That uncertainty was underscored this week when the Justice Department subpoenaed Georgia GOP Chairman David Shafer and attorney Brad Carver as part of its ongoing investigation of the events that led to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The pair participated in Trump’s plan to use “alternative” presidential electors to overturn Biden’s victory here — a scheme also under investigation by a Fulton County grand jury.
Key details of Trump’s plan — including the extent of cooperation between his campaign and the Georgia Republicans who aided him — have not been disclosed. Those details could determine whether anyone in Georgia faces criminal charges.
Some election experts say accountability for anyone who broke the law is key to preventing more violence and future attempts to overturn the will of voters.
“If there’s no consequences for what they did, we have to expect they might try to do it again,” said Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University. “And they might be more successful next time.”
The House select committee has spent nearly a year investigating the events that led to the Jan. 6 attack. On that day, hundreds of people stormed the Capitol, seeking to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s victory. The attack sent elected officials scrambling for safety and delayed the certification for hours.
Some 140 police officers were injured in the attack — including a Georgia native who testified at the first congressional hearing. More than 840 people have been charged with crimes ranging from impeding an official proceeding to assaulting police officers to seditious conspiracy.
The House committee has interviewed more than 1,000 people and collected some 140,000 documents during its investigation. Its five hearings to date have made a case that Trump’s scheme to overturn the election led to the attack.
The scheme hinged on allegations of rampant voter fraud in Georgia and a handful of other states Biden won. It created “alternative” slates of presidential electors in those states that would vote for Trump.
And it counted on former Vice President Mike Pence to reject the Biden electors on Jan. 6 and accept the Trump electors on the pretext that the election was stolen. Alternatively, Pence would delay congressional certification of the election to allow legislators in the contested states to appoint the Trump electors.
Every aspect of the scheme was dubious.
Numerous investigations have shown the election was not stolen – and testimony this month showed many of Trump’s advisors told him so.
The Trump electors had no legal standing and may have violated election fraud, forgery and other laws. Now they’re the subject of state and federal investigations. Georgia GOP officials have not responded to requests to comment on the congressional hearings or this week’s subpoenas.
Legal experts across the political spectrum say Pence had no authority to reject the Biden electors or suspend congressional action. Once again, recent testimony showed Trump’s advisors knew the scheme was illegal.
Finally, legal experts and judges say state legislators had no authority to decide the election after the fact. But some Georgia lawmakers went to extraordinary lengths to do so — spreading false fraud allegations and seeking to persuade their colleagues to overturn Biden’s victory.
The consequences of the effort were devastating for election workers falsely accused of voting fraud.
Fulton County election worker Wandrea “Shaye” Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, were featured in the notorious State Farm Arena video that Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani called a “smoking gun” for fraud. Among other things, he accused the pair of passing around USB drives full of votes “as if they’re vials of heroin and cocaine.
“I mean, it’s obvious to anyone who’s a criminal investigator or prosecutor they are engaged in surreptitious illegal activity,” Giuliani told Georgia lawmakers.
The claim was false. State and federal investigators reviewed the video, interviewed election workers and determined they did nothing wrong. And the USB drive? Moss testified it was a ginger mint.
But Trump and his allies kept repeating false claims about the video, and Moss and Freeman were besieged by death threats. Someone tried to barge into Moss’ grandmother’s house to make a “citizens’ arrest.” Moss gave up her election job. Freemen went into hiding.
“There is nowhere I feel safe. Nowhere,” Freeman testified. “Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States target you?”
Freeman and Moss have filed defamation lawsuits against Giuliani and some right-wing news sites for spreading false claims about them. One America News Network already has settled.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger told the committee his wife received threatening texts, and someone broke into their daughter-in-law’s home. Gabriel Sterling, Raffensperger’s top deputy, testified that a threat against another worker prompted his famous call for Trump to “stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence.”
The committee cited the Georgia testimony as evidence that Trump was aware of the threat of violence as he tried to cling to power. Committee members said that threat isn’t over, citing the potential for more violence as Trump continues to claim the election was stolen.
Surveys consistently show most Republicans believe him. That does not bode well for the stability of future American elections, according to University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock.
“What we’ve got here is a situation where, if your person didn’t win, (you believe) there was cheating,” Bullock said. He called that dynamic “the biggest threat to our government and our way of life, politically, since the Civil War.”
Though investigations continue, public officials and others are considering ways to prevent future efforts to overturn valid elections. For starters, Congress is considering legislation that would make it more difficult to challenge Electoral College results.
Experts said accountability for Trump and those who aided him also will be key. They said accountability could come from criminal charges or from the disbarment of lawyers involved in the scheme.
But some say lasting change will have to come from Republican politicians and voters. David Becker, founder of the Center for Election Innovation & Research, called on more Republicans to be like Raffensperger and tell their constituents the truth — that the election wasn’t stolen, Trump just lost.
Becker said Republicans like Raffensperger shouldn’t “be as lonely as they are.”