Editor’s Note: Charlie Dent is a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania who served as chair of the House Ethics Committee from 2015 until 2017 and chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies from 2015 until 2018. He is a CNN political commentator. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
Tuesday’s January 6 select committee hearing featured election administration officials who were berated by former President Donald Trump and his cluster of election denying confederates for refusing to abet in his attempt to steal the 2020 presidential election.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, his deputy Gabriel Sterling and Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers became famous to varying degrees for simply upholding their oaths of office and doing their jobs without fear or favor.
All three witnesses told their stories and acquitted themselves well during the hearing. They deserve special commendation for their devotion to duty, placing country above mindless partisanship in defense of democracy.
My experience with state and county election officials of either party, and throughout the 13 successful elections in which I participated as a candidate, was very positive. Election administrators typically conduct themselves as both clerks and referees.
As clerks, these administrators attempt to run a fair mail-in and Election Day operation, tally the votes, announce a winner and certify the results. As referees, in the event of a very close or contested outcome, they conduct recounts and mediate disputes between claims and arguments of competing campaigns. Election officials do not want problems and, most assuredly, have no desire to be the center of an election controversy.
A civil engineer, Raffensperger is the quintessential, professional election administrator who carried himself more like a civil servant than a partisan when he defended his office’s actions during the 2020 election. When Trump demanded Raffensperger to find him 11,780 votes to overturn the Georgia presidential election, the Secretary held his ground.
This conversation was recorded and revealed publicly in January 3, 2021. Trump even suggested Raffensperger would be committing a crime if he didn’t find the votes. The brazenness of Trump’s request was simply stunning.
If any other federal elected official would attempt to strong arm a state or county election official in a phone call to deliver votes overturning an election in which he was a candidate — and were such a conversation recorded and publicly revealed — that official would be on the receiving end of a criminal investigation by federal and state law enforcement. Full stop.
Gabriel Sterling, the chief operating officer in the Secretary of State’s office, debunked completely and authoritatively the false allegation that suitcases under the table were stuffed with tens of thousands of votes for Joe Biden.
Georgia election workers Wandrea “Shaye” Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, spoke compellingly about the harassment and attacks against them for simply doing their jobs during a pandemic. Their lives were turned upside down for doing their civic duty.
As Arizona House Speaker, Rusty Bowers refused Trump’s relentless pressure to recognize and appoint fake electors. A Trump supporter, Bowers’ testimony was compelling and powerful. He said he asked for evidence of fraud and received none. Other Republican state legislative leaders in Pennsylvania and Michigan faced and resisted similar presidential pressure to offer alternative or fake slates of electors in defiance of relevant state law.
Trump and his minions believed fervently that they could overturn state certified elections by having GOP controlled state legislatures offer alternative slates of presidential electors who would then vote for Trump in state capitols across America, and then deliver those results to the National Archives.
According to this tall tale, Congress would then certify these fake electoral votes, and Donald Trump would be re-elected. The gobsmacking audacity of this alleged scheme is breathtaking in its insanity, and possible illegality, unconstitutionality, and possible criminality. Perhaps Trump and his campaign thought no one would notice.
The bottom line from Tuesday’s hearing is these three state officials provided compelling testimony and evidence of a possible criminal attempt to steal the presidential election in the states of Georgia and Arizona.
The big question is what will the Department of Justice do with this information? Will anyone other than those who physically attacked the Capitol be held to account? Will the president be held accountable for inciting his supporters to attack Congress, in a hideous attempt to hold onto power? Will those who orchestrated the events leading up to January 6th be given a pass for their malign actions?
Absent prosecution of those responsible for organizing the conspiracy to overturn the 2020 presidential election and for inciting the violent mob on January 6, a future unscrupulous president might try again and succeed in a naked power grab to subvert the constitutional order and prevent the peaceful transfer of power.