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Jan 6. Committee transcripts show coordination between Trump campaign, Nevada GOP on fake elector plot

Gabby Birenbaum
Gabby Birenbaum
CongressGovernment
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The January 6 Committee released transcripts of its interviews with Nevada GOP Chair Michael McDonald and national committeeman Jim DeGraffenreid about their roles in a 2020 fake elector scheme, demonstrating how Donald Trump’s campaign coordinated with the state GOP in an attempt to claim decisive electoral votes for Trump.

Both McDonald and DeGraffenreid testified in February in response to subpoenas from the committee. Both Nevada GOP leaders pleaded the Fifth Amendment hundreds of times, refusing to answer any of the committee’s questions, including identifying whether they were in photos of a Dec. 14, 2020 electoral vote signing ceremony in Carson City or signed illegitimate certificates pledging Nevada electoral votes to Trump.

And in internal Trump team emails uncovered by the committee, Jason Miller, who was a senior adviser to the presidential campaign, said the day after the race was called for Joe Biden, “My understanding of our Nevada strategy is to cause as much chaos as possible."

DeGraffenreid and McDonald had to turn over a number of documents pursuant to the plot, including copious text messages and emails coordinated with Trump-aligned lawyers and amongst themselves. The Trump team provided the Nevada GOP with memos, templates, and even the certificate document for the fraudulent election materials they sent to the National Archives, according to investigator statements in the transcripts.

Text messages indicate planning for a fake elector slate began as early as Oct. 30, a few days before Election Day. That’s when Shawn Meehan, another fake elector, texted DeGraffenreid about whether Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a fellow Republican, would be amenable to their scheme.

“Been reading more on Electoral College,” Meehan texted DeGraffenreid. “If things get really sorted up, I could see [Gov. Steve] Sisolak submitting one slate and Barbara having to send our slate. As she dislikes controversial situations, I wonder how that plays out.” 

But DeGraffenreid correctly predicted that the proposal would not work. 

“Elder might do a lot of things, but sending a slate of Republican electors without them being clearly the winners of the popular vote is not one of them,” he replied.

When investigators asked why DeGraffenreid and Meehan were discussing fake elector plots before Trump had even lost Nevada or the election, DeGraffenreid declined to answer.

The transcript also showed later coordination between DeGraffenreid, Meehan and Jim Hindle, another fake elector, about potential congressional allies for objecting to the certification of Nevada’s election results. For a formal objection to be lodged in Congress and receive a vote, a member of both the Senate and the House of Representatives must object to a state’s results.

“We need to also decide if we’re sending our own ballot,” DeGraffenreid texted on Dec. 9, five days before the fake signing ceremony. “Need to know which Senator and Congressman will make the objection…[Sen. Ted] Cruz and [Rep. Jim] Jordan maybe.”

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) eventually sponsored the objection, and Jordan was the first to sign on. 

Messages appear to show significant Trump campaign control over the plot that emerged. On Nov. 4, the day after Election Day and days before victory had been called for Joe Biden in Nevada and nationally, McDonald said via text that he had spoken to the president himself. 

“I have been on the phone this morning with the President, Eric Trump, Mark Meadows, and Mayor [Rudy] Giuliani,” McDonald texted someone named Paula. “There is a major plan.”

“They want full attack mode,” he wrote in another text to someone named Steve. By Dec. 7, McDonald was texting detailed timelines of Nevada’s certification process to former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, an ally of Trump and Giuliani.

Trump’s team also considered hosting a press conference in Nevada on Nov. 8 to discuss what legal adviser to the campaign Justin Clark called “real problems with election administration” in the state, referring to a 2020 vote-by-mail expansion that the Trump campaign had sued over.

No evidence of widespread voter fraud was found.

In the email exchange over whether to host a press conference, Miller said the goal was to “cause as much chaos as possible,” to which campaign manager Bill Stipien wrote, “If that’s the Nevada play, then okay.”

Ultimately, neither Trump nor Giuliani did a Nevada press conference. But they did instruct campaign legal advisers to pursue the fake elector plot.

On Dec. 9, DeGraffenreid told Meehan and Jim Hindle, another Nevada GOP member who would become a fake elector, that he was on the phone with “legal,” and said that “attorneys and campaign” had proposed the fake electors meet in Carson City on Dec. 14 to send their slate – indicating that the Trump campaign was indeed behind the plot. 

In emails the next day with DeGraffenreid, McDonald, and fake elector Jesse Law, an attorney named Kenneth Chesebro, who helped Trump’s post-election legal efforts, nakedly laid out the Trump campaign’s commitment to fake elector schemes in Nevada and five other states. He attached a press release with draft language for Republican fake electors to use in Wisconsin, providing a template.

“Mayor Giuliani and others with the Trump-Pence campaign (including Justin Clark and Nick Trainer) asked me to reach out to you and the other Nevada electors to run point on the plan to have all Trump-Pence electors in all six contested States meet and transmit their votes to Congress on Monday, December 14,” Chesebro wrote.

