Arizona Republican Party chair Kelli Ward subpoenaed by DOJ in fake elector scheme

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In this Nov. 18, 2020, photo, Kelli Ward, chair of the Arizona Republican Party, holds a new conference in Phoenix. The House committee investigating the U.S. Capitol insurrection has subpoenaed six individuals over efforts to falsely declare Donald Trump the winner of the 2020 election in several swing states.
In this Nov. 18, 2020, photo, Kelli Ward, chair of the Arizona Republican Party, holds a new conference in Phoenix. The House committee investigating the U.S. Capitol insurrection has subpoenaed six individuals over efforts to falsely declare Donald Trump the winner of the 2020 election in several swing states.

Kelli Ward, the head of the Arizona Republican Party, and her husband, Michael, received grand jury subpoenas from the Department of Justice regarding their involvement in a scheme to send fake electors to Congress on Jan. 6, 2021.

The subpoena for the Wards first was reported by the website Politico, which cited an unnamed source it said was familiar with the matter.

Alexander Kolodin, an attorney for the Wards, said to The Republic that “this is an investigation based on allegations that our clients engaged in core First Amendment-protected activity, namely petitioning Congress for a redress of grievances.”

Kolodin clarified that the investigation to which he was referring was the Department of Justice investigation.

Kolodin represented the Wards in another subpoena matter.

The House Select Committee investigating the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, had subpoenaed the Wards’ phone records. The Wards filed a lawsuit against the committee in federal court in Phoenix fighting the disclosure of those records. That lawsuit was still pending, with the committee asked to reply by early July.

Kelli Ward also was subpoenaed for testimony and documents by the House Select Committee in February.

One of the other people who falsely called himself an elector, Tyler Bowyer, the head of Turning Point Action, a political action committee based in Phoenix, refused to say Thursday when reached by phone whether he received a subpoena. He deflected comment to his spokesperson, who did not return a message.

The Republic failed in attempts to reach the other eight people who signed the document falsely calling themselves electors.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that subpoenas were also served on Nancy Cottle and Loraine Pellegrino, who signed the false documents as chair and secretary, respectively. The Post said the information came from people familiar with the matter.

Both women also had been the subjects of subpoenas by the House Select Committee investigating the riot at the U.S. Capitol.

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The group of 11 Arizona Republicans who met at state party headquarters on Dec. 14, 2020, made no secret that they were signing a document falsely declaring themselves the state’s official presidential electors. After the ceremony, the party sent out a news release. The meeting was posted on YouTube.

What was not clear at the time was that this was not an empty exercise.

The document creating a second set of declared presidential electors out of Arizona was part of a strategy intended to upend or delay the official certification of the 2020 election in Congress on Jan. 6, 2021, and possibly keep Donald Trump as U.S. president.

Besides the grand jury that is investigating possible criminal charges, the meeting has drawn the interest of the Select Committee investigating the Capitol riot. The committee has subpoenaed three of the 11 Republicans who signed the document, including Kelli Ward.

The falsely declared Arizona electors have not explained what led them to the hold the meeting or whose advice they followed on procedures. One elector, now a state lawmaker, Rep. Jake Hoffman, repeatedly refused to answer a Republic reporter’s question about how he knew where to go for the meeting.

Had Trump won Arizona, the 11 Republicans who met would have cast Arizona’s official votes in the Electoral College, the constitutionally-mandated body that actually votes for the president.

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The fake Republican electors met at the same time Arizona’s official electors, as chosen by the state Democratic Party, met to cast their votes for President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Among the notable fake alternate Republican electors from Arizona, besides Hoffman, were Jim Lamon, currently a U.S. Senate candidate, and Anthony Kern, a former state lawmaker running for a state Senate seat.

Arizona creating an alternate elector slate was part of a plan to throw a wrench into the typically rote ceremony of the vice president counting each state’s Electoral College votes. That plan was outlined by John Eastman, a lawyer brought on to the Trump team in December 2020.

