Jan. 6 House probe shows Trump was involved in fake elector plot to overturn 2020 loss

·Reporter
·6-min read

Former President Donald Trump played a central role in the coordinated effort to send slates of fake electors to Washington as part of his attempt to hold onto power after his 2020 election loss, House investigators revealed Tuesday.

Trump and one of the lawyers who led his push to overturn the 2020 election result, Rudy Giuliani, told Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, a Republican, that the goal of their effort was to have him replace electors for Joe Biden, who had won the state, with electors for Trump, despite having no evidence to back up their claims of voter fraud, according to Bowers’s testimony.

In a phone call shortly after the election, Trump and Giuliani asked Bowers for a special hearing of the Arizona House of Representatives to remove Biden’s electors, Bowers testified Tuesday.

“We have heard by an official high up in the Republican Legislature that there is a legal theory or a legal ability in Arizona, that you can remove the electors of President Biden and replace them. And we would like to have the legitimate opportunity for the committee to come to that end and remove that,” Bowers said Trump and Giuliani told him.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., at the House select committee hearing on Tuesday. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
A slide shown during the House select committee hearing
An enlargement of an email shown during the committee hearing. (House TV)

Bowers said he repeatedly asked Trump’s lawyers for the evidence of dead people voting, which they repeatedly claimed to have but never provided. Eventually, Giuliani admitted to him they had no evidence, Bowers said.

“We’ve got lots of theories, we just don’t have the evidence,” Bowers said Giuliani told him.

In his personal diary for the month of December 2020, Bowers wrote, “I do not want to be a winner by cheating. I will not play with laws I have pledged allegiance to.”

Later that month, Trump called Bowers again to pressure him to overturn his election loss, and a few days later one of the other leaders of Trump’s election effort, John Eastman, called Bowers and asked him to flatly decertify the electors for Biden.

After Bowers said it would violate his oath to uphold the Constitution, Eastman told him, “Just do it and let the courts sort it out.”

Trump’s attempts to send fake electors — people who would illegally cast ballots for him in Washington in a drive to overturn his 2020 election loss — formed the centerpiece of the House Jan. 6 committee’s fourth hearing on what members of that panel have dubbed Trump’s attempted coup on Jan. 6, 2021.

A slide shown during the House select committee hearing
Text communication between Sean Riley, an aide to Sen. Ron Johnson, and Chris Hodgson, former legislative director for then Vice President Mike Pence, displayed at the committee hearing. (House TV)

And members of the committee, as they have in the three previous hearings, again tied the efforts to overturn the election results back to Trump himself — arguing that he was aware what he was doing was illegal but did it anyway.

“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,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who led Tuesday’s hearing.

According to a video shown by the committee, Cassidy Hutchinson, a top aide to Trump’s then-chief of staff Mark Meadows, testified that Meadows, Giuliani and members of Congress whose names she didn’t remember had been involved in meetings around Thanksgiving 2020 to submit fake electors.

Hutchinson also testified that the then White House counsel’s office told the same group that attempting the scheme would not be “legally sound.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, center, with House select committee Chair Bennie Thompson.
Schiff with House select committee Chair Bennie Thompson. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, a longtime Trump ally, testified that Trump called her and then handed the phone to Eastman, who requested that the RNC help collect names of fake electors for submission in case Trump won.

The RNC’s role was “more just helping them reach out and assemble them, but my understanding is the campaign did take the lead and we just were helping them,” McDaniel testified.

Former Trump deputy campaign manager Justin Clark and former Vice President Mike Pence's longtime counsel Matt Morgan also testified that they told another Trump lawyer coordinating the fake elector scheme, Kenneth Chesebro, that they wanted nothing to do with the effort.

And one of the fake electors, former Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Andrew Hitt, testified that he and others had been guaranteed by Trump’s legal team that their signed forms would be submitted only if courts sided with Trump — which they did not.

“That would have been using our electors in ways we were not told about and we wouldn’t have supported,” Hitt said in video testimony.

In one stunning anecdote, former Michigan Republican Party Chair Laura Cox recounted how a group of Trump’s fake electors in Michigan debated hiding overnight in the Michigan Capitol “so that they could fulfill the role of casting their vote, per law, in the Michigan chambers.”

John Eastman
John Eastman, a former lawyer for Trump, appears on screen during the hearing. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

“I told [fake elector Robert Norton] in no uncertain terms that was insane and inappropriate,” Cox said.

Groups of fake electors met in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in December 2020 and later submitted falsified slates of electors, which committee staff said they were urged to do by the Trump campaign.

In an email obtained by the committee, Eastman claimed that “the fact that we have multiple slates of electors demonstrates the uncertainty of either. That should be enough.” In previous hearings, Trump aides and others testified that a central goal of Eastman’s tactic was to cause enough confusion to delay formal certification of Biden’s victory — thereby throwing the transition of power into chaos. Shortly before Pence presided over the Jan. 6 certification of Biden’s win, as rioters were descending on the Capitol, a staffer for Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., attempted to hand-deliver fake certificates of electors to Pence.

“Johnson needs to hand something to VPOTUS please advise,” Johnson aide Sean Riley texted Pence’s former director of legislative affairs, Chris Hodgson, according to evidence shown by the committee.

Hodgson replied, “What is it?”

“Alternate slate of electors for MI and WI because archivist didn’t receive them,” Riley said.

Hodgson replied, “Do not give that to him.”

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