The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Timeline: The Trump team’s ‘fake elector’ plot

Some members on the Jan. 6 panel said on June 19 they will present evidence that President Trump was involved in a failed bid to submit slates of fake electors. (Video: The Washington Post)
9 min

It’s the narrative throughline of virtually everything the Jan. 6 committee is detailing in its hearings this month: Donald Trump and Co. knew what they were doing was wrong or even illegal, but they did it anyway.

Trump was personally told that his biggest voter-fraud claims were false, but he kept pushing them. His attorneys also seemed to know that their Jan. 6 plot to have Vice President Mike Pence overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election was illegal, but that didn’t stop them, either.

Now, in a new report, The Washington Post’s Rosalind S. Helderman details how this pattern also applies to the Trump team’s push for alternate electors — in actuality, “fake electors.”

Trump attorney John Eastman and others appeared to know that the fake electors they designated in seven states were invalid, because they weren’t certified by state legislatures and/or didn’t comply with state law. But they were a necessary part of the Jan. 6 plot. And, apparently, you work with what you have.

The significance of Trump’s fake electors, explained

This will be a focal point for the Jan. 6 committee this week, along with the Trump team’s related push to prevent state and local officials from certifying Joe Biden’s wins in the first place. (When that fell through, the team turned to the fake electors. But the groundwork had been laid.)

Because it’s all rather dense, we decided to lay it out in timeline form. We will update this piece with any new evidence presented by the committee in its hearing Tuesday.

Nov. 3: Election Day 2020. Trump leads in key states on election night. But the addition of mail ballots to the totals severely threatens his lead.

Nov. 4: Former Trump energy secretary Rick Perry texts White House chief of staff Mark Meadows with an idea: States Trump lost that have Republican legislatures could “just send their own electors to vote and have it go to the” Supreme Court. Perry concedes it’s an “AGRESSIVE STRATEGY.” [sic]

Nov. 5: Donald Trump Jr. also begins floating such ideas, citing GOP control of state legislatures and the U.S. Senate. “It’s very simple,” he writes to Meadows. “We have multiple paths We control them all.” (Trump Jr.'s attorney later said the idea “likely originated from someone else and was forwarded.”)

Trump-allied conservative lawyer Cleta Mitchell writes to Eastman suggesting that he begin to look at alternate electors. “John — what would you think of producing a legal memo outlining the constitutional role of state legislators in designating electors?” Mitchell asks. She adds: “A movement is stirring. But needs constitutional support.”

Nov. 6: Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) also suggests GOP state legislatures could send Trump electors despite the election results, while acknowledging that the idea is “highly controversial.” Meadows responds: “I love it.” Meadows responds to a similar message by saying, “Yes. Have a team on it,” according to the House report on Meadows’s contempt of Congress.

Nov. 7: Biden is projected as the winner.

Nov. 17: Trump calls the two Republican canvassers in Detroit-based Wayne County, Mich. — a county he falsely flagged as having illegal “vote dumps” for Biden. They briefly rescind their certification but, ultimately, sign off on the results.

Nov. 18: Trump-allied lawyer Kenneth Chesebro sends a memo to Trump’s lead attorney in Wisconsin arguing for an alternate-elector push on Dec. 14, the deadline for electors. “It may seem odd that the electors pledged to Trump and Pence might meet and cast their votes on December 14 even if, at that juncture, the Trump-Pence ticket is behind in the vote count, and no certificate of election has been issued in favor of Trump and Pence,” Chesebro writes. “However, a fair reading of the federal statutes suggests that this is a reasonable course of action.” It’s one of the earliest indicators that Trump allies viewed Jan. 6 rather than Dec. 14 as their deadline.

Nov. 19: Trump invites high-ranking Republican state legislators from Michigan to the White House in an apparent effort to pressure them on the state’s election results.

Late November: Trump and Rudy Giuliani call Arizona House Speaker Russell “Rusty” Bowers (R) in an attempt to block the certification of the state’s results. Bowers declines to go along with it.

Nov. 28: By this date, Eastman has written his memo on electors. But it focuses on ones who would actually be chosen by state legislatures. The memo states that “the constitutional power to decide on the method for choosing electors remains exclusively with state legislatures.” A copy is sent to White House staff with the note “For POTUS” — suggesting Trump might have been clued in on the effort early on.

