunt, but the panel's backers say it is a necessary probe into a violent threat against democracy.

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