The House select committee investigating the violent and deadly Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol and former President Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results released its final report late Thursday.
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The 846-page report is the culmination of an 18-month investigation that included more than 1,000 witness interviews and nearly a dozen public hearings. While detailing Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of an election he lost, the report describes how the former president and his allies tried to use fake electors in New Mexico and six other states to help him ignore the will of voters and stay in power.
The report led the committee to issue four criminal referrals against the former president, and one of those criminal referrals focused on the effort to appoint fake electors in states where Trump lost to President Joe Biden.
“This scheme involved lawyers, such as Kenneth Chesebro and Rudy Giuliani, as well as Mark Meadows,” the report stated. “It also was aided at key points by Chairwoman of the Republican National Committee Ronna McDaniel, members of Congress, and Republican leaders across seven states.”
The goal of the fake elector scheme was to have alternate slates of electors in place so the outcome of the election could be ultimately decided by Congress. The idea was that by having fake electors in New Mexico, Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Congress could accept the decisions made by those alternate slates of electors and reject the official slates.
The report concluded that Trump oversaw the scheme himself, and that Republican leaders in some states “did not know exactly what they were being asked to do.” It also concluded that Trump campaign officials pitched the idea as a contingency, just in case any given state changed course and declared Trump the winner of its electoral votes.
Electors in each state were required to sign documents certifying their state’s election results by Dec. 14, 2020. When that date arrived, there was still no real evidence disputing the election results, making any contingency unnecessary.
“Trump and his advisors wanted Vice President Pence to disregard real electoral college votes for former Vice President Biden, in favor of these fake competing electoral slates,” the report stated. “But there never were real, competing slates of electors. By the time the fake Trump electors met on Dec. 14, appropriate government officials in each of the seven states had already certified their state’s official election results for former Vice President Biden.”
Not one court had issued an order reversing or calling into question those results of the election, either, and most election-related litigation had concluded as well. The committee also determined that the vice president does not have the authority to pick which presidential electors to count during a joint session of Congress, making the entire fake elector scheme superfluous.
“These groups of Trump backers who called themselves presidential electors were never actually electors, and the votes they purported to cast on Dec. 14 were not valid,” the report stated. “They were fake. They had no legal standing, and their fake votes could not have been used by Vice President Pence to disregard the real votes of electors chosen by the voters.”
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The “might” in New Mexico’s document
New Mexico’s fake elector documents differed slightly from most of the others in that the idea that this was a contingency plan was expressly written into the document.
“[I]t might later be determined that we are the duly elected and qualified Electors for President and Vice President of the United States of America from the State of New Mexico…,” the document stated.
Pennsylvania is the only other state to include this sort of contingency wording. Documents filed by fake electors in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin didn’t contain the same hedge.
The illegal act that led to violence
During a speech at the Ellipse on the morning of Jan. 6, Trump exhorted those assembled that day to march to the Capitol and to “demand that Congress do the right thing and only count the electors who have been lawfully slated, lawfully slated.”
The House committee contends this comment was made intentionally as part of an overarching scheme to overturn the election and hold onto power.
“This was no off-the-cuff remark; it was the culmination of a carefully planned scheme many weeks in the making,” the report stated. “This plea by the president turned the truth on its head. There was only one legitimate slate of electors from the battleground states of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and Trump wanted them rejected.”
The committee stated that the plan to prepare alternative slates of electors in these key states — and the plan to have Vice President Pence choose electoral votes from fake electors over the real ones — was devised by John Eastman, a lawyer and law professor in California who lives in Santa Fe and is registered to vote in New Mexico. The committee also asserts that Eastman knew the plan was illegal but that he pushed for it anyway.
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“Eastman knew before proposing this plan that it was not legal. Indeed, in a pre-election document discussing Congress’s counting of electoral votes, Dr. Eastman specifically disagreed with a colleague’s proposed argument that the vice president had the power to choose which envelopes to ‘open’ and which votes to ‘count,’” the report stated.
By the time Trump spoke at the Ellipse on the morning of Jan. 6, 2021, his top lawyers had implored that he not follow through with the plan to have Pence accept votes from the fake electors, the committee said in its report. Some senior campaign staff members had expressed concerns as well, and days before the joint session, the acting attorney general and the deputy attorney general blocked the sending of a letter indicating that there were “competing slates” of electors.
“The fake elector effort was an unlawful, unprecedented and destructive break from the electoral college process that our country has used to select its president for generations,” the report stated. “It led directly to the violence that occurred on Jan. 6. To address the damage that it caused, it is important to understand how it transpired.”