Previously undisclosed emails provide an inside look at the increasingly desperate and often slapdash efforts by advisers to former President Donald Trump to reverse his election defeat in the weeks before the Jan. 6 attack, including acknowledgments that a key element of their plan was of dubious legality and lived up to its billing as “fake.”
The dozens of emails among people connected to the Trump campaign, outside advisers, and close associates of Trump show a particular focus on assembling lists of people who would claim — with no basis — to be Electoral College electors on his behalf in battleground states that he had lost.
In emails reviewed by The New York Times and authenticated by people who had worked with the Trump campaign at the time, one lawyer involved in the detailed discussions repeatedly used the word “fake” to refer to the so-called electors, who were intended to provide Vice President Mike Pence and Trump’s allies in Congress a rationale for derailing the congressional process of certifying the outcome. And lawyers working on the proposal made it clear they knew that the pro-Trump electors they were putting forward might not hold up to legal scrutiny.
“We would just be sending in ‘fake’ electoral votes to Pence so that ‘someone’ in Congress can make an objection when they start counting votes, and start arguing that the ‘fake’ votes should be counted,” Jack Wilenchik, a Phoenix-based lawyer who helped organize the pro-Trump electors in Arizona, wrote in a Dec. 8, 2020, email to Boris Epshteyn, a strategic adviser for the Trump campaign.
In a follow-up email, Wilenchik wrote that “‘alternative’ votes is probably a better term than ‘fake’ votes,” adding a smiley face emoji.
The emails provide new details of how a wing of the Trump campaign worked with outside lawyers and advisers to organize the elector plan and pursue a range of other options, often with little thought to their practicality. One email showed that many of Trump’s top advisers were informed of problems naming Trump electors in Michigan — a state he had lost — because pandemic rules had closed the state Capitol building where the so-called electors had to gather.
The emails show that participants in the discussions reported details of their activities to Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, and in at least one case to Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff. Around the same time, according to the House committee investigating Jan. 6, Meadows emailed another campaign adviser saying, “We just need to have someone coordinating the electors for states.”
Many of the emails went to Epshteyn, who was acting as a coordinator for people inside and outside the Trump campaign and the White House and remains a close aide to Trump.
Epshteyn, the emails show, was a regular point of contact for John Eastman, the lawyer whose plan for derailing congressional certification of the Electoral College result on Jan. 6, 2021, was embraced by Trump.
Epshteyn not only fielded and passed along to Giuliani the detailed proposal for Jan. 6 prepared by Eastman; he also handled questions about how to pay Eastman and made the arrangements for him to visit the White House on Jan. 4, 2021, the emails show.
That was the day of the Oval Office meeting in which Trump and Eastman unsuccessfully pressured Pence to adopt the plan — an exchange witnessed by Pence’s two top aides, Marc Short and Greg Jacob, both of whom testified last week to the federal grand jury investigating the assault on the Capitol and what led to it.
The emails highlight how much of the legwork of finding ways to challenge Trump’s losses in the battleground states was done by Mike Roman, director of Election Day operations for Trump’s campaign.
Epshteyn and Roman, the emails show, coordinated with others who played roles in advising Trump. Among them were the lawyers Jenna Ellis and Bruce Marks; Gary Michael Brown, who served as the deputy director of Election Day operations for Trump’s campaign; and Christina Bobb, who at the time worked for One America News Network and now works with Trump’s PAC.
The emails were apparently not shared with lawyers in the White House Counsel’s Office, who advised that the “fake electors” plan was not legally sound, or other lawyers on the campaign.
Some of the participants also expressed approval in the emails for keeping some of their activities out of the public eye.
For instance, after Trump hosted Pennsylvania state legislators at the White House in late November to discuss reversing the election outcome, Epshteyn celebrated when news of the meeting did not quickly leak. “The WH meeting hasn’t been made public, which is both shocking and great,” he wrote to Ellis.
Marks, in an email, disputed that there was anything inappropriate or improper at work.
“I do not believe there was anything ‘fake’ or illegal about the alternate slates of delegates, and particularly Pennsylvania,” he said. “There was a history of alternate slates from Hawaii in 1960. Nothing was secret about this — they were provided to the National Archives, as I understand the procedure, and then it was up to Congress to decide what to do.”
Marks added, “I had no involvement with Professor Eastman’s advice regarding the vice president’s role, which I only learned about after the fact, and do not support.”
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has produced evidence that Trump was aware of the electors plan.