Georgia will play big part in hearings on Jan. 6 attack

Georgia will have a starring role in congressional hearings that should provide new details of events that led to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The House select committee investigating the attack has focused on former President Donald Trump’s campaign to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia and other states. But key questions remain, including the extent of cooperation between Trump’s campaign and Georgia officials.

Answers may come in the hearings that begin Thursday night and continue in the weeks ahead. The committee will hear from Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger later this month. Former U.S. Attorney Byung “BJay” Pak, who was forced out of his post in Atlanta by Trump, also may appear as a witness.

Others whose testimony may be featured — in person or otherwise — include state GOP Chairman David Shafer, who aided Trump’s efforts to overturn the election, and Georgia tea party activist Amy Kremer, who helped organize the Washington rally that preceded the attack.

The hearings come as prosecutors in Atlanta and Washington investigate events leading up to the attack. Legal experts say details uncovered by the House might aid prosecutors who will decide whether to press charges against Shafer and fake Trump presidential electors for their roles in Trump’s effort to overturn a free and fair election.

“At best, the people in Georgia are maybe innocent pawns,” Georgia State University law professor Clark Cunningham said. “But I think that needs to be tested. It’s not clear to me they deserve to claim that.”

Georgia 2020 election investigation

Between the Nov. 3 presidential election and Jan. 6, Georgia was at the center of the biggest election dispute of modern American history. AJC reporters worked day and night for months to capture the election results and multiple recounts, allegations of fraud, investigations, legislative hearings, lawsuits, protests, rallies, press conferences. Here are stories from our ongoing coverage.

Thursday’s hearing comes 17 months after hundreds of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol following a rally at which the president urged them to “fight like hell.” The attack sent elected officials scrambling for safety and delayed certification of Biden’s victory for hours.

Some 140 police officers were injured, and several people died during or immediately after the attack. More than 725 people have been arrested, most of them charged with entering or remaining in a restricted federal building or grounds. Hundreds face more serious charges ranging from assaulting police officers to seditious conspiracy — a crime against the government.

The House committee has spent 10 months investigating the events that led to the attack, interviewing more than 1,000 people and gathering some 140,000 documents. Court records and news accounts indicate the investigation has focused on Trump’s efforts to overturn the election — a campaign that critics say culminated in the Jan. 6 attack.

The broad outlines of Trump’s campaign are already known. He claimed Democrats stole the election through voting fraud, though experts dismissed his evidence and numerous investigations have refuted his fraud claims.

ExploreFive fraud claims: What investigators found

Undeterred, Trump pursued several strategies to stay in power. He and his supporters filed some 60 lawsuits challenging election results in Georgia and other swing states. None succeeded in overturning the election.

In Georgia, Trump pressured Gov. Brian Kemp, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and others to overturn Biden’s victory. Most famously, he urged Raffensperger to “find” the 11,780 votes he needed to beat Biden.

As congressional certification of Biden’s victory approached, Trump claimed Vice President Mike Pence could refuse to accept presidential electors from certain states that Biden won. As part of the strategy, his campaign asked legislators in Georgia and other states to submit “alternative” slates of presidential electors who would vote for Trump. That plan was rejected by legal experts from across the political spectrum and ultimately by Pence himself.

Finally, Trump tried to enlist the Justice Department to aid his campaign. Senior department officials resisted his efforts. But Trump demanded they oust Pak, the U.S. attorney in Atlanta, whom he accused of being a “Never Trumper.” Pak resigned on Jan. 4, 2021.

As he fought to overturn the election, Trump found plenty of help in Georgia, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation found. Shafer and other GOP officials filed lawsuits and organized the alternative electors.

Some Republican state legislators spread Trump’s false fraud allegations, filed lawsuits and tried to appoint alternative presidential electors. Then-state Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, traveled to Washington to help persuade members of Congress to reject Georgia’s official presidential electors on Jan. 6.

Republicans in Georgia’s congressional delegation also spread false fraud allegations. House committee testimony shows U.S. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Jody Hice attended a White House meeting to discuss Trump’s Electoral College scheme. And text messages obtained by the committee show Greene provided input on Trump’s game plan for Jan. 6.

ExploreInside the campaign to undermine Georgia’s election

Raffensperger and Shafer have testified to the House committee behind closed doors. Investigators also sought information from U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, who led a Capitol complex tour the day before the attack. Loudermilk says those on the tour did not participate in the attack.

On Thursday the committee will offer a summary of its findings, with more details to come in subsequent hearings. The hearing will include testimony from an Atlanta native, Caroline Edwards, who was the first police officer injured in the attack.

U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop hopes Georgians watch Thursday’s hearing.

“When it comes out in the hearings, I think it will be a very good opportunity for Americans to actually see what took place and what kinds of threats our democracy is faced with,” the Albany Democrat said. “So I’m anxious to hear the testimony and to ascertain what the facts are.”

U.S. Rep. Rick Allen plans to watch at least some of the hearing. The Augusta Republican wants the hearing to address whether U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser stood in the way of dispatching the National Guard to the Capitol to help quell the insurrection. He also wants the committee to discuss whether anyone directed U.S. Capitol Police to stand down while rioters breached the building.

“We’ve got a great police force here at the Capitol, but somebody told them, I guess, to just allow whatever happened to happen,” Allen said.

Legal experts expect evidence uncovered by the House to aid criminal investigations in Atlanta and Washington.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has convened a special grand jury to determine whether Trump’s phone call to Raffensperger broke any state laws, including those barring solicitation to commit election fraud. She’s also reviewing whether the false presidential electors or other Trump allies violated any laws.

The Justice Department also is investigating the presidential electors and has sought information about Shafer and other Georgia Republicans who participated in the scheme, The New York Times reported.

Some legal experts believe the Georgia Trump electors could be charged with election fraud and other crimes. They say a Trump campaign email that surfaced this week could strengthen the case.

The email directed the electors to operate in secret and to refrain from telling security guards why they were gathering at the Georgia Capitol. Experts say that’s an indication the campaign and the electors knew they were doing something wrong.

Norman Eisen, co-author of a Brookings Institution report that concluded Trump likely violated state and federal laws, expects more evidence to surface in the hearings.

“Now we will see the real live witnesses testifying in person. We’ll see others on video. We’ll see some of the 140,000-plus documents that have been unearthed,” Eisen said. “That will enable us to assess the full extent of the conspiracy that we discuss in our report.”

Staff writer Tamar Hallerman contributed to this article.

How to watch the Jan. 6 committee hearing

The hearing begins at 8 p.m. ET. All the major networks and cable news channels will carry the hearing live, except for Fox News. For commentary-free viewing, the best option is C-SPAN.

You can also stream the hearing live at C-SPAN.org, on most major news organizations’ websites, YouTube and on the Jan. 6 committee’s website at https://january6th.house.gov/legislation/hearings/06092022-select-committee-hearing.