Trump campaign guided Michigan’s false elector bid, emails show

Lansing — Then-President Donald Trump’s campaign directly orchestrated the filing of a certificate, signed by 16 Michigan Republicans, that falsely claimed he won the state’s 2020 election, according to internal campaign emails obtained by The Detroit News.

The documents, which have become part of Attorney General Dana Nessel’s ongoing investigation into the slate of false electors, showed that Trump’s campaign staff helped coordinate the Republicans’ gathering inside state party headquarters on Dec. 14, 2020. Then, Trump’s team prepared the official mailing of the false certificate to Vice President Mike Pence and the National Archives, according to the emails.

Later, when it was unclear whether the Michigan and Wisconsin certificates would make it to Washington, D.C., in time for the counting of electoral votes on Jan. 6, 2021, Trump supporters, along with campaign employees, developed and executed a plan to fly the certificates there themselves.

The apparent objective was to bolster claims that the November 2020 presidential election was “rigged” and ultimately “void the results favoring” Democrat Joe Biden, wrote lawyer Kenneth Chesebro, who helped create the electors plan, in a Jan. 1, 2021, email to Boris Epshteyn, a top Trump adviser.

“Alternatively, if Biden is simply held to under 270 by virtue of electoral votes not being counted (even though ‘appointed’), or by virtue of a switch to legislature-certified electors, then the election gets thrown to the House,” lawyer John Eastman, who was assisting the Trump campaign, wrote in another email on Jan. 1, 2021. “If the Republicans there hold true and vote with their state delegations, Trump should win a bare majority of the states.”

Epshteyn responded to Eastman’s message on Jan. 1, 2021, by questioning whether the information needed to be edited before it was sent to members of Congress.

The emails conflicted with the public comments of Michigan Republican leaders who said the false electors certificate was merely an attempt to give Trump a chance if the courts eventually overturned the election.

The revelations provide further proof that the false elector certificates advanced in seven battleground states, including Michigan, were not organic efforts by local Republican officials to question the election results in their states, but part of a larger scheme by Trump’s campaign to maintain power.

While the strategy of interfering with states’ certified results was unsuccessful in 2020, it could return for a future election. Michigan will have three statewide elections this year.

More than 2.8 million Michigan voters cast ballots for Biden in the November 2020 election. More than 2.6 million voted for Trump.

Trump’s campaign didn’t respond Thursday to a request for comment as he seeks the Republican nomination for president again this year.

The emails, obtained by The News, were gathered by the Michigan Attorney General’s office after Chesebro began cooperating with authorities. He pleaded guilty to a felony charge of conspiracy to commit filing false documents as part of Georgia’s probe into Trump’s push to overturn the 2020 election results.

‘Choose the fastest’

The false certificate from Michigan featured Republican National Committeewoman Kathy Berden’s name as the sender when it was mailed to the National Archives on Dec. 15, 2020.

However, internal emails showed that Trump campaign staffer Shawn Flynn prepared the mailing and sought advice from others within the campaign on how to get it to the U.S. Senate office of then-Vice President Mike Pence, who oversaw the counting of electoral votes.

“Just wanted to check if these need to be sent a certain class of mail along with the extra service of certified mail and registered mail respectively?” Flynn wrote of the false Michigan certificate in a Dec. 15, 2020, email to Chesebro, two other Trump campaigns staffers and an employee of the Republican National Committee.

“Choose the fastest,” Mike Roman, the Trump campaign’s director of Election Day operations, replied at about 2 p.m. Dec. 15, 2020.

Documents obtained by Nessel’s office showed that the false certificate was mailed from a post office in East Lansing to the National Archives that same day, Dec. 15, 2020.

Berden’s lawyer, George Donnini, confirmed this week that his client, who resided in Snover, 116 miles away from East Lansing, didn’t mail the certificate, although she was listed as the sender.

Flynn, a lawyer who uses an Oakland County address, didn’t respond Thursday to a request for comment. Flynn worked on Election Day operations for the Trump campaign in Michigan and led the meeting of the false electors inside state party headquarters on Dec. 14, 2020, according to those who were present.