Eastman proposed having seven states submit competing slates of electors to be counted on Jan. 6, 2021. Vice President Mike Pence, the theory went, could say that with competing slates of electors, neither one could be counted.

Pence could then declare Trump the winner, since Trump would have won the majority of the electoral votes he was able to count.

If Congress protested, as Eastman’s memo theorized it might, Pence would throw the election to the House, where, following a procedure in the U.S. Constitution, each state’s delegation would get one vote. At the time, the memo pointed out, 26 out of the 50 states had Republican majority delegations. “President Trump is re-elected there as well,” the memo said.

Eastman’s memo predicted that, going alphabetically, the first disputed state Pence would encounter would be Arizona.

It is not clear exactly when this strategy was hatched.

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Eastman wrote his first memo on Christmas Eve of 2020. That was 10 days after the Arizona Republicans had met and sent its documents falsely declaring themselves the state’s “duly elected and qualified” presidential electors.

But a federal judge wrote in a ruling this month that the plan to disrupt the Jan. 6, 2021, joint session of Congress was “fully formed and actionable” as early as Dec. 7, 2020.

That would be one week before the alternate slate of Republican electors met at party headquarters.

The judge’s ruling involved a dispute between Eastman and the Select Committee over what emails Eastman needed to turn over to the committee. The emails sought were sent between Nov. 3, 2020, which was Election Day, and Jan. 20, 2021, which was the day President Joe Biden was inaugurated.

Among the emails in question, according to the ruling, are invitations to state lawmakers to attend virtual meetings over Zoom. One listed as an agenda item for a Dec. 8, 2020 meeting, Eastman speaking about “State legislative actions that can reverse the media-called election for Joe Biden.”

During those December weeks, Eastman was contacting “sympathetic state legislators in Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Arizona, urging them to decertify Biden electors and certify alternate Trump electors,” the judge’s ruling says.

At the time, the ruling says, Eastman was convinced that the states didn’t just need to appoint alternate electors. Instead, he thought each state legislature needed to decertify its election and appoint its own slate.

Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers was under pressure from attorneys for Trump to do just that. In a news release on Dec. 4, 2020, Bowers said that the Trump legal team made the "breathtaking" request that Arizona lawmakers disregard the election results and take it upon themselves to appoint the presidential electors.

In interviews with The Republic, Bowers described such pressure dating back to the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Bowers said Rudy Giuliani, a Trump attorney, asked him to take advantage of a unique Arizona law that allowed the Legislature to appoint electors rather than the voters.

Bowers refused to entertain the notion, neither in November, nor after the in-person meeting in December.

Even though the Arizona Legislature refused to throw out the election results, the Arizona electors met at party headquarters to declare themselves the state’s official electors. In six other states, all states carried by Biden, similar groups of Republicans met to make similar declarations.

The wordings on each state’s documents were nearly uniform. The font and design also were identical.

Two states, New Mexico and Pennsylvania, inserted language that said the Republican electors would only be valid under certain future conditions. But Arizona, along with the other four states, flatly declared themselves the state’s official electors.

At the meeting, a man in a Trump jacket with the name Lane on it circulated pieces of paper to the electors. The man is not identified in the video but appears to be Thomas Lane, who was the head of election day operations for Trump in Arizona.

Lane, according to the Washington Post, received a subpoena on Wednesday.

The meeting of the fake electors opened with a prayer, according to postings on Twitter from the Arizona Republican Party. The document they each were to sign was read out loud, according to video posted by the party. Then, the electors broke out in applause.

A copy of the document was sent by certified mail to the National Archives. It was preserved, but officially ignored. Another copy was sent to the U.S. Senate. It is not clear what happened to that document.

In his speech to supporters on Jan. 6, 2021, just before the crowd caused mayhem during its breach of the U.S. Capitol, Trump mentioned the plan for Pence to employ the alternate electors.

“If Pence does the right thing,” Trump said, “we win.”

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona GOP chair Kelli Ward subpoenaed in fake elector scheme