'Bizarro' and 'It's over:' Five takeaways from Nevada fake elector grand jury transcripts
Before the Clark County grand jury ultimately decided to indict the six Nevada Republicans who cast false electoral votes for then-President Donald Trump in 2020, they heard witness testimony from a top Nevada elections official, a Postal Service inspector and one of campaign lawyers about how the fake elector scheme unfolded.
Transcripts released this weekend of the November and December proceedings — which were initially secret — reveal the reaction of the secretary of state’s office to receiving the Nevada Republicans’ documents, how the plot’s legal architect in the Trump campaign characterized Nevada’s challenges, and the relevance of Las Vegas, jurisdictionally, to an act that occurred in Carson City.
The transcripts come as the six “fake electors” pleaded not guilty to felony charges on Monday in Clark County District Court, with the judge setting a March trial date.
Read five of the most notable revelations from the testimony below:
- Trump lawyer viewed filings as moot because court challenges in Nevada had failed
Kenneth Chesebro was the Trump campaign’s legal adviser who conceptualized sending alternate Trump elector slates to Congress in states where the campaign was contesting Joe Biden’s electoral victories — and he has been in and out of various courts this year testifying about it.
His legal theory for the fake elector schemes rested on the premise that state parties or the Trump campaign were in active litigation over election results — meaning fake elector ceremonies held when all appeals had been tossed out, as was the case of Nevada, were done for “no reason,” as he put it in his testimony.
Chesebro — who took a plea deal from prosecutors in Georgia’s racketeering case against Trump and others who attempted to overturn the 2020 election — was ultimately not charged in Nevada for his role in advising the fake electors, though he was initially listed as a defendant in the first grand jury transcript. He instead cooperated with prosecutors.
But he served as a witness in the attorney general’s investigation, testifying about providing memos and instructions to eventual fake electors Jim DeGraffenreid, Michael McDonald and Jesse Law. McDonald is the chair of the Nevada Republican Party, DeGraffenreid is one of the state’s Republican National Committee members and Law is the chair of the Clark County Republican Party.
Much of Chesebro’s grand jury testimony confirms revelations from the congressional January 6 Committee’s transcripts of its interviews with McDonald and DeGraffenreid, including that he was directed to reach out to the Nevadans by Trump’s deputy campaign manager Justin Clark. But in the transcripts, Chesebro spelled out his legal theory as to why Republicans should file unauthorized elector slates for Trump in states whose results the campaign was contesting.
Chesebro first became involved in the effort to file a fake elector slate in Wisconsin, saying that the campaign needed to have documentation of votes being cast for Trump by the Electoral College deadline of Dec. 14. That way, Chesebro explained, if the Trump campaign’s legal efforts to overturn Biden’s win in Wisconsin were successful, Congress could use the already-submitted Trump slate when certifying the election results on January 6.
The Trump campaign then had Chesebro create a set of memos and documents to send to Republican electors in all the states whose elections it wanted to overturn — including Nevada. Once in contact with DeGraffenreid, Chesebro asked if there was any pending election litigation in Nevada.
Chesebro told the grand jury DeGraffenreid never responded to him. But a Carson City District Court judge had rejected the Trump campaign’s spurious claims of massive voter fraud on Dec. 4, 2020, and the appeal was denied by the Nevada Supreme Court on Dec. 8.
By the time the fake electors convened in Carson City on Dec. 14, there was no longer any active litigation from the campaign — which Chesebro said made the fake elector paperwork pointless.
“If on December 14th all the lawsuits are over, and the governor has said Biden won and there's nothing more that's going to happen in court, then it's over,” he said in the transcript. “And so there's no reason to file the paperwork.”
- Though the fake electors expressed doubts about the plan amongst themselves, they didn’t raise them to Chesebro
The January 6 Committee transcripts of interviews with DeGraffenreid and McDonald show that the fake electors expressed some doubt that creating their own electoral certificates for Trump would work. DeGraffenreid texted another fake elector, Shawn Meehan, the chapter and code numbers of the Nevada statutes on electoral certification, acknowledging that then-Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske’s involvement was legally mandated. Meehan replied that Cegavske not participating in their ceremony or signing their documents “dorks it up.”
Chesebro himself admitted Nevada is an “extremely problematic state” in his 2020 memo to the fake electors based on the state law that requires Cegavske to oversee the meeting of the presidential electors. He expanded on this issue in his testimony, saying that Nevada state law mandates the secretary of state to not only witness the meeting, but ensure that the fake electors cast their ballots for the winner of the popular vote.
“There's no way you can meet the statute if you try to vote for Trump,” Chesebro said in response to a jury question. “And that's just the problem.”
In his testimony, Chesebro said the fake electors in Pennsylvania had expressed concerns to him that calling themselves the “duly elected and qualified electors” could invite prosecution from the state’s Democratic attorney general over filing “something false.”
Chesebro assuaged their concerns by drafting different language for them to use, excluding the “duly elected and qualified” phrasing. But he said the Nevada fake electors never raised similar qualms to him and thus, used the unedited phrasing in the documents they submitted to state and federal authorities.
In Pennsylvania, no state charges have been brought against their fake electors — likely due to that distinction.
- The secretary of state’s office found the fake electors’ documents “bizarro”
Deputy Secretary of State for Elections Mark Wlaschin described a “level of disbelief” between top elections administrators at receiving the fake documents.
Wlaschin in his testimony said the official certificates and votes contain clear symbols such as the state seal and specific templates. When the fake documents arrived, they looked “bizzaro”, he said.
“They look kind of like that [real one], but almost maybe if you had like ten minutes to put something together instead of an official document,” he said.
Wlaschin said the documents arrived in Carson City and had been mailed by McDonald. He called Cegavske, who was in Las Vegas at the time, to discuss how to proceed.
The package included a page listing the names of who needed to receive the documents — among them, the president of the U.S. Senate and the National Archives, with the secretary of state’s name highlighted. Cegavske then had Wlaschin reach out to the Senate and the National Archives to let them know unauthorized electoral documents from Nevada were coming their way.
- The secretary of state’s office returned the fake documents to McDonald
Cegavske instructed Wlaschin to return the documents. Wlaschin mailed them back to McDonald, at a Las Vegas address, along with a letter on Dec. 15.
In a brief note, Wlaschin outlined that the official certificate of ascertainment, a document signed by the governor naming the electors and vote totals, had already been signed and sent, and that Nevada law requires electors to vote for the winner of the popular vote in the state — in this case, Biden.
“We are returning these documents as they do not meet the statutory requirement for filing with our office,” Wlaschin wrote.
- Sending the fake documents to Las Vegas may provide a clue toward trial jurisdiction
Throughout the transcript, prosecutors asked several questions and attempted to establish the relevance of Las Vegas to the case — even though the fake elector ceremony was held in Carson City and, according to testimony from U.S. Postal Service inspector Warren Heister, the false documents were originally mailed from Minden (where DeGraffenreid lives).
The return address on the fake elector documents — where Wlaschin sent them back — was in Las Vegas, at the Nevada Republican Party’s mailing address. That same return address was used for the package of documents delivered to the National Archives. And a copy of the documents was also mailed to the federal courthouse in Las Vegas.
Ford has not publicly said why he chose to file the case in Las Vegas instead of Carson City, and no defendants have as of yet attempted to challenge Clark County courts’ jurisdiction in the case.