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Ariz. Speaker Rusty Bowers blocked Jan. 6 scheme to avoid being 'a winner by cheating'

·West Coast Correspondent
·5-min read
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Explaining Tuesday why he refused to succumb to a months-long pressure campaign by former President Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election, Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers — a longtime Republican who voted for Trump and has said he would again — told the House committee investigating Jan. 6 that “I do not want to be a winner by cheating.”

“I will not play with laws I swore allegiance to,” the Mormon and father of seven said as his voice broke and his eyes filled with tears. “How else will I ever approach [God] in the wilderness of life, knowing that I ask of this guidance only to show myself a coward in defending the course he led me to take?”

Bowers was the first of several witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing to detail efforts by Trump and his inner circle to undo the former president’s 2020 election loss by pressuring state officials to subvert the will of the voters and put forward false slates of electors.

The committee has previously described Trump’s “seven-part plan” to remain in power as a “seditious conspiracy.”

Arizona state House Speaker Rusty Bowers
Arizona state House Speaker Rusty Bowers. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

According to Bowers, Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani phoned him shortly after the 2020 election and together urged him to initiate a process in the Arizona state Legislature meant to “remove the electors of President Biden and replace them” with electors loyal to Trump.

But neither Trump nor anyone around him ever provided Bowers with evidence to support their claim that Trump had lost Arizona because of fraudulent votes.

“We’ve got lots of theories, but we don’t have the evidence,” Giuliani ultimately admitted, according to Bowers, after Bowers repeatedly pressed for details about what Giuliani alleged were hundreds of thousands of ballots cast by undocumented immigrants and dead people.

Absent such evidence, Bowers said he told Trump, Giuliani and others that he would not “do something that is counter to [the] oath that I swore to the Constitution” — yet they continued to push him anyway.

“I did not want to be used as a pawn,” he explained.

Under oath, Bowers also directly rebutted Trump’s claim Tuesday that Bowers had agreed during their initial November 2020 conversation that “the election was rigged and that I won Arizona.”

Rusty Bowers
Bowers testifying before the select committee on Tuesday. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

“I did have a conversation with the president, and that’s certainly not it,” Bowers testified. “[If] anywhere, anyone, anytime has said that I said the election was rigged, that would not be true.”

In many ways, Arizona was ground zero for Trump’s alleged plot to invalidate the 2020 election results. The presidential contest was so close there — with Biden prevailing by just over 10,000 votes, the slimmest margin of any state — that it became a source of controversy and confusion as soon as Fox News called it for Biden on election night. In the months that followed, Trump and his allies repeatedly challenged the Arizona outcome in court, to no avail. A controversial Republican “audit” of voter fraud allegations in Maricopa County ultimately found that Biden’s margin was larger, not smaller, than previously thought.

Bowers stood firm throughout. After his calls with Trump and Giuliani, he said Tuesday, Trump lawyer John Eastman phoned and again asked him to “take a vote ... to decertify [Biden’s] electors.” And again, Bowers refused.

“You’re asking me to do something that’s never been done in the history of the United States and ... put my state through that without sufficient proof?” Bowers objected.

“Just do it and have the court sort it out,” was how Bowers characterized Eastman’s response.

Rusty Bowers with Liz Cheney
Bowers is hugged by select committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Unlike the two Republicans on the Jan. 6 committee — Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney and Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger — Bowers could hardly be considered a so-called Never Trumper. In an interview Monday with the Associated Press, the Arizona House speaker reaffirmed that he had voted for Trump in 2020 and would gladly do the same in 2024.

“If he is the nominee, if he was up against Biden, I’d vote for him again,” Bowers said. “Simply because what he did the first time, before COVID, was so good for the country. In my view it was great.”

Yet Bowers never flinched. On Dec. 4, he issued a public statement noting that while he “worked hard to reelect” Trump, he “cannot and will not entertain a suggestion that we violate current law to change the outcome of a certified election.”

A few months later, the Patriot Party of Arizona launched a recall effort against Bowers. “They've been coming to my house and intimidating our family and our neighborhood,” Bowers said at the time, describing how “vile” mobile trucks called him a pedophile via loudspeaker.

The recall effort ultimately failed, but Bowers said Tuesday that he and his family now have “a new pattern in our lives to worry about what will happen on Saturdays” as a result of Trump supporters — some of whom have been armed — “arguing [with and] threatening ... neighbors and myself.”

Despite such personal blowback, Bowers went on to use an unusual parliamentary maneuver in January 2022 to kill a bill that would have overhauled elections in Arizona, giving the state Legislature the power to reject election results.

A few months later, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library Foundation named him as one of five recipients of its annual Profile in Courage Award.

“I am very grateful for this honor yet cannot help but feel undeserving of it,” Bowers said in a statement. “Honoring my oath and the people’s choices at the ballot box are not heroic acts — they are the least that Arizonans should expect from the people elected to serve them.”

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