Bowers: Trump efforts to overturn election devolved to ‘tragic parody’

(Video by Daisy Gonzalez-Perez/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers told lawmakers investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection Tuesday about the Trump campaign’s persistent, and increasingly questionable, efforts to pressure state officials into overturning the 2020 elections.

But Bowers testified that he repeatedly rebuffed Trump campaign officials, who he said were never able to produce evidence for the claims they were making and that he refused to violate his oath of office by interfering with a legitimate election.

“You are asking me to do something that is counter to my oath when I swore to the Constitution to uphold it,” Bowers said he told Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney. “And I also swore to the Constitution and the laws of the state of Arizona.”

His hourlong testimony was followed by Georgia election officials, part of a carefully orchestrated hearing before the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack.

The committee used the hearing to lay out former President Donald Trump’s efforts to pressure state officials to overturn the election, through now-discredited claims and legal theories from shortly after the election right up until Jan. 6. Those claims, amplified by Trump, often led to harassment and threats, the witnesses said.

For Bowers, at least, the discredited claims continued right up until the start of Tuesday’s hearing, when Trump released a statement attacking Bowers’ decision to “play along with the Unselect Committee” and claiming that Bowers told him in November 2020 that “the election was rigged and that I won Arizona.”

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Bowers flatly denied the claim when asked by Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.

“Anywhere, anyone, anytime has said that I said the election was rigged, that would not be true,” he said.

In response to questions from Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., Bowers, who has called himself a conservative, pro-Trump Republican, said he voted for Trump in 2020 and wanted him to win.

But Bowers also said that President Joe Biden won Arizona in 2020.

Other witnesses included Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, whom Trump asked in a now-infamous call on Jan. 2, 2021, “to find 11,780 more votes,” one more than Biden’s margin of victory in Georgia.

For Bowers, the calls with Giuliani and Trump included claims that hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants and thousands of dead people had voted in the election. Bowers said he repeatedly asked for any proof of those allegations, and Giuliani repeatedly promised to provide it, but “no one provided me with such evidence.”

Bowers said those claims of election fraud were repeated at an unofficial meeting between state GOP lawmakers, Giuliani and another Trump attorney, Jenna Ellis. Bowers said he and other lawmakers, some of whom “aggressively” questioned Giuliani’s allegations, again demanded evidence, but the Trump lawyers were not able to provide it.

“He (Giuliani) said we’ve got lots of theories, we just don’t have the evidence,” Bowers told the committee.

Even without the evidence, the Trump White House still pressed Arizona lawmakers to move to remove the electors for Biden and replace them with Trump electors, claiming legal authority that Bowers said was “totally foreign” to him. He said he “would never do anything of such magnitude without deep consultation with qualified attorneys.”

Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Georgia elections official Gabriel Sterling, from left, are sworn in for their testimony to the House Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack. (Photo courtesy Select Committee on Jan. 6)

After that meeting, Bowers released a statement in December maintaining his refusal to overturn Arizona’s election, saying he “cannot and will not entertain a suggestion that we violate current law to change the outcome of a certified election.”

But that was not the end of the effort. Another Trump adviser, John Eastman, called Bowers to argue that the Legislature had the authority to decertify the slate of Biden electors “and let the courts sort it out.”

A group of Arizona Republicans, including GOP Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward and Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Tucson, eventually tried to claim that they were alternate electors from the state, and sent bogus documentation to Washington claiming as much. Both Ward and Finchem were subpoenaed by the committee this spring for their role in the insurrection and the fake electors scheme.

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Bowers also testified Tuesday that he was contacted by Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, on the morning of Jan. 6 – the day Congress was set to certify the Electoral College vote for Biden. He said Biggs asked him to sign a letter and/or support decertification of Arizona electors, which he said he would not do.

A request for comment from Biggs’ office Tuesday was not immediately returned.

Bowers told the committee he was not aware that the fake electors had met in Phoenix on Dec. 14 to cast votes for President Trump, after a video about that meeting was played. Asked for his reaction, Bowers said, “Well, I thought of the book, ‘The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.’ And I just thought, this is a tragic parody.”

Bowers, like the other witnesses, said his family and his staff have been subject to harassment and threats in the face of Trump’s attacks on them. He said his office was unable to function because it was “saturated” with tens of thousands of emails, voicemails and texts, and protesters regularly appear at his house with panel trucks “proclaiming me to be a pedophile, a pervert and a corrupt politician” and threatening neighbors and him.

But Bowers also read a journal entry, in which he said that while it has been painful to have friends turn against him, he “would not take the 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,” he said.

Tracy Abiaka TRAY-see Ah-"bee"-ah-kah (she/her/hers)
News Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Tracy Abiaka expects to graduate in December 2022 with a master’s degree in mass communications. Abiaka has been a research assistant for the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism at ASU and an editorial intern for Phoenix Business Journal.

News Broadcast Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Daisy Gonzalez-Perez expects to graduate in December 2022 with a master’s degree in mass communication. Gonzalez has reported on migration in Tapachula, Mexico, and interned at The Recount in New York.