Prosecutions of Fake Electors for Trump Gain Ground in Swing States

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The chairman of the Nevada Republican Party has been indicted. So has the former chairman of the Georgia G.O.P. In Michigan, a former co-chairwoman of the state party is facing charges.

As Donald J. Trump goes on trial in the New York criminal case, other investigations and prosecutions in five crucial swing states are continuing to scrutinize the steps that he and his allies took in trying to circumvent the will of voters after the 2020 election.

The investigations focus largely on the plan to deploy fake electors in states that Mr. Trump lost. Documents emerging from the state cases highlight divisions among Trump advisers after the 2020 election about whether to use hedging language in the phony certificates that they sent to Washington purporting to designate electoral votes for Mr. Trump. They also undercut claims by some Trump aides that they played little role in the fake-electors plan.

Georgia, Michigan and Nevada have already brought charges against a total of 25 fake electors, including current and former Republican Party leaders in those states. The Georgia case, led by Fani T. Willis, the district attorney of Fulton County, has gone further, bringing charges against Mr. Trump himself and a number of his advisers.

Investigations are also playing out in Wisconsin as well as in Arizona, where the state attorney general, Kris Mayes, is expected to bring charges soon. Grand jury subpoenas were recently issued to the people who acted as fake electors in Arizona, including Kelli Ward, a former state Republican chairwoman. Mike Roman, a former Trump campaign official who is already facing charges in Georgia, is also among those subpoenaed in the Arizona case.

There are so many state investigations going on that “they all kind of run together,” said Manny Arora, a lawyer for Kenneth Chesebro, an architect of the fake-electors plan who has emerged as a key witness in the investigations.

“Most of the jurisdictions are keeping it local and leaving the big stuff to the feds,” Mr. Arora said, adding that he did not expect most of the state cases to “be quite as sweeping as Georgia.”

Evidence has also emerged from state civil suits brought on behalf of legitimate 2020 electors for Mr. Biden, and from the federal case brought by Jack Smith, the special counsel prosecuting Mr. Trump.

The state-level inquiries are being led by Democrats, with one exception. Pete Skandalakis, a Republican who leads a nonpartisan state agency in Georgia, said last week that he would investigate Lt. Gov. Burt Jones over his role as a fake elector. Ms. Willis was disqualified from investigating Mr. Jones because she had hosted a fund-raiser for one of Mr. Jones’s political opponents.

Whether any of the cases will significantly affect Mr. Trump’s 2024 campaign is unclear. The former president’s most immediate legal challenge is the criminal trial that began this week in Manhattan, focusing on hush-money payments made to a pornographic film star, Stormy Daniels.

In the election interference cases, lawyers for Mr. Trump and other defendants have generally not disputed the evidence, choosing instead to challenge the investigations on free speech, immunity or procedural grounds.

But Mr. Trump’s legal team continues to fall under scrutiny as well. One of his top lawyers, Boris Epshteyn, was closely involved in the fake-electors effort, his emails and texts show. (“Does VP have ultimate authority on which slate of electors should be chosen?” Mr. Epshteyn texted to Mr. Chesebro on Dec. 12, 2020, as the plan was germinating.)

Mr. Trump has depicted himself as the victim of a wide-ranging conspiracy, and has made his legal travails a focus of his campaign. During Easter, he circulated a story likening his legal challenges to the trials of Jesus.

Many of those who tried to keep Mr. Trump in power after the 2020 election remain defiant. Anthony Kern, a state lawmaker in Arizona who served as a fake elector there, said late last year that “there’s no such thing as fake electors.”

Others have expressed contrition. Jenna Ellis, a lawyer who worked for the Trump campaign, tearfully apologized last October when she pleaded guilty to a felony in Atlanta, telling a judge that she looked back “on this experience with deep remorse.”

A few weeks later, in Michigan, a fake Trump elector and former state trooper named James Renner told state investigators that he came to regret his actions in 2020 after learning more about what happened.

“I felt that I had been walked into a situation that I shouldn’t have ever been involved in,” he said in an interview with investigators from the Michigan attorney general’s office, according to a transcript obtained by The New York Times. Charges against Mr. Renner were dropped and he agreed to cooperate.

Mr. Chesebro, who pleaded guilty to a felony last year in Georgia, later told investigators in Michigan that he had been misled by the Trump campaign and had not known that it was “trying to create chaos in state legislatures.”

He said he had been financially devastated by legal fees.

“It’s been a real, a lesson in not working with people that you don’t know and you’re not sure you can trust,” Mr. Chesebro told the Michigan investigators, according to a recording of his interview with them that has been reported previously by CNN. “I ended up losing. I had a wonderful apartment in New York City I had to sell for a $2 million loss, and lost almost all my net worth because of the attorney bill.”

In December, Andrew Hitt, who was head of the Wisconsin Republican Party during the 2020 election, told a local ABC affiliate that he and other fake electors “were tricked” by the Trump campaign and thought they were only acting as a contingency, in case litigation succeeded.

Those Wisconsin fake electors agreed in a recent civil settlement that the document they signed was “used as part of an attempt to improperly overturn the 2020 presidential election results” and they said they would cooperate with the Justice Department.

Wisconsin officials have yet to confirm publicly that they are investigating fake electors. But Mr. Chesebro was interviewed on the subject last year by the office of Josh Kaul, the state attorney general, according to Mr. Arora.

None of the cases are likely to be resolved before the November election. A trial in Nevada, where charges were brought in December, has been delayed until next year. In Michigan, the case is still in the pretrial hearing phase.

Ms. Willis was the first to start an investigation, charging 19 people in August in a wide-ranging racketeering case. But she has been slowed by the scope of her case, and by a recent attempt by the defense to have her disqualified because of her romantic relationship with a lawyer she hired to oversee the case.

Mr. Chesebro’s communications continue to surface. In the aftermath of the 2020 election, he believed there was “voluminous evidence in multiple states of a rigged election,” as he said in one email, but he had trouble persuading some whose support he sought that any such evidence existed. He sent anonymous direct messages to James Widgerson, then editor of a conservative Wisconsin website, to tell him about an election fraud hearing led by Senator Ron Johnson, a staunch Trump ally. Mr. Widgerson replied: “I cannot roll my eyes that far.”

Mr. Chesebro did repeatedly seek to insert language into the phony Electoral College certificates that were drafted for the slates of fake electors to make clear they were only meant as a contingency, in case legal challenges to Mr. Biden’s 2020 victory succeeded. Mr. Chesebro texted Mr. Roman, the Trump campaign official, and said he thought that the language “should be changed in all the states.”

“I don’t,” Mr. Roman replied.

Mr. Chesebro added that he could help draft the language, but Mr. Roman replied with a dismissive expletive.

The contingency language was ultimately included only in Pennsylvania and New Mexico, and it appears to have headed off prosecution of the fake electors in those states. New Mexico’s attorney general, Raúl Torrez, a Democrat, cited the contingency language in January after declining to bring charges.

“By the time the Trump campaign contacted New Mexico’s fake electors, the campaign had added conditional language to the certificate,” Mr. Torrez wrote in a January letter to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Because of that, he added, “there is not enough evidence” in “support of a charge of forgery.”

Maggie Haberman and Richard Fausset contributed reporting.



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