Jan. 6 report expands road map for Georgia DA's investigation of Donald Trump
The House select committee's report on Jan. 6 provides an expanded road map for Georgia prosecutors investigating the efforts of former President Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election, spelling out details of an extraordinary pressure campaign on state officials, including “racist” attacks on local election workers.
The report released Thursday also cites testimony from the Trump campaign’s former chief of Election Day operations in Georgia, suggesting that he was manipulated into helping to implement a scheme to create “fake” pro-Trump electors in the state.
A Trump campaign official, Robert Sinners, told the panel that he was never informed, as the committee discovered, that three senior campaign lawyers had refused to participate in the plan on the grounds that it was pointless and legally dicey.
“We were just useful idiots or rubes at that point,” said Sinners, who played a role in setting up a meeting on Dec. 14, 2020, at the Georgia state Capitol, where the fake pro-Trump electors met in secret and anointed themselves the true electors from Georgia, despite Joe Biden’s victory in the state.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is in the final stages of her own investigation into the Trump campaign’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, with a special grand jury expected to deliver its own report on the issue. Willis is widely expected to begin seeking indictments under the state’s broad racketeering conspiracy statute, and many legal analysts have concluded that her probe poses the most imminent threat of criminal prosecution to Trump, despite a long-running, still ongoing, Justice Department investigation.
“The President would stop at nothing to win Georgia,” the report states.
The report’s second chapter focuses on what it calls a “stunning moment”: Trump’s Jan. 2, 2021, phone call to Georgia State Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which he repeatedly badgered the state’s top election official and his chief counsel, Ryan Germany, to “find” enough votes to flip the state election results and appeared to threaten them with criminal prosecution if they did not do so.
“That’s a criminal, that’s a criminal offense. And you can’t let that happen,” Trump told Raffensperger and Germany on the call. “That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer .... I’m notifying you that you’re letting it happen.”
The committee notes that Raffensperger himself viewed Trump’s comments as a threat, given that his language “could be understood as directing the law-enforcement power of the Federal Government against them.”
“While Raffensperger did not know for certain whether President Trump was threatening such an investigation, he knew Trump had ‘positional power’ as President and appeared to be promising to 'make [my] life miserable,'” the report states, citing Raffensperger’s own account in a book he wrote.
“But the threat was also of a more insidious kind,” the committee report continued in its account of the phone call, noting that Raffensperger detailed how “some of Trump’s more radical followers have responded as if it was their duty to carry out this threat.”
The committee report sharply criticizes the false charges of fraud made by Trump and his allies in Georgia. It notes that, during the phone call with Raffensperger, Trump made 18 references by name to Ruby Freeman, an African American election worker in Fulton County (which encompasses the city of Atlanta) who, along with her daughter Shaye Moss, was wrongly accused by the president and his chief lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, of smuggling pro-Biden ballots into the State Farm Arena in Atlanta, where the votes were being counted.
It cites testimony by Giuliani at a Dec. 10, 2020, hearing before a Georgia legislative committee, in which he seized on a clip of Freeman passing Moss a ginger mint, claiming that the two women were smuggling USB drives “as if they’re vials of heroin or cocaine” and suggested that the two women should be jailed and their homes searched.
“Not only were Giuliani’s claims about Freeman and Moss reckless, racist, and false, they had real-world consequences that turned both women’s lives upside down,” the report states, citing public testimony from both women about how they lived in fear as a result and how Freeman, upon the FBI’s advice, had to flee her home.
The report also notes that federal prosecutors uncovered a document in the home of a member of the Oath Keepers — a far-right militia group whose members have been charged with seditious conspiracy — with the words “DEATH LIST” written across the top.
“The death list contained just two names: Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss,” the report states.
The threats in Georgia extended beyond Freeman and Moss. The Fulton County elections registration chief, Ralph Jones, received death threats after the election, including one using a racial slur and describing him as someone “who should be shot,” and another threatening “to kill him by dragging his body around with a truck.” Election offices in 10 Georgia counties received emailed threats from an anonymous sender warning of bombings that would “make the Boston bombings look like child’s play” and that the “death and destruction” would continue “[u]ntil Trump is guaranteed to be POTUS.”
The new details of the fake elector scheme may carry the most legal significance for Willis, however, because they show that senior Trump campaign lawyers were well aware that the plan to anoint pro-Trump electors in Georgia and other states that Biden had won was legally unsound from the outset.
The plan, the report states, “was an unlawful, unprecedented, and destructive break from the electoral college process that our country has used to select its president for generations” and “led directly to the violence” of Jan. 6.
As outlined in the report, the fake elector scheme was pushed by one of Trump’s lawyers, Kenneth Chesebro, in three memos to the campaign on Nov. 18, Dec. 9 and Dec. 13, 2020. In the first memo, Cheseboro argued that alternative electors could be named in Wisconsin as a means of preserving the campaign’s options in the event of a favorable court ruling later throwing out the state election results declaring Biden the winner.
But by the time of his memo on Dec. 9, as it became clear no such rulings would be forthcoming in Wisconsin or in other states, Chesebro argued that unauthorized Trump electors could be selected and then retroactively recognized, not just by a court, but by a “state legislature or Congress.” That idea then became central to Trump’s plan for Jan. 6 to have Vice President Mike Pence reject the authorized Biden electors from key states, on the grounds that there were competing pro-Trump electors.
Once the Supreme Court rejected a Texas challenge to the election results in Georgia, Pennsylvania and other states on Dec. 11, senior Trump campaign lawyers washed their hands of the whole project. According to the report, Justin Clark, who oversaw the Trump campaign’s general counsel’s office, said that he basically conveyed the message, “I’m out,” and encouraged his colleagues on the campaign legal team to do the same.
“I had real problems with the process,” Clark told the panel. He said the fake electors were “not necessarily duly nominated electors” and added, “This isn’t the right thing to do.” Two other campaign lawyers at that point also bowed out of any role in implementing the plan.
But these concerns were apparently never communicated to campaign officials in the states, who were directed — in some instances by the Republican National Committee chair, Ronna McDaniel — to arrange for meetings in state Capitol buildings on Dec. 14. At these meetings, the Trump electors were to designate themselves as the bona fide electors and then send those slates to the National Archives and Congress. In Georgia, a campaign staffer sent an email to the Trump electors in the state, stating they should meet in “complete secrecy” and that, if asked, they should say they were at the state Capitol for meetings with two GOP state senators.
The committee has yet to release transcripts of its key depositions on the issue, making it difficult to know at this point whether there is exculpatory evidence that the panel left out of its report.
The report also fails to note that David Shafer, the chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, who presided over the fake elector meeting that day, later publicly said the step was taken on a contingent basis, in the event that there was a later court ruling in Trump's favor that tossed out the legal and certified Biden electors in the state. Shafer spoke publicly about it only after the fake elector meeting — which participants were told to keep secret — was revealed by reporters.
Sinners, the Trump campaign’s director of Election Day operations in Georgia and potentially a key witness for Willis, told the committee, “I absolutely would not have” wanted to participate in organizing the meeting “had I known that the three main lawyers for the campaign … were not on board.” He went on to say he felt “angry” because “No one really cared if people were potentially putting themselves in jeopardy.”