SC AG Strategized With Big-Wig Conservative Lawyers On Suit To Overturn Election, Records Show

AIKEN, SC - DECEMBER 12: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is introduced to the crowd at a town hall meeting December 12, 2015 in Aiken, South Carolina. The South Carolina Republican primary is schedule... AIKEN, SC - DECEMBER 12: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is introduced to the crowd at a town hall meeting December 12, 2015 in Aiken, South Carolina. The South Carolina Republican primary is scheduled for February 20, 2016. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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July 8, 2021 10:14 a.m.

In the days before South Carolina joined several other Republican-led states in a lawsuit to overturn the results of the 2020 election, the state’s attorney general received advice from a former North Carolina chief justice and the leader of an influential right-wing Christian legal group, public records show.

The emails document what essentially appears to be a lobbying effort, in which well-known right-wing lawyers spoke to South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson about “democrats’ shenanigans” and the actions of “unscrupulous Democrat election officials.” These supposed Democratic actions, they argued, led to the mass disenfranchisement of South Carolina voters.

Ultimately, when Texas went to the Supreme Court on December 8 and asked it to overturn the election results in four swing states, South Carolina would join the suit. The legal effort piggybacked on months of lies from Donald Trump about election fraud — and a parallel pressure campaign on local officials and election workers to take part in the scheme to steal a second Trump term. Together, the gambit amounted to an epic attempt to subvert democracy.

South Carolina was one of 17 states to sign onto an amicus brief in the case, signaling its support for Texas’ fight. And in the days leading up to his announcement that South Carolina would join that brief, emails show Wilson’s thinking, and the legal thinkers in his orbit.

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‘Voters In South Carolina Have Been Disenfranchised’

The records, obtained via a public records request by the left-leaning watchdog group American Oversight and shared with TPM, feature an exchange between Wilson and Don Brown. Brown is an author and attorney known among other things for his representation of Clint Lorance, the convicted murderer and Trump pardon recipient.

In an email to Wilson and Chief Deputy Attorney General Jeff Young on Nov. 24, Brown referenced a call the previous day with the men, noting what appeared to be skepticism. What followed reads like an elevator pitch.

“Yesterday during our conversation, you raised a topic on the minds of many, that being the so-called speculative nature of the number of votes in play that may be subject to fraud,” he wrote.

But Brown brought good news: A former Trump campaign operative, Matt Braynard, was accumulating evidence of fraud in Georgia. And Brown himself claimed to be working with the conspiracy-minded pro-Trump attorney Sidney Powell and Mark Martin, the former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court “on a variety of overlapping issues related to the democrats’ shenanigans in stealing the presidential elections.” (Spoiler alert: Braynard’s data would turn out to be riddled with errors.)

Brown then got to the point: “I think it will become clear that our voters in South Carolina have been disenfranchised by the unconstitutional actions of unscrupulous Democrat election officials, especially in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania” — three of the four states that Texas would sue in the coming weeks. By this point, as TPM has reported, a draft of that suit was being circulated privately by Trump ally Kris Kobach and others.

Wilson responded to Brown within three hours. The attorney general thanked Brown for the input and said that he’d been in touch with Martin.

“Incidentally, former CJ Martin called me last night to give me an update and I was not in a place I could talk,” he wrote, noting that he hadn’t yet spoken further with Martin. “I just wanted you to know that he has reached out to me as well.”

The contact between Wilson and Martin is significant. The New York Times, in its lengthy breakdown of precursors to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, reported that Martin was part of “a team of lawyers with close ties to the Trump campaign” who planned the “sweeping” lawsuit that sought to overturn the election.

Martin, who the Times described as an informal Trump adviser, also reportedly argued that then-Vice President Mike Pence had the power to stop the certification of the Electoral College vote and throw out disputed results.

Martin’s spokesperson, Chris Roslan, told TPM that Martin wasn’t counsel of record in any litigation involving the 2020 election, and also that he hasn’t discussed the 2020 election with Powell and had “nothing to do with the Braynard study.”

“He cannot discuss private or privileged conversations,” Roslan said of Martin.

‘The Highest Levels’

Three days later, on Nov. 27, Brown was back in touch with the South Carolina attorney general. Martin had called Brown, Brown said, and indicated that his group was set to send over “a much-improved analysis addressing the issues and concerns that y’all raised when we spoke earlier in the week.”

Brown then brought up Michael Farris, CEO of the influential right-wing Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, who he said would be sending over reports as well.

“This evidence will be above and beyond the analysis that Mr. Braynard has been working on, and the CJ tells me it will be more difficult for the opposition to punch holes in the evidentiary conclusions which will be included in the report,” he said, seemingly referring to the former chief justice, Martin.

Brown then added a tantalizing detail: “It’s my understanding that the analysis will address both factual and legal issues. I’m told that the study was authorized a few weeks back at ‘the highest levels,’ although I didn’t ask the Cj what he meant by that. I took that to mean the study was commissioned and authorized by the White House, but he did not say that specifically.”

Brown noted that Martin and Farris would be “pleased” to have a phone call with Wilson and Young, the chief deputy attorney general, “to discuss the findings.”

It’s unclear if that conference call took place, but Wilson responded six days later, on Dec. 3.

He described having “constant conversations” with other attorneys generals’ offices, then said he received the “updated brief” the week prior and even had a follow-up conversation with Farris.

“Mike was very accommodating and knowledgeable about the legal issues raised in the pleading,” Wilson wrote.

“We raised a few issues with Mike that were also raised by other states that involved issues with state standing under 14th amendment analysis as well as issues with the remedy,” he added. “There were other issues that have been raised that have been difficult to overcome but our staff along with other states are still working through the issue.”

In statements to TPM, Alliance Defending Freedom distanced itself from the 2020 election litigation, while Farris acknowledged advising the South Carolina attorney general.

“ADF had no role in any litigation or advocacy related to the outcome of the 2020 election. ADF does not practice in this area of law,” a spokesperson for the organization said.

The spokesperson included a separate statement from Farris.

“Election integrity is an issue I care about on a personal level and hope that all Americans take the issue seriously for the sake of future generations,” he said.

“In my personal capacity and on my own time, I communicated with Attorney General Wilson about legal and constitutional questions regarding the election,” he continued. “The subject of voter fraud was not part of those conversations, nor was I involved in producing any ‘reports’ on the same subject.”

Wilson announced in a press release on Dec. 9 that South Carolina would be joining the amicus brief supporting Texas’ lawsuit. And Wilson reportedly met with Trump alongside several other attorneys general supporting the suit the following day. The Supreme Court rejected the lawsuit the day after that, Dec. 11, citing a lack of standing.

Neither Wilson nor Brown responded to TPM’s requests for comment about the documents.

The next record in the cache obtained by American Oversight was a Dec. 11 email from Wilson’s spokesperson, Robert Kittle, containing a draft of what would become a Post and Courier op-ed from the attorney general: “Why I joined the election lawsuit.”

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