A staffer for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign instructed Republicans planning to cast electoral college votes for Trump in Georgia despite Joe Biden’s victory to operate in “complete secrecy,” an email obtained by The Washington Post shows.
The Dec. 13, 2020, email went on to instruct the electors to tell security guards at the building that they had an appointment with one of two state senators. “Please, at no point should you mention anything to do with Presidential Electors or speak to the media,” Sinners continued in bold.
The admonishments suggest that those who carried out the fake elector plan were concerned that, had the gathering become public before Republicans could follow through on casting their votes, the effort could have been disrupted. Georgia law requires that electors fulfill their duties at the State Capitol. On Dec. 14, 2020, protesters for and against the two presidential candidates had gathered on the Capitol grounds.
The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, which begins public hearings on Thursday, is likely to highlight the scheme to appoint fake electors and explore whether top Trump campaign officials initiated the strategy as part of a larger effort to overturn the democratic election.
Norm Eisen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the counsel to House Democrats for Trump’s first impeachment, said the email could suggest those involved knew their actions could be problematic. “If there was nothing wrong with it, why go through such extraordinary lengths to hide what you’re doing?” he asked.
Georgia was one of seven states won by Biden where Republican electors gathered Dec. 14, 2020, signing certificates purporting to affirm Trump as the actual victor of their states. Though Biden’s win in Georgia had been formally certified — and reconfirmed after a recount and court cases — Trump supporters later cited the actions of the electors to argue Biden’s win in Georgia and elsewhere remained in doubt.
They argued that when Congress met on Jan. 6, 2021, to count the electoral college votes that Vice President Mike Pence could choose to recognize Trump’s electors over Biden’s. Trump supporters violently stormed the U.S. Capitol after Pence announced he believed that the Constitution required him to recognize only official electors.
In a statement, Sinners said he was working at the direction of senior campaign officials and Georgia Republican Party Chairman David Shafer, who served as a Trump elector in the state. “I was advised by attorneys that this was necessary in order to preserve the pending legal challenge,” he said.
“Following the Former President’s refusal to accept the results of the election and allow a peaceful transition of power, my views on this matter have changed significantly from where they were on December 13th,” said Sinners, who now works for Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), who resisted Trump’s efforts to overturn the result.
Robert Driscoll, a lawyer for Shafer, said the Georgia GOP chairman has provided all of his communications about the elector process to the Jan. 6 committee. “None of these communications, nor his testimony, suggest that Mr. Shafer requested or wished for confidentiality surrounding the provisional electors,” he said.
He noted that Shafer invited journalists to attend the proceedings and gave interviews immediately afterward explaining the goal had been to ensure Trump electors were in place should a court overturn Biden’s win in response to a pending case. “In order for that lawsuit to remain viable, we were required to hold this meeting to preserve [Trump’s] rights,” Shafer said at the time, according to a video clip posted by Fox 5 Atlanta.
A Trump spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco confirmed in January that the Justice Department is investigating whether what she termed “fraudulent elector certifications” violated federal law. In Georgia, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is investigating whether the appointment of fake Trump electors broke state law, said two people familiar with the probe, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive law enforcement matters.
The Justice Department has sent subpoenas and sought interviews with some of the 15 people around the country who were slated to be Trump electors but were replaced on the day of the electoral college vote, several people told The Washington Post. Some of those Republicans have previously told The Post they didn’t participate because Biden had won the popular vote in their state and they did not think the gatherings were appropriate; others said they were ill or had scheduling conflicts.
Among those who refused to participate were Pennsylvania Republican Party Chairman Lawrence Tabas, an election-law expert who had defended Trump in 2016 against a recount push by Green Party candidate Jill Stein; former congressman Tom Marino (R-Pa.), one of the first members of Congress to endorse Trump’s presidential campaign; and Georgia real estate investor John Isakson, son of the late Republican senator Johnny Isakson.
The subpoenas seek all documents since Oct. 1, 2020, related to the electoral college vote, as well as any election-related communications with roughly a dozen people in Trump’s inner circle, including Rudy Giuliani, Bernard Kerik, Boris Epshteyn, Jenna Ellis and John Eastman.
One would-be Trump elector in Georgia, Patrick Gartland, had been appointed to the Cobb County Board of Elections and Registration and believed that post created a conflict of interest for him. Still, two FBI agents recently came to his home with a subpoena and asked whether he had any contact with Trump advisers around the time of the November election. “They wanted to know if I had talked to Giuliani,” Gartland said.
He said he has also been interviewed by investigators with the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office.
Former Cobb County GOP chairman Jason Shepherd said in an interview that he too has been interviewed by the FBI. “They seem the most interested in Shafer’s role and any communications from the White House or members of Congress,” he said.
In Georgia, Democrats met on the floor of the state Senate to cast 16 electoral college votes for Biden in a ceremony presided over by former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. Trump electors gathered in a conference room nearby, sitting around a U-shaped table as they signed certificates declaring themselves the state’s viable electors.
The email obtained by The Post shows the campaign went to considerable lengths to keep the effort quiet in advance. Trump electors were told not to reveal their plans to security on arriving at the State Capitol but instead to say they were on-site to attend a meeting with either state Sen. Brandon Beach or state Sen. Burt Jones, both Republicans.
Jones, who was among the 16 Trump electors, won the Republican nomination to be Georgia’s next lieutenant governor last month.
Beach declined to comment, citing the grand jury investigations. Jones said he was not familiar with the email and denied being a “point of contact” for the gathering.
Matthew Brown contributed to this report from Atlanta.