Trump’s coup attempt failed but left behind a mountain of criminal evidence

Several weeks after the 2020 election, groups of electors gathered in state Capitols to sign certificates affirming which candidate won their state — a routine step in the process of a president taking office. 

But on the same day — Dec. 14, 2020 — something unusual happened: In at least seven battleground states where Joe Biden had defeated President Donald Trump, representatives of the losing side decided that they, too, would gather as purported electors to sign certificates falsely attesting to a Trump win and submit them for approval by Congress.

The fake electoral certificates were assembled by groups of Trump supporters in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin who sought to replace the valid presidential electors from their state — who had been chosen by voters in free and fair elections — with bogus slates of pro-Trump electors.

Months later, American Oversight, a watchdog group that seeks to hold Trump accountable through public records requests, published the phony certificates calling them “part of the failed attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election.” 

Those phony electoral vote certificates were submitted to Congress as part of the failed attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election. None of the certificates contains any indication that they list illegitimate slates of electors not chosen by those states’ voters.

Conspiracy theories and lies about stolen elections have escalated beyond rhetoric to very real threats of seditious and extremist violence.

The heavily armed, Trump-incited mob attack of Jan. 6, 2021, was an assault not just on the U.S. Capitol building, but also on democracy and the rule of law.

Evidence has also surfaced showing that Trump and his allies tried to pressure Justice Department officials into abetting his attempts to illegally overturn his 2020 election loss.

Despite there being no evidence of widespread voter fraud, the weeks that followed the 2020 election saw Trump continually attempt to pressure state and federal officials to act on his baseless claims, from threatening retaliation to making lengthy cajoling phone calls.

Particularly alarming was his campaign to enlist the U.S. Department of Justice to validate and perpetuate his false allegations of voter fraud, including a plot to replace Justice Department leadership with a loyalist willing to help in his anti-democratic effort.

In early December, as Trump’s reelection campaign and its allies filed desperate lawsuits alleging various voter-fraud conspiracies, Attorney General William Barr — who stepped down later that month — publicly said the Justice Department had uncovered no evidence of widespread fraud that would have changed the election’s outcome.

Trump, who had long sought to use the Justice Department to serve his own political ends, remained fixated on coercing the department to cast further doubt on the election.

The New York Times first reported in late January that Trump had conspired to replace former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen with Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, a Trump loyalist who was willing to use the department to investigate unfounded allegations of widespread voter fraud and to work to prevent the certification of the Electoral College results.

Among the ploys floated by Clark, as confirmed in a Senate Judiciary Committee report released in October 2021, was a draft letter telling Georgia state legislators the department was investigating voting “irregularities,” and asking them to convene a special session for the purpose of “considering issues pertaining to the appointment of presidential electors.” 

Amid the unprecedented challenge of managing an election during a pandemic, local officials faced a barrage of attacks on rules and procedures from Trump’s reelection campaign and other outside entities that sought to suppress or undermine voting rights by interfering with state and local mail-in balloting. 

In North Carolina in late September 2020, after the state elections board introduced new procedures to make it easier for voters to fix errors with their mail-in ballots — an issue that disproportionately affected Black voters in the state — the Trump campaign pressured local officials to ignore the new rules.

The procedural changes had been made as part of a settlement in a lawsuit brought by a voting rights group. 

“The NC Republican Party advises you to not follow the procedures,” Trump campaign operative Heather Ford told county officials in a September email.

At the same time that some Republicans claim they were victims of cheating and election fraud—unfounded allegations that have been completely debunked—the GOP remains steadfast and united in efforts to cheat the next time around by planting partisans in charge of ballot counting, enacting laws that impose burdens on citizens and creating new obstacles to voting or registration.

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