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Former North Carolina Chief Justice Advised Trump On Election Overthrow Suit, Memo Says

Mark Martin
Screenshot/YouTube, Regent University
July 19, 2022 9:58 a.m.

It appears that Mark Martin, the former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, advised then-President Donald Trump to have the Justice Department pursue a lawsuit in the Supreme Court to overturn the 2020 election, according to a December 28, 2020 memo recently revealed by The New York Times. 

The Times’ story on the memo focuses on its author, the conservative attorney William Olson. Olson has more recently been in the news for his representation of Mike Lindell, the pitchman for pillows and conspiracy theories.

In December 2020, the Times reported, Olson told Trump that he might have to fire DOJ officials who don’t go along with the plan — and warned Trump that critics would compare this to the Watergate-era “Saturday Night Massacre.” Olson also urged Trump to task a new White House counsel with examining how “the powers of the presidency” could be used to ensure a fair vote count — acknowledging ahead of time that this would be “martial law.” 

But the memo revealed by the Times is also notable for its mention of Martin. In his opening paragraph, Olson notes that he knows Trump has recently spoken with Martin, “and that he supported filing the case.” 

That’s interesting for several reasons, including some I identified in exclusive reporting last year. 

A Lobbying Campaign And A Research Effort

That reporting, based on emails sent around Thanksgiving 2020 and obtained by the watchdog group American Oversight, showed that Martin was actively involved in lobbying support for Texas v. Pennsylvania, a headline lawsuit to overturn the election results that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked the Supreme Court to review on Dec. 8, 2020. Seventeen states soon signed onto an amicus brief supporting it.

The suit made the wild argument that the Supreme Court should void the results from four states that Biden won — Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia and Michigan — and instead let the legislatures in those states determine which electors should be sent to the Electoral College.

On Dec. 11, 2020, the Supreme Court rejected Texas’ request for review.

The Times previously reported that Martin was an informal Trump advisor and part of a team of lawyers behind that lawsuit.

The emails I reported showed that Martin communicated with South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson just days before Wilson announced that South Carolina would be one of the states to support the Texas suit. 

In another email, the author and attorney Don Brown wrote to Wilson that he’d recently spoken with Martin. Martin, Brown said, had previewed an incoming report by Alliance Defending Freedom, the right-wing Christian legal organization. The report’s evidentiary conclusions would be more difficult “for the opposition to punch holes in,” Brown relayed Martin saying. 

Then, a tantalizing detail: “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,” Brown said, apparently referring to the former chief justice, Martin. 

In all, the emails indicated a sophisticated effort to corral legal fodder to be used not only to argue a Supreme Court case, but also to convince state-level Republican officials that such a case was worth staking their reputations on. 

A spokesperson for Martin told me last year that he could not discuss “private or privileged conversations.” Michael Farris, CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom and a contact point named several times in the emails, confirmed “I communicated with Attorney General Wilson about legal and constitutional questions regarding the election.” But he denied being personally involved “in producing any ‘reports’ on the same subject.” Representatives for High Point University, where Martin was recently named the incoming founding dean of a new law school, did not return TPM’s request for comment.

Martin has a long history with Trump: In July 2016, when he was still North Carolina’s top judge, a reporter spotted him backstage at a Trump rally. And on the evening of Jan. 6, Martin was among the first people Trump spoke to as police worked to re-secure Congress, according to Trump’s White House diary.

‘Governments No Longer Run Elections’

Martin has not spoken much publicly about his reported work on Texas’ headline lawsuit to overturn the election. But in a previously unreported Dec. 9 speech at a Rotary Club in Chesapeake, Virginia one day after the lawsuit was filed, and on the same day that Wilson joined 16 other Republican attorneys general across the country in filing an amicus brief supporting the suit, he gave his thoughts on the election and legal disputes around it.

“Really, our governments no longer run elections. It’s run by a patchwork of private companies with little or no oversight,” Martin said near the start of his remarks, later asserting, “we don’t even make sure you’re a citizen before you vote in the United States.”

Though Martin did not say anything about being personally involved in the legal effort to overturn the election, the remarks shed some light on his thinking about the election.

Martin cited “IT experts” to argue that “every aspect of our election system is susceptible to hacking.” He said he had spoken to “federal and state officials” about the election system.

Interestingly, given the timing of his speech — the Supreme Court would reject Texas v. Virginia two days later, on Dec. 11 — Martin complained about the hundreds of lawsuits filed nationwide ahead of the 2020 election, many of which sought to make voting easier during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In this most recent election, the statutes that should have applied to the election really didn’t,” he said. “Courts had re-written the rules, and any internal controls we had for absentee ballots or mail-in ballots were largely non-existent. Maybe that was justified, in an era of COVID, or maybe there were those that tried to take advantage of that situation for their own ends. History will tell us the answer to that.”

That complaint paralleled a core argument in Texas’ suit, which alleged that “non-legislative actors” such as judges and election officials had so extensively changed election rules in four Biden-voting states that the Republican-controlled legislatures in those states ought be able to ignore the will of the people and assign their electors to Trump.

Or, as the former chief justice put it to one questioner in the Rotary Club crowd: “The primary prayer for relief is that the four states not be allowed for their electors to vote next Monday.”

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