The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Republican AGs group sent robocalls urging protesters to the Capitol. GOP officials now insist they didn’t know about it.

Secret Service officers stand guard at the White House as President Trump supporters gather on Wednesday. (Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post)

The day before a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, an arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association sent out robocalls urging supporters to come to D.C. to “fight” Congress over President Trump’s baseless election fraud claims.

“At 1 p.m. we will march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal,” said the message first reported by the watchdog group Documented. “We’re hoping patriots like you will join us to continue to fight to protect the integrity of our elections.”

After the attempted insurrection on Wednesday left a police officer and four others dead, several GOP attorneys general have distanced themselves from the robocalls, insisting they didn’t know about the campaign. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, the chairman of the Rule of Law Defense Fund, the nonprofit that sent out the calls, blamed the group’s staffers.

“I was unaware of unauthorized decisions made by RLDF staff with regard to this week’s rally,” he said in a statement to the Montgomery Advertiser. “It is unacceptable that I was neither consulted about nor informed of those decisions. I have directed an internal review of the matter.”

Those claims fell short for Marshall’s Democratic counterparts, who pointed to the number of GOP officials who have repeated the president’s unfounded election fraud claims.

“RLDF — and the Republican [attorneys general] who blindly take their support — have no legal or moral ground on which to stand here,” said a statement issued from the Democratic Attorneys General Association’s co-chairs, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford.

The robocalls are the latest incident leaving GOP officials fending off criticism over their culpability in Wednesday’s riots. While Republicans have roundly criticized the violence, many have stopped short of condemning Trump for his role in inciting it or for insisting on political repercussions.

The calls were sent out by the Rule of Law Defense Fund, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, which are often called a “dark money groups” by critics because they are not required to reveal donors. The group works to elect GOP attorneys general, Documented reported.

Republicans who had echoed President Trump’s false election claims suddenly distanced themselves after a pro-Trump mob breached the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. (Video: The Washington Post)

It is unclear how many people received the Tuesday robocall from the Republican group. The recording opened with the operator noting she was leaving “an important message” on behalf of the Rule of Law Defense Fund, Documented reported, before urging marchers to show up to D.C. on Jan. 6 to march on the Capitol.

Following Documented’s reporting, Adam Piper, the executive director of the Republican Attorneys General Association, denied the group had been involved in planning the march to the Capitol. The groups, he said in a statement on Friday, “had no involvement in the planning, sponsoring, or the organization of yesterday’s rally. No Republican A.G. authorized the staff’s decision to amplify a colleague speaking at the rally.”

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, the former chairman of the Rule of Law Defense Fund, also said on Friday that he had no involvement with the protests or the violence that followed.

“A.G. Reyes was not involved in organizing the rally in Washington, D.C.” his office said in a statement. “He supports everyone’s rights to peacefully protest and, as stated previously, condemns in the strongest possible terms, all acts of lawlessness and violence at the Capitol Building last week.”

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Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, the vice chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association, also denied knowing about the calls on Saturday.

“Attorney General Schmitt absolutely had no knowledge of or involvement in the robocall, and condemns the violence that took place on Wednesday in the strongest possible terms, period,” his spokesperson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Despite claims from the attorneys general that the nonprofit played no role in organizing the rally, Documented reported that the website promoting the “March to Save America,” rally, which was down as of early Monday morning, showed the Rule of Law Defense Fund among the organizations listed as participants.

Democratic attorneys general also noted that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who furthered Trump’s baseless fraud claims in a failed lawsuit, spoke at the rally and that Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a former attorney general, led the move to object to President-elect Joe Biden’s win.

“Its former chair spoke at the rally that incited the mob,” the group’s statement said, referring to Paxton. “And former GOP A.G. Josh Hawley led the effort in Congress to undermine the election.”