Pennsylvania

Trump fake elector scheme: where do seven states’ investigations stand? | Donald Trump

As Donald Trump faces criminal charges in multiple cases across the country, several states are still investigating a scheme created by Trump allies and boosted by Trump himself to cast fake electoral votes for the Republican candidate for the 2020 election.

As part of the US electoral college system, states cast a set number of votes for the candidate who wins the popular vote in their state, the winner of which then takes the presidency. Seven states that the former president lost saw slates of fake GOP electors falsely claim Trump had won their electoral votes. These fake electors included high-profile Republicans, such as sitting officeholders and state party leaders.

Two prosecutors, in Michigan and Georgia, have already filed charges against fake electors. Others have confirmed investigations but provided few details. One state prosecutor said local laws did not address this kind of crime, which is unprecedented.

Kenneth Chesebro, a Trump campaign legal adviser and the supposed mastermind of the fake electors scheme, pleaded guilty in Georgia over his role in subverting the election. Chesebro allegedly created the plan in a secret memo based on Wisconsin’s electoral vote.

At the federal level, the special counsel Jack Smith and his team brought charges against Trump and his allies over their attempts to overturn the 2020 election results, which include the fake elector scheme. Several states have confirmed they are cooperating with Smith’s investigation, and news reports have indicated Smith offered limited immunity to some fake electors for their testimony.

Since the scheme had no precedent, some states and experts have struggled to figure out which laws may have been broken, and whether the charges should be state or federal. In some states, the fake electors also face civil lawsuits. Here’s where they stand.

Arizona

The former Arizona attorney general Mark Brnovich, a Republican, never publicly confirmed any investigation into the state’s fake electors, which included high-profile far-right figures such as the state senator Jake Hoffman and the former Arizona GOP chair Kelli Ward. The state actually saw two separate sets of fake electors.

His successor, the Democrat Kris Mayes, told the Guardian earlier this year that her office is investigating the fake electors, but has not provided any details of the investigation so far. On a recent Arizona Republic podcast episode, Mayes said she could not say much about the contours of the investigation, but that her office was taking it “very seriously” and that it was a “very important investigation”.

While the cases in Michigan and Georgia are much further along, she noted that their prosecutors have been in place much longer than she has. Mayes took office in January 2023.

Georgia

Three fake electors in Georgia were charged as part of a broader case against Trump and his allies over election subversion attempts.

The Fulton county district attorney, Fani Willis, brought charges against the former Georgia Republican party chairman David Shafer, the state senator Shawn Still and the activist Cathy Latham, three of the 16 fake electors from that state. They face various charges, including forgery, impersonating a public officer and attempting to file false documents.

Several of the others who signed on as false electors for Trump struck immunity deals or plea agreements with prosecutors.

The fake electors in Georgia were charged as part of a broader case against Trump and his allies over election subversion attempts. Photograph: Fulton County Sheriff’s Office/Reuters

The three fake electors charged have pleaded not guilty. Their attorneys argued in September that they were not fake electors, but instead “contingent” electors who could be used should the courts overturn Biden’s win, the Associated Press reported. The three are trying to get their case moved from state court in Georgia to a federal court, arguing they were acting as federal officers who were keeping an avenue open for Trump depending on what happened in the courts.

Sidney Powell, who was charged in the broader case, pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the prosecution. The unexpected move netted Powell six years of probation and some fines and marks a major shift in the Georgia case for Trump and his allies. Chesebro, on the day jury selection for his trial was set to begin, pleaded guilty to a felony charge of conspiracy to commit filing false documents and probably will serve five years’ probation.

Michigan

The Democratic attorney general Dana Nessel charged 16 Michiganders who participated as fake electors with eight felonies each, including multiple forgery charges, for their roles in the scheme. Those charged include party activists, candidates for office and state and local party officials.

Attempts by two defendants to get the charges dismissed because of Nessel’s comments about how the electors were “brainwashed” were unsuccessful. The 16 people charged pleaded not guilty, and probable cause hearings are set for this month.

This week, one of Michigan’s fake electors saw his charges dropped as part of a deal with the state’s attorney general. James Renner, a Republican who falsely signed that Trump had won, agreed to “full cooperation, truthful testimony and production of any and all relevant documents” in exchange for the dropped charges, filings from the attorney general’s office, obtained by NBC News, show. This includes information about how he was asked to become part of the fake slate and the circumstances of meetings among those involved in the scheme.

Nevada

Nevada’s top prosecutor has said his office would not bring charges against the six people who signed on as fake electors there in 2020. The state’s Democratic attorney general, Aaron Ford, said current state laws did not address this kind of situation, “to the dismay of some, and I’m sure, to the delight of others”.

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The Democratic state senator Skip Daly attempted to solve that problem, and the state legislature passed a bill that would have made it a felony for people to serve as false electors, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Ford had endorsed the bill.

But the Republican governor, Joe Lombardo, vetoed the bill, saying the penalties were too harsh, though he said he believed those who undermine elections should face “strict punishments”.

New Mexico

The former New Mexico attorney general Hector Balderas started an investigation into the five Republicans who signed as false electors there, then referred the matter to federal prosecutors, according to Source New Mexico.

The office of the current attorney general, Raúl Torrez, confirmed there was an active state investigation into the fake electors to see if they violated state law, but details about the case have been scant. Torrez’s office said it would work with Jack Smith to get any evidence related to a state inquiry, according to KOAT Action News.

Like Pennsylvania, the fake electors in New Mexico included a caveat in their documents that could help them, should charges be filed. They wrote that they signed the documents “on the understanding that it might be later determined that we are the duly elected and qualified electors”.

Pennsylvania

The 20 fake electors in Pennsylvania are unlikely to face any criminal charges because of how they worded the documents they signed. The documents say the false electoral votes would only be considered valid if the courts deemed the slate to be the “duly elected and qualified electors” for Pennsylvania.

Governor Josh Shapiro, then the state’s Democratic attorney general, said the hedged language would spare the false electors from a criminal investigation by his office. His successor as attorney general, Michelle Henry, told Votebeat that the office’s position remained that charges were not warranted.

“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,” Shapiro said in 2022.

Wisconsin

The Democratic attorney general, Josh Kaul, has not said whether his office is investigating the state’s 10 fake electors for potential state law violations, though a civil lawsuit against the alternate slate is moving forward. Kaul has said he supports the federal investigation and that he expects to see “further developments” in that case.

Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, said in August he wanted to see the Wisconsin fake electors “held accountable” via prosecution.

“What those ten fake electors did was wrong,” Evers wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “People have to be held accountable for that, and I hope to hell somebody does.”

Federal prosecutors, in the Trump indictment, said the fake electors scheme started in Wisconsin with the attorney Kenneth Chesebro, who suggested electors meet there to sign on to a slate in case Trump’s team won in the courts.



https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/oct/22/trump-fake-elector-scheme-case-tracker Trump fake elector scheme: where do seven states’ investigations stand? | Donald Trump

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