DeGraffenreid forwarded Chesebro’s email to other Nevada GOPers who would become the fake electors, asking, “What do we know about Ken? Is this a legit outreach?” Over the next few days, in email threads including accounts with official Trump campaign or GOP addresses, lawyers involved in the Trump campaign confirmed they had connected with the Nevada GOP, and passed along draft language for the Nevada GOP to use.

Chesebro passed along Giuliani’s request for the fake slate to meet in Carson City on Dec. 14, the day in which actual state electors meet in each state capital to certify the results. In an email exchange over Dec. 11 and 12, Chesebro forwarded a number of documents and memos with instructions on how to convene the ceremony, what to do, and what language to put out in press releases.

While attorneys from the campaign never expressly said they were asking the Nevada GOP to do something illegal, they acknowledged in memos, shared with the fake electors, that Nevada has state laws requiring the secretary of state to oversee the electors casting their votes, and decreeing faithless electors – casting electoral votes for anyone other than the winner of the popular vote in Nevada – unlawful.

“Nevada is an extremely problematic State because it requires the meeting of the electors to be overseen by the Secretary of State, who is only supposed to permit electoral votes for the winner of the popular vote in Nevada,” the memo said. 

But the Trump campaign was determined to press on. 

“If there were a vote in Congress to take Nevada away from Biden and Harris, presumably along with it would come a vote to overlook this procedural detail,” the memo continued.

Chesebro directly noted the concern to DeGraffenreid in an email exchange from Dec. 10 and 11, but assured him that “these technical aspects of State law are unlikely to matter much in the end.”

Information in the January 6 Committee’s full report, released Thursday night, integrates the perspective of the Trump campaign in embracing the fake elector plot. Chesebro’s memos were circulated by then-Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and the fake electors came up in “dozens” of his meetings and calls in December 2020, per the testimony of his former aide Cassidy Hutchinson. 

The campaign kept spreadsheets tracking the efforts and contact information of GOP electors in six states, and by the week before the fake electors met, Trump himself was involved in its coordination, working with Giuliani and personally calling Republican National Committee (RNC) Chair Ronna McDaniel to put resources towards the plot. McDaniel called back shortly thereafter to tell Trump she was in, and that the RNC was already assisting the fake electors.

The Nevada GOP also explored legal avenues for challenging the election with Trump lawyers, especially after their lawsuit to do so was thrown out by the Nevada Supreme Court on Dec. 8. 

DeGraffenreid told Meehan and Hindle that they were looking into getting a writ of certiorari at the high court, which would allow the justices to hear their case. In texts, McDonald said he was trying to join a Texas lawsuit that contested the results of the election in several states Biden won (which the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately threw out), but was waiting to hear back from Giuliani. 

But by Dec. 12, DeGraffenreid texted other members of the state party that the legal avenue was out, and that plans were still up in the air for Dec. 14. 

“National wants to kill going to the Supreme Court,” he wrote. “And they don’t want press or rallies Monday. Not sure why.”

Up until the morning of the fake elector ceremony, the Nevada GOP had both internal tension and issues with the campaign. Law, one of the fake electors, texted DeGraffenreid, “Suddenly mixed messages and direction on publicity for tomorrow. Not pleased that was raised on the call and not with me beforehand. Upset chairman.”

And Meehan, in confirming the details on Dec. 13 in texts to DeGraffenreid, acknowledged that they would not be meeting the state law’s requirements. 

“We just have to meet is all required, right?” Meehan wrote. “In Carson City is only requirement[?] Not certain building? NVSOS not being there dorks it up too.”

In the days leading up to the ceremony, the various fake electors fought over the location of the ceremony, whether they should allow a crowd to be there and agonized over the role of the Republican National Committee.

“RNC essentially put us in a box on what we can say, but doesn’t sound too bad,” Meehan wrote. 

But McDonald was more upset, worrying that the RNC could potentially throw the Nevada GOP under the bus.

“He’s stressing on the optics,” Meehan texted DeGraffenreid on Dec. 13, referring to McDonald. “He’s very concerned RNC will cut cord if [it] looks bad and steal credit if we do well.”

“He’s concerned that we look like foolish crybabies,” Meehan continued.

But on Dec. 14, the Nevada GOP went through with the plan, using the language in their letter with their fake electoral votes that Chesebro had sent to them – unedited, as opposed to fake electors in Pennsylvania and New Mexico, who made the language more conditional. Nevada’s fake elector certificates used the phrase “duly elected and qualified Electors,” as provided to them by Chesebro. The report describes this as patently false, given that their votes were not sanctioned by the state government through a certificate of ascertainment – a designation reserved for the actual slate of electors, whose votes went to Biden.

In the run-up to Jan. 6, the day of the actual certification of the votes in Congress and the attempted insurrection, McDonald and DeGraffenreid communicated with Reps. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) and Mo Brooks (R-AL) about evidence of election fraud that the Republicans could use to challenge the electoral certification.

“Sounds like they’re doing their homework in advance of January 6th,” DeGraffenreid texted in a group chat with McDonald on Dec. 20. 

When asked what he meant by that, DeGraffenreid, like he had answered every prior question, asserted his Fifth Amendment right, declining to answer.

Updated at 9 a.m. on 12/23/22 to add information from full report released by January 6 Committee, and 5 p.m. to add information from the release of Justin Clark's transcript.

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