How the Trump fake elector scheme fizzled in four states
Former President Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on October 09, 2021 in Des Moines, Iowa. | Scott Olson/Getty Images
Part of Donald Trump’s plan to reverse his loss in the 2020 presidential election hinged on replacing legitimate electors in a handful of swing states with “fake electors.”
In theory, these bogus Republican slates in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Nevada and Wisconsin would cast their electoral votes for the incumbent — canceling out the popular vote for Joe Biden in their states.
Groups of fake electors met on Dec. 14, 2020, in those seven states, an investigative counsel working for the panel, Casey Lucier, said in a video presentation shown in a Tuesday hearing of the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The hearing revealed some intriguing details of the fake elector plot, which the U.S. House panel says Trump and his lawyers knew was illegal, and how it played out in four states in particular:
Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, a self-described conservative Republican who campaigned for Trump in 2020, testified in person Tuesday about the pressure the Trump campaign put on him to revoke the state’s legitimate electors — and his steadfast refusal to participate.
Presidential elections in the United States are not straight popular vote contests, but are mediated by electoral college voters chosen by state, U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who led much of the hearing Tuesday, reminded the audience.
Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, a former North Carolina congressman, and outside counsel Rudy Giuliani were involved in a discussion near Thanksgiving 2020 about having fake electors meet, Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to Meadows, said.
Trump and Giuliani were also personally involved in a pressure campaign on state officials, according to committee testimony.
Some time after the election, Bowers received a call from Trump and Giuliani, who wanted the Arizona speaker to convene a committee to hear supposed evidence of election fraud, Bowers testified.
Bowers asked for evidence of fraud. It never materialized, and he declined in the coming weeks to form the committee.
Bowers told the panel he then asked Giuliani what the end goal of forming the committee would be. Giuliani said that a high-ranking Republican legislator had told the campaign that there was a legal theory that would allow the Legislature to replace electors for Biden with electors for Trump, and that the proposed committee could facilitate that.
Bowers said he hadn’t heard that legal theory. When Giuliani pressed the point, the speaker refused more pointedly.
“I said, ‘You are asking me to do something that is counter to my oath, when I swore to the Constitution to uphold it,’” Bowers said he told Giuliani.
“’And I also swore to the Constitution and the laws of the state of Arizona. And this is totally foreign as an idea or a theory to me, and I would never do anything of such magnitude without deep consultation with qualified attorneys.’”
He couldn’t recall the timing, but Bowers said Giuliani would appeal to their shared political party in an attempt to cajole him into helping Trump.
“He would say, ‘Aren’t we all Republicans here? I would think we would get a better reception,’” Bowers related Tuesday.
Bowers had gone public in December 2020 with a statement that Giuliani, fellow Trump attorney Jenna Ellis and others had made the “breathtaking request” that he replace Arizona’s electors with a slate for Trump.
Giuliani and Ellis made their case to Arizona lawmakers twice, he said, once with a small group of them and again in a closed-door meeting with Republican leaders in both chambers.
Tuesday, Bowers said that the small-group meeting took place because he’d denied an official legislative hearing.
On Jan. 4, two days before the attack on the Capitol, Bowers took a call from Trump lawyer John Eastman, who again asked him to hold a vote to decertify the state’s election results.
Bowers again invoked his oath of office in declining, he said.
“I said, ‘What would you have me do?’” Bowers said of his Jan. 4 call with Eastman. “And he said, ‘Just do it and let the courts sort it out.’”
Finally, on Jan. 6, U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, another Arizona Republican, called Bowers to ask him to support the decertification of the electors, Bowers said Tuesday. The speaker again declined, he said.
A spokesman for Biggs did not return messages seeking comment this week.
Republican lawmakers across the country were feeling similar pressure.
Trump invited leaders from Michigan and Pennsylvania to the White House in November 2020.
Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) told Trump he would follow Michigan law, meaning he would award the state’s electors to Biden, Shirkey said in a taped deposition.
On Facebook the next day, Trump disclosed Shirkey’s cell phone number. The majority leader then received almost 4,000 text messages “calling to take action,” he said. Many asked him to replace the state’s electors, he said.
State lawmakers did not have that power, he said.
“They were believing things that were untrue,” Shirkey said of the correspondence.
Schiff pointed out during the hearing that there cannot be substitutes of electors.
“There is only one legitimate slate of electors from each state. On the sixth day of January, Congress meets in a joint session to count those votes and the winner of the Electoral College vote becomes the president,” Schiff said.
“President Trump and his campaign were directly involved in advancing and coordinating the plot to replace legitimate Biden electors with fake electors not chosen by the voters.”
Michigan was also the site of one of the most bizarre episodes in the scheme.
A group of fake electors considered hiding in the state Capitol overnight because of a state law that required elector certification to be in that building, according to Laura Cox, the former GOP chair in the state who testified in a taped deposition.
Cox said she found this out from an attorney working with the Trump campaign. The Detroit News identified the attorney as Robert Norton, a Hillsdale College official. The video clip does not include Norton’s first name.
“He told me that the Michigan Republican electors were planning to meet in the Capitol and hide overnight so that they could fulfill the role of casting their vote per law in the Michigan chambers,” Cox said. “And I told him in no uncertain terms that that was insane and inappropriate.”
Michigan’s fake electors did meet, but did not make it inside the Capitol.
They did, though, apparently have a U.S. senator willing to deliver their names to the vice president on Jan. 6, according to a text exchange the committee revealed Tuesday.
The chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, texted an aide to then-Vice President Mike Pence that Johnson would hand the vice president elector votes from Wisconsin and Michigan. The Pence aide clearly texted not to follow that plan through.
A Johnson spokeswoman said Tuesday he “had no involvement in the creation of an alternate slate of electors and had no foreknowledge that it was going to be delivered to our office.”
Fake electors in Michigan were served federal subpoenas on Thursday, though it’s unclear whether they are being summoned as witnesses or targets of the investigation.
In Johnson’s home state, local Republican officials were misled about the fake elector scheme.
Rather than being used as a pretext for Pence to overturn the election results — which he refused to do — officials in Wisconsin thought the Trump slate of electors would be sent to the U.S. Capitol only in the event a court overturned the state’s election results.
“I was told that these would only count if a court ruled in our favor,” Andrew Hitt, the former chair of the state party said in video testimony. “So that would have been using our electors in ways that we weren’t told about and that we wouldn’t have supported.”
Eastman believed a dispute over which electors to count would be “enough” for Pence to certify the Trump slate, Eastman wrote in an email to a campaign staffer.
Jan. 4 text messages the panel acquired between Wisconsin GOP workers show the Trump team asked about bringing fake elector paperwork to Washington on Jan. 6.
“Freaking trump [sic] idiots want someone to fly original elector papers to the senate President,” one text read.
The panel played a Dec. 3, 2020, video call showing Eastman, the architect of the false elector scheme, advocating for Georgia lawmakers to “to adopt a slate of electors yourselves.”
Eastman told the legislators that their counterparts in Florida were “prepared to do” the same thing.
The lawmakers were not only able, but should be compelled to overturn their state’s election results because of “outright election fraud,” Eastman said on the call.
Former Attorney General Bill Barr, Trump campaign officials and others have testified throughout earlier hearings that widespread voter fraud to overturn the election did not exist and there was no evidence to support the claim.
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