State election officials this week described how Donald Trump and his allies relentlessly pressured them to help overturn President Biden’s election win—and the life-altering threats and harassment they suffered when they refused to break the law. In the fourth hearing held by the panel investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, Rusty Bowers, Republican speaker of Arizona’s House of Representatives, outlined how Trump attorney John Eastman pressed him to replace the state’s electors with a pro-Trump slate; when he said that would be illegal, Eastman told him, “Just do it and let the courts sort it out.” The cost of refusal was steep, said Bowers, who described Trump supporters repeatedly swarming his house, calling him a pedophile, and upsetting his terminally ill daughter. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who famously resisted the then-president’s insistence that he “find” 11,780 nonexistent Trump votes, testified about Trump supporters threatening his wife with sexual violence and breaking into the home of his widowed daughter-in-law.
An election worker from Georgia, Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, described facing a torrent of racist abuse after Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani claimed she and her mother had taken fake ballots from a suitcase and fed them into counting machines. Her mother had to leave her home after the FBI warned her of threats, and a distraught Moss became afraid to tell people her name. “It turned my life upside down,” said Moss. “There is nowhere I feel safe.”
The testimony followed a third hearing focused on Trump’s efforts to pressure Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to certify the electoral vote count on Jan. 6—a plot Trump was repeatedly told was illegal. The panel showed how angry mobs calling for Pence’s execution came within 40 feet of him on Jan. 6. J. Michael Luttig, a retired federal judge highly respected in conservative legal circles, said Trump’s bid to overturn the vote brought the nation to the edge of a “revolution within a constitutional crisis,” and that Trump and his allies are laying the groundwork to try again in 2024. They “are a clear and present danger to American democracy,” he said. “I don’t speak those words lightly.”
What the editorials said
The hearings “have been predictably partisan and acrimonious,” said National Review, but the committee has “done important work.” The Jan. 6 riot and Trump’s “Stop the Steal” effort were a dismal chapter in our history that must be documented for posterity. The “damning” evidence of Trump’s malfeasance makes clear “he shouldn’t hold any public office again.”
Attorney General Merrick Garland “must put Trump on trial,” said The Boston Globe. As the panel piles up evidence of his criminal wrongdoing, the need to hold him and his “cronies and sycophants” responsible “has never been clearer or more urgent.” If they’re allowed to “get by with nary a scratch after plotting an overthrow of the U.S. government,” it will send a dangerous message to future presidents that they can “get away with, quite literally, anything.”
What the columnists said
Moss’ searing testimony brought home the “human cost” of Trump’s campaign of deceit, said Sarah Longwell in The Bulwark. It was “infuriating” to hear her describe her grandmother’s terror when Trump acolytes pushed in her door, and to see Bowers tearing up when talking about the harassment his family endured because he “refused to betray his oath.” Republicans who supported Trump’s Big Lie should feel shame.
Trump has become an “albatross” for the GOP, said Rich Lowry in Politico. Republicans are “on the cusp of a midterm triumph” and primed to capitalize on the Biden administration’s “stumbles and left-wing overreach.” But they’re “stuck litigating the past” because of Trump’s depraved conduct and his continuing insistence that Republicans echo his “poisonous” lie that the election was stolen. The party needs to look to its deep bench of governors and senators for another 2024 presidential candidate and be freed from the need to “defend the indefensible.”
The committee’s work has made that more likely, said Juliette Kayyem in The Atlantic. By revealing Trump as a “desperate sore loser,” and showing former aides testifying against him, they’ve offered an “off-ramp” for sane Republicans. Trump’s critics may “yearn for a single blow of reckoning,” but “perhaps the threat he and his followers pose is best handled with a thousand cuts.”
As evidence mounts of Trump’s criminal wrongdoing, Merrick Garland faces a “momentous” choice, said former federal prosecutor Jack Goldsmith in The New York Times. Choosing not to prosecute Trump would signal that presidents are “literally above the law.” But Garland also knows that to indict a former president of the opposing party “would be a cataclysmic event from which the nation would not soon recover”—one that would “threaten to set off tit-for-tat recriminations across political administrations.” Whatever Garland decides will “have consequences beyond his lifetime.”
Cover illustration by Howard McWilliam.
Cover photos from AP, Reuters, Newscom