Nessel, a Democrat and Michigan’s top law enforcement official, charged each of the 16 GOP electors with eight felonies in July. The charges include forgery and uttering and publishing.

The forgery charges focus on allegations the GOP electors made a false certificate with the intent to defraud. The uttering and publishing charges are similar, but for prosecutors to be successful, they must prove the electors somehow presented the false certificate in a way that would affect the rights of others.

The internal Trump campaign emails indicate that it was Trump campaign employees, not the electors, who presented the false document to federal government agencies. And in court last month, multiple Michigan Republican officials linked the Trump campaign to the organization and execution of the false electors’ scheme.

Asked why it appeared those who coordinated the false electors plan hadn’t been charged by the Attorney General’s office, Nessel spokesman Danny Wimmer said the investigation remains “active and ongoing.”

“…(T)he department has not ruled out potential charges against additional defendants,” Wimmer added.

‘Go along’

At the Dec. 14, 2020, gathering in Lansing, the 16 Michigan Republicans signed a certificate falsely claiming they were “duly” elected, which they weren’t, and Trump had won Michigan’s 16 electoral votes.

In reality, Michigan voters chose Biden’s electors. He won the state by 3 percentage points or 154,000 votes, and the results were certified by the bipartisan Michigan Board of State Canvassers.

Trump’s campaign was more involved than previously known in setting up the Dec. 14, 2020, event, according to the internal emails.

In a Dec. 11, 2020, message to Chesebro and Justin Clark, an adviser to Trump’s campaign, Joshua Findlay, legal counsel for Trump’s campaign, said his understanding from the team of Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, was that Chesebro was “running point” on the electors effort.

Jon Black, a regional political director for the Republican National Committee, was “coordinating” the electors plan in Michigan and Pennsylvania, Findlay said in the email.

“Jon Black would like to hold a call with the campaign and the electors in Michigan to discuss ASAP,” Findlay wrote.

In another email on Dec. 11, 2020, Chesebro told Black that Bernard Kerik, a former New York police commissioner and close associate of Giuliani and Trump, was helping Giuliani push legislative leaders in Michigan “to go along.”

Michigan’s Republican legislative leaders at the time, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey of Clarklake and House Speaker Lee Chatfield of Levering, ultimately decided against intervening in the awarding of Michigan’s electoral votes.

In a statement on Dec. 14, 2020, Shirkey said the slate of Democratic electors should be able to proceed with their duty “free from threats of violence and intimidation” and acknowledged that Biden and vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris won Michigan’s election.

Shirkey said Thursday that he didn’t recall any member of the Trump campaign specifically asking him to appoint an alternative slate of electors.

‘Asked me to contact you’

Chesebro also sent a Michigan electoral certificate form to be used at the Dec. 14, 2020, meeting, and a plan for casting the votes in Michigan to Roman and Kerik ahead of the electors gathering, records show.

Chesebro’s plan said the Michigan GOP electors should cast ballots for both president and vice president, in addition to signing the certificates.

“These ballots are not to be sent to Washington; but they should be retained as proof that the electors did actually cast ballots for president & vice president,” Chesebro’s plan said of the ballots that were to be used.

A day earlier, on Dec. 10, 2020, Chesebro emailed Berden and Marian Sheridan, another of the 16 GOP electors in Michigan.

“Several people with the Trump campaign, including Justin Clark and Nick Trainer, gave me your contact info and asked me to help coordinate with the other five contested states, to help with logistics of the electors in other states hopefully joining in casting their votes on Monday,” Chesebro wrote.

Trainer led the Trump campaign strategy in battleground states.

The subject line of the message from Chesebro was “URGENT — Trump-Pence campaign asked me to contact you to coordinate Dec. 14 voting by Michigan electors.”

Minutes later, Chesebro also sent the message he wrote to Berden and Sheridan to Giuliani. Giuliani then forwarded it to Epshteyn and Christina Bobb, a lawyer who was advising Trump, according to the emails obtained by The News.

