Fake Electors and the Jan. 6 Investigation
“Kind of wild/creative” — that’s how a Trump-allied lawyer, in an early December 2020 email, characterized the scheme to submit fake electoral certificates as a way to prevent the certification of Joe Biden’s victory.
- The lawyer, Jack Wilenchik, was explaining the idea to Boris Epshteyn, a Trump campaign adviser. He repeatedly used the word “fake” to describe the certificates, following up with another email in which he wrote that calling them “alternative” was “probably a better term” — then added a smiley face emoji.
- That email, reported on by the New York Times, was one of dozens exchanged campaign advisers and Trump allies — including lawyers who “made clear they knew that the pro-Trump electors they were putting forward might not hold up to legal scrutiny” — who were focused on drawing up the bogus slates in the month before Jan. 6.
According to the Times, Wilenchik had helped coordinate the fake certificate from Trump supporters in Arizona. Many of the same Trump associates who appear in the emails reviewed by the Times also figure into subpoenas issued last month to Arizona Senate President Karen Fann and state Sen. Kelly Townsend.
- Those subpoenas, as reported by the Washington Post this week, seek Fann’s and Townsend’s communications with those associates or relating to the fake certificate scheme.
- American Oversight’s investigation of the Arizona Senate’s discredited “audit” of Maricopa County’s election results revealed that at that time in late 2020, as the former president’s allies desperately searched for voter fraud and sought ways to flip the state’s election results, Fann had been in touch with Rudy Giuliani and the Trump team.
- The Post’s story also mentions the letter, obtained by American Oversight, that Townsend sent to Vice President Pence in late December asking him “to refrain from accepting the Biden electors” until legislators could look into election fraud claims.
The subpoenas to Fann and Townsend, reported the Post, “show the breadth of the criminal investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington,” which Attorney General Merrick Garland said was “the most wide-ranging” in the history of the Justice Department.
- Justice Department investigators recently interviewed Marc Short and Greg Jacob, two top advisers to the former vice president, and CNN reported that the department has also reached out to additional Trump White House officials.
- Prosecutors are also looking into Trump’s actions, reported the Washington Post, having recently asked “about conversations with Trump, his lawyers, and others in his inner circle” who sought to submit the fake electors.
- On Wednesday, the Justice Department said that it had obtained a new search warrant for the phone of Trump-allied attorney John Eastman, who had sought to block investigators from accessing his files.
Meanwhile, the House Jan. 6 committee, which is considering issuing a subpoena to Ginni Thomas, is also expanding its investigation into Trump’s cabinet, having already interviewed Steve Mnuchin. It is also in discussion with Mike Pompeo for his testimony. Here are more headlines related to the investigation:
- Trump’s defense secretary denies there were orders to have 10k troops ready to deploy on January 6 (CNN)
- Mick Mulvaney, ex-White House acting chief of staff, testifies before the Jan. 6 committee (CNN)
- House Democrats call for a new inspector general in Secret Service text investigation (NPR)
- Secret Service identified potential missing text messages on phones of 10 individuals (CNN)
- Trump didn’t want to call for Jan. 6 rioters’ prosecution, new video shows (Washington Post)
‘Absolutely No Evidence of Fraud’
During a Thursday hearing in one of American Oversight’s lawsuits seeking public records from the partisan investigation of Wisconsin’s 2020 election, Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn said that the our litigation revealed the inquiry has shown “absolutely no evidence of election fraud.”
- Bailey-Rihn also noted that the state officials responsible for the investigation had failed to fully comply with Wisconsin’s open records law and had spent large amounts of taxpayer money at times when “there was no actual work being done.”
- During the early months of the investigation, Bailey-Rihn said, “taxpayers were paying $11,000 [a month] for somebody to sit at the New Berlin library to learn about election law because they had no experience in election law.”
- That “somebody,” of course, was attorney Michael Gableman, who heads the investigation and has advocated for state lawmakers to consider “decertifying” the 2020 election, a legally impossible recommendation that led this week to another grievance against him being filed with a state oversight board.
- This week, American Oversight sent a letter to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, which has failed to provide adequate responses to our requests for records in the possession of Commissioner Robert Spindell, who was one of his state’s fake electors.
- The letter informs the commission that we will pursue all legal avenues to ensure the public release of those records, as required by the state’s open records law.
Lies about voter fraud have maintained a strong hold on conservatives in Wisconsin, where the wider effort to undermine faith in democracy is, as the New Yorker’s Dan Kaufman wrote this week, “part of a national Republican strategy to take control of election administration and to make it harder to vote.”
- Wisconsin voters with disabilities have filed a lawsuit arguing that the state supreme court’s recent decision banning the returning of absentee ballots by caretakers violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the U.S. Constitution.
