WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump's team orchestrated a plot to overturn the 2020 election by organizing slates of alternate "fake electors" in seven pivotal states, according to testimony and documents presented Tuesday by the House Jan. 6 committee.
During its fourth public hearing, the committee revealed that the fake electors submitted false certifications of Trump victories to the National Archives in hopes of having then-Vice President Mike Pence substitute them for the actual electoral votes that made Joe Biden president.
Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel said in pre-recorded testimony that Trump called her so that one of his lawyers, John Eastman, could outline how the party organization could play its part in trying to certify Trump slates from states that voted for Biden.
"Essentially he turned the call over to Mr. Eastman who then proceeded to talk about the importance of the RNC helping the campaign gather these contingent electors in case any of the legal challenges that were ongoing changed the result of any of the states," McDaniel said, revealing Trump's direct knowledge of the effort to undermine the election.
The effort to organize counterfeit electors was one part of a broader campaign by the just-defeated president to cling to power.
But, according to the committee, it demonstrated Trump's willingness to use any means — regardless of their legality — to reverse the will of voters. Trump's team turned to the "fake electors" plan when it became clear that state officials in Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania and other key battlegrounds would not overturn the results in their states and replace Biden electors with Trump electors.
Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, said in recorded testimony that the White House counsel's office advised Meadows, Giuliani and others that the plan was not legally sound. And two Trump campaign lawyers, Justin Clark and Matt Morgan, testified that they were uncomfortable with the idea of tapping fake electors.
The tactical details of the effort, according to evidence presented Tuesday, included a clandestine plot for fake electors to sleep overnight in the Michigan Capitol, the involvement of members of Congress, and a Trump campaign request for false Wisconsin certification documents to be flown across state lines to Washington in time for the Jan. 6 count.
Laura Cox, former chair of the Michigan Republican Party, testified in a video clip that a person affiliated with the Trump campaign told her about the sleepover stratagem.
"He told me that the Michigan Republican electors were planning to meet in the Capitol and hide overnight so that they could fulfill the role of casting their vote per law in the Michigan chambers," she said. "And I told him in no uncertain terms that was insane and inappropriate."
And a Wisconsin Republican complained in a text message about the Trump campaign's Jan. 4, 2021, search for a plane to carry false certification documents.
"Freaking Trump idiots want someone to fly original elector papers to the senate President [Pence]," Mark Jefferson, the executive director of the Wisconsin GOP, wrote. "They're going to call one of us to tell us just what the hell is going on."
When Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, a Trump supporter who rebuffed Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani's entreaties to switch electors in his state, learned that fake electors had met, he was shocked.
"I thought, this is tragic parody," he testified at Thursday's hearing. Bowers also alleged that Giuliani acknowledged the absence of evidence for Trump's claims of election fraud.
"We’ve got lots of theories, we just don’t have the evidence," Bowers recalled Giuliani saying at one point before the official electors met to certify Arizona's results.
In the failed push to execute the plan, Trump backers enlisted the help of Republican officials, including Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., according to evidence presented at the hearing.
On Jan. 6, shortly before the official count began, an aide to Johnson texted a member of the vice president's staff to say that "Johnson needs to hand something to" Pence, according to text messages released by the committee. When asked what it was, Sean Riley, Johnson aide, replied that they were "alternate" electors for two states "because archivist didn't receive them."
The Pence aide shot back: "Do not give that to [Pence]."
Johnson told reporters Tuesday he knew about the slates of alternate electors for Wisconsin and Michigan that were delivered to his office to be given to Pence on Jan. 6.
“I was aware that we got something delivered,” Johnson said after the hearing. “I mean, guys, this, this took place in, I don’t know, the span of a few minutes. And the story ended. There’s nothing to this.”
When pressed on his knowledge about the slates, Johnson said he didn’t know who had delivered them to his office. “Again, I had no involvement in that whatsoever. Somebody delivered this to us to ask us to deliver it to the vice president, we asked if the vice president wanted it, they didn’t want it. We didn’t deliver it. End of story.”
Earlier Tuesday, a spokesperson for Johnson insisted the senator had no advance knowledge of plans to deliver the alternate slate to his office.
"The senator had no involvement in the creation of an alternate slate of electors and had no foreknowledge that it was going to be delivered to our office," Alexa Henning wrote on Twitter. "This was a staff to staff exchange. His new Chief of Staff contacted the Vice President’s office."
But Johnson wasn't the only federal lawmaker pressing for consideration of fake electors.
Bowers said that he received a call from Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., a top Trump loyalist in the House, on the morning of Jan. 6.
"He asked if I would sign on both to a letter that had been sent from my state and/or that I would support the decertification of the electors," Bowers recalled. "I said I would not."