More: Trump campaign recognized legal risks of false electors, still went forward

Room 306

After the electors meeting on Dec. 14, 2020, Flynn informed Chesebro, Roman and others within the GOP that he was preparing packages of the false certificates to send to Pence, the National Archives, the Secretary of State’s office and the chief judge in Michigan’s Western District.

“I have attached a scan of the basic package of materials that will constitute one package going to each official,” Flynn wrote to Roman. “It includes: one copy of the cover memo, one duplicate original of the certificate of electors, and one copy of the replacement elector forms.”

But, by early January, Trump campaign staffers became concerned that the Michigan certificate wouldn’t make its way to Congress for the official counting of votes on Jan. 6, 2021, the event that was the pinnacle of Trump’s effort to overturn the election.

On Jan. 4, 2021, Roman, the Trump campaign operative, emailed Chesebro and Matt Morgan, general counsel for the Trump campaign, saying the Michigan certificate was mailed on Dec. 15, 2020, but was still “in transit.”

“The latest update was posted this morning and stated the packages for the Senate president and archivist were at the D.C. sorting facility,” wrote Roman, who now faces criminal charges in Georgia for his alleged role in orchestrating a false Trump electors scheme in that state.

Morgan later emailed, “You will probably need to enlist the help of a legislator who can deliver to the appropriate place(s). I strongly recommend you guys discuss a revised delivery plan with Rudy (Giuliani) to make sure this gets done the way he wants.”

Morgan became “freaked out” that the Michigan votes were still at a sorting facility, Chesebro told investigators for Nessel’s office in a recorded interview in December.

Roman floated the idea of chartering a flight to get the certificates to Washington, D.C., ahead of Jan. 6, 2021.

Instead, they developed a plan to have G. Michael Brown, deputy director of Election Day operations for Trump’s campaign, fly on a commercial flight with the Michigan certificate to get it to the Trump International Hotel on Jan. 5, 2021. Meanwhile, Alesha Guenther, who worked for the Wisconsin Republican Party, flew with the Wisconsin certificate to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 5, 2021.

Chesebro told Guenther in an email to meet him at the Trump hotel in Washington, D.C. Chesebro said he was in Room 306 and would keep the Wisconsin certificate in the room safe “until I later deliver to the Hill.”

More: Michigan false electors acted ‘at the direction’ of Trump, court filing says

More: What we know about the 16 Michigan Trump electors facing charges

Jan. 6, 2021

Chesebro mentioned the idea of getting Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican with whom Chesebro was connected, to present the GOP certificates to Pence for the Jan. 6, 2021, vote counting, according to the emails.

Roman got U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, a Republican from Pennsylvania, involved and a House staff member met them in Washington, Chesebro told Nessel’s investigators.

The House staff member walked the certificates to Johnson’s team, he said.

“I don’t know why logistically we didn’t take it directly to Johnson, but that’s how we did it,” Chesebro told Michigan investigators.

The U.S. House’s Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol obtained text messages that showed Sean Riley, Johnson’s chief of staff, told Chris Hodgson, who worked for Pence, that Johnson needed to get something to Pence on Jan. 6, 2021.

“Do not give that to him,” Hodgson responded when Riley revealed he was talking about “alternative” slates of electors, according to the text messages.

The false certificates ultimately weren’t counted or considered on Jan. 6, 2021.

“I don’t know what the expectation was that he would do with them, which, in addition to the security aspects of not receiving them, you know, right before he walks over to the joint session, I’m not sure what the expectation was that he would do with those documents as the joint session is about to start,” Hodgson, Pence’s director of legislative affairs, previously told the U.S. House committee.

On Jan. 8, 2021, the National Archives sent the false certificate it received from Michigan to Michigan’s secretary of state’s office. That document eventually spurred Nessel’s investigation into the GOP electors.

“Because this did not come from the Michigan Secretary of State’s office, we will not be adding the documents to the Electoral College website,” wrote Katerina Horska, of the National Archives and Records Administration.

cmauger@detroitnews.com


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