WASHINGTON – Arizona Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, expressed concerns on the eve of Jan. 6 that Trump supporters would “go nuts” if Congress did not overturn the 2020 election results and asked House leaders for a safety plan for lawmakers.
“We also have, quite honestly, Trump supporters who actually believe that we are going to overturn the election,” Lesko said in a recording played Tuesday at a hearing of the Jan. 6 committee. “And when that doesn’t happen – most likely will not happen – they are going to go nuts.”
The committee also heard testimony that Arizona GOP Reps. Andy Biggs of Gilbert and Paul Gosar of Prescott were part of a White House meeting that discussed plans to have then-Vice President Mike Pence reject Electoral College votes of some states when Congress met on Jan. 6 to certify the election.
Requests for comment from the three Arizona lawmakers were not immediately returned Tuesday. But Biggs, who was subpoenaed in May to testify on his involvement in planning Jan. 6, has refused to comply with a committee that he has repeatedly called “illegitimate” and accused of being engaged in a “witch hunt.”
The three lawmakers were small parts of a nearly three-hour hearing in which committee members methodically laid out what they said was evidence of then-President Donald Trump’s role in inciting violence on Jan. 6, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol as the election was being certified.
That attack on the Capitol followed a Trump rally during which he urged the crowd to march on the Capitol. In the days leading up to it, he urged his followers in a tweet to “be there, it’s going to be wild.” The crowds that day quickly overwhelmed police, disrupted the election certification for hours as lawmakers fled for safety and ultimately left hundreds injured and seven dead in its wake.
Tuesday’s hearing, the seventh by the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, focused on Trump’s ties to the extremist groups, the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys that were among those storming the Capitol. It also looked at Trump’s efforts to pressure Pence to decertify the election.
The hearing included testimony from a member of that mob: Stephen Ayres, an Ohio father and former Trump supporter, said he came to Washington on Jan. 6 because he was influenced by social media and Trump’s tweets to believe the “big lie” that the election had been stolen. Ayres, who entered the Capitol with the mob on Jan. 6, has since pleaded guilty to a count of disruptive and disorderly conduct.
The committee also heard from Jason Van Tatenhove, the former spokesperson for the right-wing Oath Keepers, several leaders of which have been charged with seditious conspiracy for their part in the attack. Van Tatenhove eventually left the Oath Keepers, which he described to the committee as a dangerous militia.
Ayres and Van Tatenhove were the only witnesses at the hearing, the bulk of which consisted of committee members reading testimony and playing video and audio clips of witnesses who have been deposed by committee lawyers.
The Lesko audio was introduced by Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., who only identified it as a “recently released recording of a conversation that took place among Republican members in the U.S. Capitol on the eve of Jan. 6.” On it, Lesko says she is “very concerned” about the safety of House members – first raising what proved to be unfounded fears of antifa protesters, then saying Trump supporters could get out of control.
Murphy also cited the presence of Biggs and Gosar at a Dec. 21 private meeting at the White House with other conservative House members, Trump, Pence, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani. It was there that Trump and his allies pressured Pence to decertify the election when Congress met Jan. 6 based on a theory that White House Counsel Pat Cipollone called “nutty.”
Much of the hearing focused on the testimony of Cipollone, who was interviewed behind closed doors Friday. In a video of that interview, Cipollone repeatedly says Pence “didn’t have the legal authority” to overturn the election.
It was one of many administration schemes laid out by the committee, including asking Attorney General William Barr to seize voting machines from states and a draft executive order to have the military destroy the machines. Cipollone said seizing voting machines would be “a terrible idea for the country” and that there is “no legal authority to do that in the United States.”
While Pence ultimately bucked Trump and refused to reject the Electoral College votes, Biggs, Lesko and Gosar joined scores of House Republicans in an unsuccessful effort to reject electoral votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania, after the Capitol was secured and lawmakers were able to reconvene.
-Cronkite News reporter Neetish Basnet contributed to this report.