Nov. 30: Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) apparently receives a call from the White House while certifying his state’s election results. He ignores the call.

Late November/early December: The White House Counsel’s Office tells Meadows and Giuliani that the alternate elector plan is not legally sound, according to testimony by Meadows aide Cassidy Hutchinson.

Early December: Trump calls Pennsylvania House Speaker Bryan Cutler (R) twice to talk about overturning that state’s results. Cutler says the legislature can’t do so, according to an aide.

Dec. 5: Trump calls Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) to pressure him to have the legislature overturn that state’s results.

Dec. 6: Meadows references Chesebro’s memo in an email to Trump campaign aide Jason Miller, saying, “We just need to have someone coordinating the electors for states.”

Dec. 7: Eastman forwards Chesebro’s memo. (The recipients’ names are redacted.) A judge would later rule that Eastman and Trump likely broke the law and that this forwarded email showed the plot “was fully formed and actionable as early as December 7, 2020″ — a week before the Dec. 14 elector deadline.

Dec. 9: Chesebro concedes in another memo that it will be difficult for fake electors in some key states to comply with state law, because those laws carry specific requirements for how the electors would be selected.

Dec. 11: Trump’s campaign acknowledges its push for alternate electors in a footnote in a legal filing to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court dismisses a desperate bid led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) to overturn the election results in four key states, severely curtailing any legal path for the Trump campaign. Even Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Clarence Thomas say they wouldn’t have granted the relief sought by Texas, which was to invalidate the electors in those states.

Dec. 13: Eastman pushes for fake electors on Dec. 14, arguing that state legislatures could validate them later on. “The electors absolutely need to meet,” he writes in an email. “Then, if the Legislature gets some spine … those electoral votes will be available to be certified by the legislature.”

Chesebro emails Giuliani arguing that Pence, as president of the Senate, might have the authority to choose between slates of electors.

A Trump campaign aide tells fake electors meeting the next day to operate with “complete secrecy and discretion.”

Dec. 14: The fake electors convene in seven states: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Some falsely declare they are duly elected (raising questions about whether they broke the law), while in a couple of states they make their status as electors contingent on the election results being overturned. In some states, they fail to meet the legal requirements outlined by Chesebro (i.e. failing to meet in the Capitol in Michigan and not having the secretary of state present in Nevada).

Trump aide Stephen Miller cites the fake electors, saying that “we are going to send those results up to Congress.” They are initially pitched as precautionary — in place just in case courts later overturn the results.

Dec. 19: Eastman concedes to an activist that the fake electors will be “dead on arrival in Congress,” because they weren’t certified by state legislatures. “ … The textual claim that the ‘executive’ certification would prevail in such an instance over the legislature-certified slate is contrary to Article II” of the Constitution, Eastman wrote.

Dec. 23: Despite his email four days prior, Eastman tells Trump advisers that Pence could still try to use the fake electors. The lawyer sends a two-page memo outlining how to use them to overturn the election. “The fact that we have multiple slates of electors demonstrate the uncertainty of either. That should be enough,” Eastman writes. In outlining the strategy, he concedes Pence would have to disregard a federal law known as the Electoral Count Act.

Dec. 28: Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, who pushed Trump’s fraud claims internally, circulates a draft letter suggesting DOJ would treat the alternate electors as valid. Fellow DOJ officials reject Clark’s effort.

Dec. 31: Trump attorney Jenna Ellis echoes the fake-elector plot in a one-page memo.

Jan. 2: Trump asks Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) to “find” enough votes to call Biden’s victory there into question. “All I want to do is this: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” Trump says in the recorded call.

Jan. 3: After The Post breaks news of the Raffensperger call, Trump tries to contact Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Clint Hickman (R). Hickman declines to return the call, believing he would face pressure, too.

Despite his prior comments about the fake-elector plan being “dead on arrival,” Eastman by this date has written a fuller six-page memo arguing that Pence should declare the fake electors as legitimate. “There are thus dual slates of electors from 7 states,” Eastman says.

Jan. 6: Pence declines to treat the alternate electors as valid, clearing the way for the certification of Biden’s win just hours after Trump supporters rioted at the Capitol — while calling for Pence’s hanging.

Jan. 10: Eastman concedes in an email to an activist that the fake electors had no legal standing. “No legislature certified them (because governors refused to call them into session), so they had no authority,” he wrote. He adds: “Alas.”