Two Arizona Republicans recruited by allies of former President Donald J. Trump to join an effort to keep him in power after losing the 2020 election have become so concerned about the plan that they have told the lawyers who worked there that they feared their actions would be considered treason, according to emails reviewed by The New York Times.
Kelli Ward, the chairwoman of the Arizona Republican Party, and Kelly Townsend, a state senator, both reportedly expressed concerns to Mr. Trump’s lawyers in December 2020 about their involvement in a plan to sign a a list of voters claiming Mr. Trump won Arizona, even though Joseph R. Biden Jr. won the state.
The scheme was part of a larger bid – one of the longest and most convoluted Mr Trump has undertaken as he seeks to cling to power after losing the 2020 presidential election – to fabricate falsely a victory for him by creating fake voter lists in battleground states that would claim he had been the real winner.
Some of the lawyers undertaking the effort doubted its legality, and the emails, which had previously gone unreported, were the latest indication that other key players also knew they were on shaky legal ground. and were careful to create a rationale that could justify their actions.
Kenneth Chesebro, a lawyer working for Mr Trump’s campaign, wrote in a December 11, 2020 email to other members of the legal team that Ms Ward and Ms Townsend had raised concerns about the vote. as part of an alternate list of voters because there was no pending legal challenge that could overturn the results of the Arizona election.
“Ward and Townsend fear it may seem like treason for AZ voters to vote on Monday if there are no ongoing legal proceedings that could eventually lead to voters being ratified as legitimate,” Mr. Chesebro wrote to the group, which included Rudolph W. Giuliani. , the adviser to Mr. Trump. personal lawyer.
Mr. Chesebro wrote the word “treason” in bold.
The use of the word underscored how aware at least some of Mr Trump’s allies were that they were undertaking truly extraordinary measures to keep him in office, so much so that they risked being seen as betraying their country.
Ms Ward, who lobbied for the voters’ plan to be kept secret, eventually joined the effort and signed a document purporting to be a ‘2020 Arizona Voters’ Votes Certificate’ and claimed that Mr. Trump had won the state. 11 electoral college votes.
One person working on the plan, Arizona-based attorney Jack Wilenchik, conceded in emails that the Electoral College votes for the campaign to organize “are not legal under federal law.” and repeatedly called them “fake”, The Times reported.
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In a subsequent email, Wilenchik said the rush to file the paperwork with the Supreme Court was intended to “give legal ‘cover’ for AZ voters to ‘vote'” on Dec. 14 2020, the day the Electoral College was to assemble and vote.
Ms Townsend was not one of Mr Trump’s voters but pushed his claims of a stolen election.
Ms Ward and Ms Townsend have since received subpoenas from the Justice Department asking questions about the bogus voter plan and demanding documents detailing communications with Mr Trump’s legal team.
The department has expanded its investigation into the events leading up to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, including issuing a subpoena for Pat A. Cipollone, Mr. Trump’s White House attorney, who has pushed back on some of his most extreme efforts to nullify the election, according to a person familiar with the subpoena.
Ms. Ward, Ms. Townsend, Mr. Wilenchik and Mr. Chesebro did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The push to organize lists of fake voters involved hands-on work by Mr. Giuliani, who the emails show spoke with Ms. Ward and Ms. Townsend as the Trump campaign apparently urged voters to vote on Dec. 14.
Mr. Chesebro asked Mr. Wilenchik for assurances that he would promptly file paperwork with the U.S. Supreme Court challenging an Arizona Supreme Court decision upholding Mr. Biden’s victory in the State.
“The reason is that Kelli Ward and Kelly Townsend just spoke to the mayor about the campaign demand that all voters vote Monday in all disputed states,” Mr. Chesebro wrote to Mr. Wilenchik, apparently referring to a conversation with Mr. Giuliani.
He said Ms Ward and Ms Townsend’s concern was that activating another group of voters in favor of Mr Trump “could come across as treason” in the absence of an ongoing trial. “Which is a valid point – in the Hawaii incident in 1960, when Kennedy voters voted, there was a pending recount,” Chesebro added.
He was referring to an example that he and others used as the basis for their argument that they might present fake voter lists. In 1960, the election outcome in Hawaii was uncertain as the Electoral College was about to meet. The governor certified a voters list in favor of Richard M. Nixon, who claimed he had won as the recount continued. John F. Kennedy also formed a voters list.
When the vote count was completed, Mr. Kennedy had won and his voters list was finally certified.
However, little about the 1960 incident resembled what happened in 2020. By the time the Electoral College convened on December 14, 2020, the votes had all been counted, Mr. Biden had been declared Victor and various courts had launched challenges filed by Mr. Trump’s allies.
In a follow-up email, Mr Chesebro wrote that he no longer saw ’cause for concern’ because a lawsuit some members of the group planned to file was ‘at the printer’ and the Supreme Court considers an action recorded each time it is mailed. He wrote that it would be in the mail by the time the Electoral College meets.
Mr. Wilenchik filed the motion the same day, records show. (The Supreme Court denied the petition in February 2021.)
In the weeks following the election, Mr. Chesebro penned a series of memos outlining a plan to send so-called surrogate voters to Congress for certification. Just over two weeks after Election Day, Mr. Chesebro sent a memo to James Troupis, another Trump campaign attorney in Wisconsin, outlining a plan to nominate pro-Trump voters in that state, which has also won by Mr. Biden.
Mr. Chesebro also sent an email on Dec. 13, 2020, to Mr. Giuliani that encouraged Vice President Mike Pence to “firmly take the position that he, and he alone, is charged with the constitutional responsibility of not just open votes, but to count them – including making judgments about what to do if there are conflicting votes.
That idea became the basis of Mr. Trump’s lobbying campaign against Mr. Pence in which the president tried to convince his own vice president that he could block or delay congressional certification of Mr. Biden on January 6, 2021.
Mr. Chesebro was also involved in a Dec. 24, 2020, email exchange with John C. Eastman, the pro-Trump attorney, about whether to file legal documents they hoped could spur four judges to accept to hear a Wisconsin election case. .
In those emails, Mr Chesebro argued that “the chances of action before January 6 will become more favorable if the judges begin to fear that there will be ‘wild’ chaos on January 6 unless they decide by then, anyway”.
Their exchange came five days after Mr. Trump appealed to his supporters to attend a protest at the Ellipse near the White House on Jan. 6, 2021, the day Congress would certify the tally of electoral votes confirming the victory of Mr. Biden. “Be there. Will be wild!” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter.