Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) has filed charges against 16 individuals who sent fake documents to Washington, D.C. falsely alleging they were legitimate electors selected to take part in the Electoral College in an attempt to help former President Donald Trump overturn the results of the 2020 election.
The “fake electors” plot was organized by then-Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and other officials within Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign after it became clear that Trump had lost the race to President Joe Biden. Fake electors were brought together in several states that Trump lost by close margins, with the hopes that Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, would go beyond his constitutional role and consider them in Congress’s certification of the Electoral College on January 6, 2021.
Participants in the scheme went as far as to send the counterfeit certificates to Washington, D.C., with the Trump team hoping they would be counted as legitimate or, at the very least, be seen as equal to the real certificates. But although Washington lawmakers loyal to Trump attempted to hand the fake documents off to Pence, the former vice president refused to entertain the notion that he could single-handedly alter the results of the presidential election, ultimately thwarting their plot.
On Tuesday, Nessel announced that her office would seek a number of charges against the 16 illegitimate electors who had gathered at the Michigan state capitol in December 2020, in secret, to take part in the plot. Each of the individuals involved in the scheme — which Nessel has described as a “desperate effort” to “undermine democracy” — faces eight charges total, including conspiracy and election law forgery.
The fake electors include a number of formerly prominent Republican Party officials, including a former member of the Republican National Committee and the former head of the state GOP.
The document that all 16 had signed wrongly stated that they were “duly elected and qualified Electors for President and Vice President of the United States of America from the State of Michigan” — a claim that Nessel, in a video statement explaining her decision to charge them, called “a lie.”
“They weren’t the duly elected and qualified electors, and each of the defendants knew it,” Nessel said, adding that the plan “to reject the will of the voters and undermine democracy” was “fraudulent and legally baseless.”
Some fake electors, in Michigan and in other parts of the country, have tried to justify their actions by claiming that they were only serving as a backup plan in the event that legal challenges from Trump or his allies reversed the outcome of the election in the state. (Notably, Biden won Michigan by more than 154,000 votes.) But Nessel flatly rejected that idea, stating:
The evidence will demonstrate there was no legal authority for the false electors to purport to act as ‘duly elected presidential electors’ and execute the false electoral documents. … Every serious challenge to the election had been denied, dismissed, or otherwise rejected by the time the false electors convened. There was no legitimate legal avenue or plausible use of such a document or an alternative slate of electors.
Evidence collected by the Michigan Attorney General’s office also indicates that the fake electors were told to keep their actions secret, in order to not give away that the plot was being orchestrated in other states, too. Within an affidavit accompanying the charges is an analysis of dozens of text messages among the fake electors, including a conversation between two of them in which one questions why a third member of the 16 was posting about their activities on Facebook, “even though we were all asked to keep silent as to not draw attention to what the other states were doing.”
Nessel is not charging anyone directly tied to Trump or his campaign at this time, possibly opting not to do so in order to avoid interfering with a federal investigation relating to the fake electors plot. But her office has left open the possibility that other individuals could be charged in the future.
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