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Jan. 6 hearing lays out efforts directed at state officials to void election results

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's getting harder by the day to frame the January 6 hearings as partisan. At each hearing, the strongest testimony comes from Republicans. Some say openly that defeated President Donald Trump had no evidence of election fraud in 2020. Many resisted his effort to overturn his obvious defeat. And that got them death threats and harassment. Yesterday's witnesses included the conservative Republican speaker of the Arizona House, who says he considers the Constitution to be divinely inspired. He says Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, asked him to violate the Constitution because he is Republican. Here's how he answered.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RUSTY BOWERS: You're asking me to do something against my oath, and I will not break my oath.

INSKEEP: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is here. Mara, good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What do you make of these witnesses?

LIASSON: I think you're right. We heard from the rare Republicans who stood up to Trump publicly, not just criticized him behind closed doors. We heard testimony from familiar faces like Georgia's secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, and his deputy, Gabriel Sterling. But I think you're right. The standout witness was Rusty Bowers, who you just heard from, the Arizona House speaker, who talked about how Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, tried to get him to reconvene the state legislature in order to overturn Biden's win in Arizona and retract the electors that were chosen to vote for him. He also recalled that at one point, Giuliani said to him that they have a lot of theories about election fraud, but no evidence. And I think Trump would say that Bowers was from central casting. He was ramrod straight. He was a rock-ribbed conservative. He saw his duty to the Constitution in religious terms. He spoke very emotionally. He actually was asked to read a passage from his personal journal from 2020. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BOWERS: 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.

LIASSON: He went on to say, how could I ever approach Him, God, only to show myself a coward?

INSKEEP: What happened to that official and election officials who did their jobs?

LIASSON: They got a lot of death threats. The committee heard yesterday - in addition to Bowers, they heard from two election workers from Georgia, Shaye Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman. They had to go into hiding. They had to deal with an onslaught of violent, racialized death threats, including one that said, you're lucky it's 2020, not 1920. That was a clear reference to lynching. But Shaye Moss talked in really vivid terms about how their lives have been ruined.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHAYE MOSS: I no longer give out my business card. I don't transfer calls. I don't want anyone knowing my name. I don't want to go anywhere with my mom because she might yell my name out over the grocery aisle or something. I don't go to the grocery store at all. I haven't been anywhere at all.

LIASSON: And the most significant thing is she said - Shaye Moss said, no - not a single local election official who worked with her is still on the job. She left her job. And that's really at the heart of the threat to democracy that the committee is trying to lay out, that what Trump and his allies set out to do has succeeded in many states - drive out the people, nonpartisan civil servants, who work in the voting apparatus and replace them with their own loyalists.

INSKEEP: So Mara, if honest people - honest Democrats, honest Republicans, people trying to fill nonpartisan roles - are being shoved out of the way, who's on their way in?

LIASSON: Well, in many cases, it's going to be people who embrace Trump's election lies. About a hundred candidates who ran on the lie that the election was stolen from Trump have already won their Republican primaries. This is for federal and state offices, including secretaries of state, governor, AG, legislature. Now, Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state in Georgia who stood up to Trump, he is the exception that proves the rule. He won his primary against a Trump-backed opponent. But, you know, Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the committee, brought up a case from New Mexico a couple of weeks ago where a Republican commissioner refused to certify primary election results in a conservative county based on the same conspiracy theories about Dominion voting machines that we heard from Trump's team in 2020. And he said that his decision wasn't based on facts. It wasn't based on evidence. Quote, "it's only based on my gut feeling and my own intuition. And that's all I need."

INSKEEP: OK.

LIASSON: So this is the problem, you know? Election officials are the heart of democracy, and they're being driven out.

INSKEEP: I appreciate this repeated admission that there are no facts there at all. The hearings are putting this on display and on television. I know lots of people are watching, but does it matter?

LIASSON: Well, we don't know yet. It depends on how many people are listening, how many people are open-minded. But also, it depends on what the committee says is needed to stop this from happening again in the future. The committee keeps on saying that the threat isn't over, we can't just look backwards. But we're waiting to see what kind of reforms they will lay out.

INSKEEP: NPR's Mara Liasson. Thanks, as always.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.