Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Donald Trump was the most powerful man in the world. But he was also a paranoid fanatic who didn’t care how his lies ruined people’s lives.
That was the photo of the former US president that came into focus with astonishing clarity Tuesday during the congressional committee hearing investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.
Related: Jan 6 Hearings: State Officials Testify on Trump’s Pressure to Discredit Elections
Dead people, shredded ballots and a USB stick that was, in fact, a ginger coin were all part of the misleading election fraud story spread by Trump and his attorney Rudy Giuliani. They would have been as comical as flat-earthers, but because of the way they posed a danger to individual citizens as well as to American democracy.
“The president’s lie was and is a dangerous cancer on the body politic,” said commissioner Adam Schiff during the hearing on how Trump pressured state officials to reverse the results.
It was worth remembering that Trump once boasted that he passed a cognitive test by reciting the words “Person.” Female. Man. Camera. TV’, in the correct order. And that, according to the Washington Post, he made 30,573 false or misleading claims during his four-year presidency.
Even on Tuesday, he repeated the biggest lie of all. Just before the hearing, he made a statement alleging that the witness Rusty Bowers, the speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, told him that “the election was rigged and I won Arizona.”
Bowers, a Republican who had wanted Trump to win the election, told the committee that this was incorrect: “Everyone, anywhere, if I said the election was rigged, that wouldn’t be true.”
Bowers also recalled a conversation with Giuliani and attorney Jenna Ellis about voter fraud allegations in Arizona. In a sentence that reflected the president’s mindset, Giuliani reportedly said, “We have a lot of theories, but we just don’t have the evidence.”
It has turned my life upside down. I don’t want to go anywhere. I doubt everything I do
Wandrea ‘Shaye’ Moss
But the centerpiece of the big lie is Georgia, who narrowly lost Trump and became his all-consuming obsession with wild conspiracy theories.
The committee heard testimony from its Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, and his deputy Gabe Sterling, who noted that fighting Trump’s false statements was like a “shovel trying to empty the ocean.” I even had relatives with whom I argued about some of these things.”
The Cannon Caucus Room echoed Trump’s own voice from a 67-minute phone call with Raffensperger in which the president claimed the people of Georgia “know” he won the state with hundreds of thousands of voters.
Not true, Raffensperger finally told the committee, explaining that Trump had “fallen short.”
One by one Trump was heard making ridiculous claims without foundation. One by one, Raffensperger and Sterling calmly destroyed them.
The president was heard to claim that the votes were “in what appeared to be suitcases or briefcases, suitcases, but not in voter boxes.” Schiff asked, “Was it just the regular containers used by election workers?” Sterling testified: “They are standard ballot papers that can be stamped so that they are tamper-proof.”
Trump continued during the conversation: “But they dropped a lot of votes there late at night. You know that, Bram.” Raffensperger told the committee, “No additional ballots were accepted after 7 p.m..”
The president insisted, “And the other, dead people. So dead people voted and I think the number is close to 5000 people. And they went to obituaries. They have used all kinds of methods to come up with an accurate number and a minimum is around 5,000 voters.”
Raffensperger noted, “No, it’s not right… We found two dead people when I wrote my letter to Congress dated January 6, and then we found two more. That’s one, two, three, four people, not 4,000.”
Even more sinister, Trump claimed election workers had shredded ballots, “a criminal offense” that could endanger Raffensperger. “So look. All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, that’s one more than we have because we won the state.”
Raffensperger told the hearing, “What I knew is we had no voices to find.”
Tuesday’s hearing made it clear how the big lie on January 6, 2021 has caused much pain far beyond Washington. Trump told Raffensperger during the call, “When you’re talking about no crime, I think it’s very dangerous for you to say that.”
The Georgia Secretary of State took this as a threat. Sure enough, his family was targeted by Trump supporters.
“My email, my cell phone was doxxed and I was getting texts all over the country and eventually my wife started getting texts. Hers mostly came in as sexualized texts that were disgusting… They started behind going on with her, I guess, just to probably pressure me, ‘Why don’t you stop and walk away.’”
He was far from alone.
In a statement, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson spoke of how her “stomach sank” when she heard the sounds of protesters outside her home one night as she put her child to bed. She wondered if they had guns or would attack her house. “That was the scariest moment,” Benson said.
But no story illustrated the harshness of Trump’s attack better than Georgian election officials Wandrea “Shaye” Moss and her mother Ruby Freeman, two African-American women described by committee chair Bennie Thompson as “unsung heroes” of democracy.
Giuliani accused the couple of passing a USB stick to each other; Moss told the committee that her mother had actually given her a ginger mint. With astonishing ferocity, Trump was heard in a phone call describing Freeman as “a professional voice trickster and swindler”.
It was false, but it sparked an onslaught of racial hatred from Trump supporters. Moss, nervous and at times trembling, recalled: “Many threats wishing me death. If you tell me that, you know I’ll be in jail with my mom and say things like, “Be glad it’s 2020 and not 1920.”
Moss, who left her position, added in a heartbreaking testimony: “It has turned my life upside down. I no longer give out my business card. I don’t forward calls. I don’t want anyone to know my name. I have gained about 60 kilos. I just don’t do anything anymore. I don’t want to go anywhere. I doubt everything I do.”
Her mother Ruby Freeman said in a statement: “I’ve lost my name and I’ve lost my reputation. I’ve lost my sense of security – all because a group of people…scapegoat[ed] me and my daughter, Shaye, to spread their own lies about how the presidential election was stolen.”
At the end of his appeal to Raffensperger, Trump could be heard saying, “It will take a while, but let the truth come out.”
Now the truth is finally coming out, but not the one occupying his fantasies.