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Politics & Government

Two top Georgia election officials will appear at the next Jan. 6 hearing

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Two top Georgia election officials will appear Tuesday at the next hearing of the House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Their appearances underscore the outsized role Georgia has played in these public hearings, and they come as the state is again in a highly charged election year. Georgia Public Broadcasting's Stephen Fowler joins us this morning to discuss. Hey, Stephen.

STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: Hey, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So who are these two officials testifying? Are some of them the ones that we've seen on TV before?

FOWLER: Exactly. The officials are Brad Raffensperger, who's the secretary of state, and his top deputy, Gabriel Sterling. They'll talk about one of former President Trump's brazen efforts to overturn the 2020 election that he lost. Now, Raffensperger famously rebuffed Trump's pressure to, quote, "find enough votes to reverse his narrow defeat." And Sterling was a frequent figure on televised news conferences, debunking false claims of fraud and fellow Republicans' attacks on election workers.

Now, I've been told we also might hear from a Fulton County election worker, Shaye Moss, who faced death threats and harassment after far-right media outlets, Trump and people within his orbit accused her of illegally altering election results. She received a Profile in Courage Award from the John F. Kennedy Library.

RASCOE: So why does the select committee want to hear from them?

FOWLER: Well, Tuesday's committee hearing is expected to highlight the pressure campaign that Trump and his allies exerted on local elections officials in Georgia and other states to reverse these presidential election results. And it comes on the heels of Thursday's hearing that outlined attempts to get former Vice President Mike Pence to reject the Electoral College results.

Now, Raffensperger and others have also provided hours of testimony privately to the committee, including discussion of the unprecedented call from Trump leaked to GPB and others. Gabriel Sterling has also spoken at length about threats election workers have faced and again debunked tons of claims about Georgia's voting system. This also follows testimony of former U.S. attorney in Atlanta, B.J. Pak. He abruptly resigned about the same time as Trump's call to Raffensperger because Trump was going to fire him for not finding fraud in Georgia.

RASCOE: Isn't there another investigation of note that's happening in Georgia along these same lines?

FOWLER: Absolutely. The Fulton County district attorney, which is where Atlanta is, has convened a grand jury to look into Trump's efforts to overturn the election. They're trying to find out if Trump and others violated several state laws in their efforts to overturn the election. Raffensperger testified in front of that panel for about four hours recently. There's a number of other witnesses giving their testimony about things like threats, hearings, what false claims of fraud were given to lawmakers, and, of course, Trump's call.

RASCOE: So can you bring us up to speed on another aspect of the January 6 investigation related to Georgia? There's this question about Georgia Congressman Barry Loudermilk giving a tour of the Capitol complex. Like, why is there a focus on that?

FOWLER: So Loudermilk, who's a Republican, gave a tour the day before the attack on the Capitol that's raised questions for the select committee. This week, they released footage of a man on that tour taking photos of parts of the U.S. Capitol complex, quote, "not typically of interest to tourists, including hallways, staircases and security checkpoints." The committee also says at least one member of that tour was outside the Capitol on January 6 itself, taking video and making threats against top Democratic lawmakers. So some big questions they have - what was that person doing? Why were they taking photos and videos, and why were they outside of the Capitol on January 6?

Now, Ayesha, Loudermilk thus far has declined to cooperate with the committee's efforts to get more information. He said it's just a small group visiting their congressman and is in no way a suspicious activity. And he's - office released a number of violent threats he's been receiving in recent weeks that he blames the committee for.

RASCOE: So going back to Georgia before we go, Raffensperger, among others, is on the ballot so - in what's shaping up to be another really closely watched election this fall. Tell me about that.

FOWLER: Right. So Raffensperger did beat a Trump-backed primary challenger last month. His Democratic opponent will be decided in a runoff that's also on Tuesday. And there are other huge races on top of this ticket. Brian Kemp squares off against Stacey Abrams in a rematch for governor. Raphael Warnock is against Herschel Walker in a Senate race that could help decide control of that chamber yet again.

RASCOE: In the about a minute we have left, you know, you have Warnock going up against Herschel Walker. You mentioned that. Can you tell me a little bit about what's happening with that race?

FOWLER: Right. So Raphael Warnock won in January 2021 in a special election runoff that was actually hours before the January 6 insurrection. And he's running now for a full six-year term. And he's running against Republican Herschel Walker, who got into the race on Trump's behalf and at Trump's urging. And Herschel Walker is a legend in Georgia because he's a former Heisman Trophy-winning football player. And Walker easily beat his Republican primary field. He didn't skip - he didn't go to debates. He didn't go to that many events.

And there's a lot of news about Herschel Walker's past that's been coming out, even before the primary, that have people raising questions. This week, it includes false claims he made about being in law enforcement. And it was revealed that he has several additional children that he previously disclosed, which isn't necessarily a big deal, except for the fact that he's made frequent points criticizing absentee fathers in the Black community. So this race, Ayesha, is going to be one of the ones to watch because right now polling has it essentially tied.

RASCOE: That's Georgia Public Broadcasting's Stephen Fowler. Stephen, thank you so much.

FOWLER: Thank you.

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