A month after Election Day, a lawyer working on Donald Trump’s bid to steal a second term in office was brutally honest — if only in private — about the effort to submit fraudulent slates of Electoral College votes from several states around the country.
“We would just be sending in ‘fake’ electoral votes to Pence so that ‘someone’ in Congress can make an objection when they start counting votes, and start arguing that the ‘fake’ votes should be counted,” said the Arizona lawyer Jack Wilenchik, in an email to trump advisor Boris Epshteyn.
Wilenchik then had second thoughts.
“‘alternative’ votes is probably a better term than ‘fake’ votes,” he said in a follow-up email, alongside a smiley face emoji.
The emails — reported by The New York Times Tuesday — show the frantic, sometimes bumbling nature of the Trumpian effort to steal power and subvert democracy.
The drive to have Pence reject legitimate Electoral College votes relied on the fraudulent electors scheme, which Trump’s advisors hoped would inject doubt into what was meant to be a ceremonial certification. In reality, it ended with a mob of Trump supporters sacking Congress and calling for Pence’s head. The Times’ newly reported records show how, in the days ahead of that attack, the scheme came together in misspelled emails and the murmurs of attorneys and advisors.
In the same follow-up email, on Dec. 8, Wilenchik relayed that it sounded like Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward “would be very much into the idea” of using fake electors. But she had some thoughts about timing, he said.
“Kelli’s thought it [sic] to try to keep it under wraps until Congress counts the vote Jan. 6th (so we can try to ‘surprise’ the Dems and media with it) — I tend to agree with her,” he wrote.
The Times noted the emails weren’t shared with the White House Counsel’s office or even some lawyers on the Trump campaign, and that much of the organizing legwork behind the scheme fell to Epshteyn and Mike Roman, the Trump campaign’s Election Day operations director.
The day-to-day bar for success was apparently pretty low. After a meeting with Pennsylvania lawmakers in late November to, in the Times’ words, “discuss reversing the election outcome,” Ephsteyn wrote to Trump campaign lawyer Jenna Ellis, happily observing that, “The WH meeting hasn’t been made public, which is both shocking and great.”
One of the attorneys working on the effort, Bruce Marks, told the Times, “I do not believe there was anything ‘fake’ or illegal about the alternate slates of delegates, and particularly Pennsylvania.” Marks, for his part, had some email-based hiccups of his own, referring to Trump legal advisor Cleta Mitchell as “Clita” and “Clavita.”
“It’s Cleta, not Clavita,” Ephshteyn wrote. He wondered separately to Marks, “Do you mean Arizona when you say Nevada???”
‘The Votes Aren’t Legal Under Federal Law’
In his Dec. 8 email to Epshteyn, Wilenchik had described Trump advisor Kenneth Chesebro’s thinking in painfully blunt terms — characterizing major legal questions in breezy prose as others fretted over the consequences of what they were about to do.
“His idea is basically that all of us (GA, WI, AZ, PA, etc.) have our electors send in their votes (even though the votes aren’t legal under federal law — because they’re not signed by the Governor); so that members of Congress can fight about whether they should be counted on January 6th,” he wrote to several others, referring to Chesebro.
Members of Congress, Wilenchik said, “could technically argue that they’re not bound by federal law because they’re Congress and make the law, etc.”
“Kind of wild/creative — I’m happy to discuss,” Wilenchik wrote. “My comment to him was that I guess there’s no harm in it, (legally at least).”
Others weren’t so gung ho. One email, for example, shows One America News Anchor and Trump ally Cristina Bobb referring to Doug Mastriano, a Pennsylvania state senator and current candidate for governor, as having some concerns.
“Mastriano needs a call from the mayor. This needs to be done. Talk to him about legalities of what they are doing,” Bobb said, adding: “Electors want to be reassured that the process is * legal * essential for greater strategy.”
When it became clear GOP governors would not play along and certify the fraudulent electors, focus shifted to Mike Pence, who Trump hoped would reject the legitimate electors himself given the existence of the other, fake “second” slates.
“The second slate just shows up at noon on Monday and votes and then transmits the results,” the lawyer James Troupis wrote on Dec. 7, a week before Electoral College electors were set to formally cast their votes on Dec. 14.
“It is up to Pence on Jan 6 to open them,” he continued. “Our strategy, which we believe is replicable in all 6 contested states, is for the electors to meet and vote so that an interim decision by a Court to certify Trump the winner can be executed on by the Court ordering the Governor to issue whatever is required to name the electors. The key nationally would be for all six states to do it so the election remains in doubt until January.”
What was “up to Pence” was ultimately key. On Christmas Eve, key Trump election theft legal advisor John Eastman told Epshteyn he’d received an email from a Trump supporter asking what Trump “would like his 74 million followers to do to help.” Epshteyn wrote a couple days later that Trump “liked” an aggressive approach, and that Eastman would be the face of it.
A few days after that, on Jan. 6, Eastman appeared on stage with Rudy Giuliani at the White House Ellipse, shortly before the Capitol attack. He claimed that dead people voted and that vote-counting machines had tallied fraudulent votes, and demanded Pence “let the legislatures of the state look into this so we get to the bottom of it, and the American people know whether we have control of the direction of our government — or not!”