Of course, voter-suppression efforts aren’t limited to Wisconsin. Here are headlines related to voting rights in other states:
- Abortion opponents push to remove ballot drop boxes ahead of Kansas amendment vote (Kansas City Star)
- New Georgia election law allows any resident to challenge another voter’s eligibility (Atlanta Journal Constitution)
- A new Georgia voting law reduced ballot drop box access in places that used them most (NPR)
- Kari Lake wants to upend how Arizonans vote, how their votes are counted (Washington Post)
The Coronavirus Pandemic
President Biden ended his isolation this week after testing negative twice, “consistent with White House protocol … which goes above and beyond CDC guidance,” according to the White House. Experts have raised concerns that the CDC does not explicitly recommend to the general public that infected individuals test before ending isolation.
- Biden’s infection put the spotlight on Covid-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha, who has helped push the administration’s optimistic message of living with the pandemic.
- At a White House vaccine summit this week, officials admitted the need for government investment to achieve the goals of developing and distributing next-generation vaccines.
- Even as Covid-19 infections are rising among children, 43 percent of parents with children under 5 have said that they will “definitely not” get their child vaccinated.
- In a letter, a group of 14 senators urged the Federal Bureau of Prisons to make Covid-19 therapeutics more available to the incarcerated population and demanded answers as to why the bureau has not prescribed Paxlovid to more individuals.
Hospitals are struggling with an increased number of patients, staff shortages, and lack of federal funding. At the same time, most states have let their public health emergency declarations expire.
On the Records
The Nomination of Voter Fraud Alarmist to Federal Elections Board
In late 2021, election experts and voting-rights advocates reacted with dismay to the news that Cleta Mitchell — a conservative activist who played a leading role in the efforts to overturn the election, including the fake electors scheme — had been appointed to the advisory board for the federal Election Assistance Commission.
- Reporting by Votebeat and CNN, as well as documents obtained by American Oversight, revealed that Mitchell’s appointment came thanks to an effort led by prominent voter-fraud activist J. Christian Adams.
- The records obtained by American Oversight indicate that Adams had also floated the possibility of nominating Hans von Spakovsky, another election-fraud conspiracist, for the role. Read more here.
Other Stories We’re Following
The Big Lie
- Right-wing group is quietly conducting review of 300,000 Tarrant County ballots from 2020 primary (Texas Tribune)
- 2020 election deniers seek out powerful allies: county sheriffs (New York Times)
- With few public records released, Arizona Supreme Court keeps $50K in daily fines for Cyber Ninjas (Arizona Republic)
- Maricopa County leaders keep pushing back against election denialism in Arizona (NPR)
- Texas sues USDA after it requires LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections (Texas Tribune)
- Conspiracy-promoting sheriffs claim vast election authority (Associated Press)
- Former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne was one of Trump’s wealthiest election deniers. He has some big plans for the 2022 midterms. (Grid)
- Backers of the ‘Big Lie’ are trying to run local elections. Democrats are finally fighting back (Time)
- A hidden new threat to U.S. elections (New York Times)
- Inside the RNC’s effort to train thousands of poll watchers in Georgia (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
In the States
- Lawyers preparing for abortion prosecutions warn about health care, data privacy (Texas Tribune)
- How two Texas megadonors have turbocharged the state’s far-right shift (CNN)
- Prison personnel describe horrific conditions, and cover-up, at Atlanta prison (New York Times)
- Colorado Republican primary losers file last-minute recount requests (Colorado Newsline)
- Powerbrokers: How Florida Power & Light secretly took over a Florida news site and used it to bash critics (Miami Herald)
- Historic flooding in St. Louis kills at least 1, strands others (Washington Post)
- Justice Dept. will investigate environmental racism in Houston (New York Times)
- DeSantis touted police action against undocumented migrants. Most arrests were legal residents (Miami Herald)
- Texas AG Ken Paxton bans staff lawyers from speaking at state bar events, escalating feud sparked by 2020 election (Texas Tribune)
- ‘The stakes could not be higher’: Kansas abortion vote set for Aug. 2 (Washington Post)
- WHO declares monkeypox an international health emergency (Politico)
- As monkeypox spread in New York, 300,000 vaccine doses sat in Denmark (New York Times)
- One America News, a dependable Trump promoter, faces a ‘death blow’ (New York Times)
- Biden goes silent after SCOTUS gives him power to nix Trump immigration policy (Politico)
- Assault weapons makers testify they bear no responsibility for gun violence (New York Times)
- Viktor Orban will still speak at CPAC despite ‘Nazi’ speech backlash (Bloomberg)
- The border’s toll: Migrants increasingly die crossing into U.S. (Reuters)
- Biden moves to reinstate health protections for LGBTQ Americans (Washington Post)
- Prison personnel describe horrific conditions, and cover-up, at Atlanta prison (New York Times)