Trump was told overturning Georgia election was illegal; he tried anyway

WASHINGTON — A campaign rally in northwest Georgia on Jan. 4, 2021, was supposed to be about turning out Republican voters ahead of the U.S. Senate runoffs. But then-President Donald Trump used his speaking time to encourage his vice president to overturn Joe Biden’s general election victory.

Falsely stating Biden had won fraudulently, Trump said he wanted Vice President Mike Pence to reject the Democrat’s electoral votes during a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, 2021.

“I hope Mike Pence comes through for us. ... He’s a great guy,” the president told the crowd. “Of course, if he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him quite as much.”

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol highlighted these remarks during its hearing Thursday, saying they showed the intense pressure Pence faced to overturn the election.

The committee says even as Trump made those remarks on Jan. 4 and in the following days leading up to the Capitol attack, he knew that Pence could not help him reverse Biden’s win. Although Trump and his allies had promoted a plan to reject electors in Georgia and other contested states and replace them with an alternate slate backing Trump, legal scholars and advisers had told the president it was illegal.

Still, the plan was pushed heavily by Trump attorneys, including John Eastman.

Eastman argued that Pence had the authority to reject the official electors in Georgia and other states Biden won. Alternatively, Eastman argued Pence could suspend the joint session of Congress and allow legislators in the disputed states to determine for themselves who really won the presidential election.

During Thursday’s hearing, the committee heard from an attorney for Pence and a former judge who advised him that Eastman’s theory was preposterous. Other advisers to Pence and Trump agreed.

But Trump found plenty of people in Georgia willing to go along with the plan. The Georgia Republican Party convened a slate of “alternative” electors at the state Capitol, and a group of GOP legislators sought a special session at which they could appoint the Trump electors.

Pence, however, was resolute. And when Trump posted on Twitter on Jan. 6 that “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage” to overturn the election, the committee said, the violence at the Capitol ignited.

Georgia likely will continue to be featured in future hearings. The next meeting will include testimony about Trump’s efforts to pressure lawmakers in Georgia and other states to overturn the election. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his top deputy, Gabe Sterling, are expected to appear before the committee, although it is unclear if that will happen Tuesday.