An effort by former President Donald Trump’s campaign legal team to get Republicans in key swing states to send alternate slates of electors to Washington ahead of the Jan. 6, 2021, election certification hit a snag in Pennsylvania when GOP leaders here balked, documents and interviews show.
Documents obtained by the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit American Oversight show Trump electors in five swing states signed documents wrongly declaring a Trump victory as they attempted to cast their states’ electoral votes for Trump.
Republican electors in two other states — Pennsylvania and Nevada — hedged the language on their certificates to say they’d cast their votes for Trump only if his election challenges succeeded in the courts.
That small distinction could spare Trump electors in those two states the legal trouble potentially facing their counterparts in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin.
The electoral votes from those seven states, all of which President Joe Biden won, would have been more than enough to overturn the election and keep Trump in the White House. The Trump campaign’s push to get duplicate slates of electors sent to Congress occurred amid an unprecedented flurry of legal, political and public maneuvering aimed at undermining confidence in U.S. democracy and, ultimately, subverting the will of American voters.
Allegheny Co. Republican insisted on change
While Trump supporters in five states used identical language outright declaring themselves “the duly elected and qualified electors,” their Pennsylvania counterparts insisted on saying they would only cast their votes for Trump “if, as a result of a final non-appealable court order or other proceeding prescribed by law, we are ultimately recognized as being the duly elected and qualified electors.” Trump electors in New Mexico added similar language.
“We were not going to sign unless the language was changed to say ‘if.’ This was in no way, shape or form us trying to go around the election,” said Allegheny County Republican Committee Chairman and Trump elector Sam DeMarco. DeMarco has been among the highest-profile Republicans in the state to push back against false allegations of widespread fraud in the 2020 election made by Trump and his allies.
Trump campaign lawyer James Fitzpatrick, of Philadelphia, pitched the declaration to electors as a way of preserving Trump’s legal rights should his election challenges prevail, DeMarco said. Because state and federal laws require electoral votes to be cast on Dec. 14, they needed to sign the declaration on that day, Trump campaign officials told them.
Fitzpatrick could not be reached. The state Republican Party issued a press release on that date announcing that the Trump electors had met to cast their votes.
“Initially, there was a little bit of back and forth” over the electors’ attempt to change the document’s language, DeMarco said. “... We wanted to make sure we weren’t trying to position ourselves as getting in the way of Biden’s electors.”
Pa. Attorney General’s view
The Pennsylvanians’ insistence might’ve spared them from a criminal investigation.
“These ‘fake ballots’ included a conditional clause that they were only to be used if a court overturned the results in Pennsylvania, which did not happen,” according to a statement released by state Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office. “Though their rhetoric and policy were intentionally misleading and purposefully damaging to our democracy, based on our initial review, our office does not believe this meets the legal standards for forgery.”
Not so in Michigan, one of the five states where Trump’s electors appear to have falsely declared themselves victors.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel told MSNBC host Rachel Maddow on Thursday the electors potentially violated state forgery and election-forgery laws, which carry sentences of up to 15 and five years, respectively.
Rather than pursue state charges, however, Nessel’s office turned the matter over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Michigan on Thursday, she said.
Because it “seems to be a coordinated effort” across state lines, “we think this is a matter that is best investigated and potentially prosecuted by the feds,” Nessel told Maddow.
A multi-pronged campaign
While the scope of Trump’s multi-state effort to overturn the election by leaning on state officials isn’t fully known, pieces of it have been leaking into the public record since late 2020.
That December, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told a Fox News host, “in those four states we saw a lot of problems in with those big metro areas ... there has been an alternate slate of electors voted upon that Congress will decide in January, so we will see what happens.”
During a Jan. 2 phone call caught on tape, Trump personally pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger to “find” enough votes to flip the state into his column, a potential state and federal crime.
That same day, Trump, lawyer Rudy Giuliani and former Justice Department official John Eastman tried to pressure hundreds of state legislators to overturn the election, according to a recording of Eastman by a liberal activist posing as a conservative at an event at the right-wing Clairmont Institute.
“Trump, Giuliani and me met with 300 legislators on Jan. 2 via a Zoom conference call and they all spinelessly wouldn’t do anything. Even though we’d given them all the evidence they wouldn’t do it,” Eastman, who wrote a memo outlining a legally dubious way for Vice President Mike Pence to reject states’ legitimate electors, said in the recording.
The multi-pronged effort to overturn the election culminated on Jan. 6, 2021, with a last-ditch pressure campaign by Trump, Republican members of Congress and a pro-Trump mob to convince or force Pence to refuse to certify the votes of legitimate electors. That mob eventually breached the Capitol, temporarily interrupting the peaceful transfer of power for the first time in U.S. history.
Eastman, speaking in the recording about “spineless” state legislators who wouldn’t join their effort, suggested the pressure campaign isn’t over.
“Now, if we take a bunch of them out in the primaries in 2022, and the precondition for getting elected is we’re going to fight this stuff, then maybe we’ve got an opportunity,” Eastman said.
Follow Mike Wereschagin on Twitter @Wrschgn.