In the weeks after the 2020 election, then-President Donald Trump’s allies sent fake certificates to the National Archives declaring that Trump won seven states that he actually lost. The documents had no impact on the outcome of the election, but they are yet another example of how Team Trump tried to subvert the Electoral College – a key line of inquiry for the January 6 committee.
The fake certificates were created by Trump allies in Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Nevada and New Mexico, who sought to replace valid presidential electors from their states with a pro-Trump slate, according to documents obtained by American Oversight.
The documents contain the signatures of Trump supporters who claimed to be the rightful electors from seven states that President Joe Biden won. But these rogue slates of electors didn’t have the backing of any elected officials in the seven states – like a governor or secretary of state, who are involved in certifying election results – and they served no legitimate purpose.
The documents were first posted online in March by the government watchdog group. But they received renewed attention this week, as the January 6 committee ramps up its investigation into Trump’s attempted coup, including how his allies tried to stop states from certifying Biden’s victory, in part, by installing friendly slates of electors who would overturn the will of the voters.
Rogue slates of electors
As part of the Electoral College process, governors are required to sign a formal “certificate of ascertainment,” verifying that the statewide winner’s slate of electors are the legitimate electors. These electors then sign a second certificate, formally affirming their votes for president.
These documents are sent to the National Archives in Washington, DC, which processes them before they are sent onto Congress, which formally counts the electoral votes on January 6.
The real certificates, which have been posted to the National Archives website, correctly stated that Biden won the seven battleground states. They also list the legitimate group of electors from each state, rather than the rogue pro-Trump slate included on the unofficial documents.
Some of the fake certificates with pro-Trump electors were sent to the National Archives by top officials representing the Republican Party in each state, according to the documents.
They sent these fake certificates after Trump himself failed to block governors from signing the real certificates. Specifically, Trump encouraged Republican governors in states like Georgia and Arizona not to certify the election results, and falsely claimed the elections were fraudulent. But these GOP officials ignored Trump, followed the law, and awarded the electors to Biden.
Installing slates of “alternate electors” was an integral part of the ill-fated plan conceived by Trump allies to usurp power on January 6 by pressuring Vice President Mike Pence to throw out the pro-Biden electors that had been chosen by voters. The idea was promoted by Trump advisers inside and outside the White House, including controversial right-wing lawyer John Eastman.
Eastman, who has been subpoenaed by the January 6 committee, authored a memo outlining a six-step plan for Pence to overturn the election and award Trump a second term. The plan included throwing out results from seven states because they allegedly had competing electors.
In truth, no state actually had two slates of competing electors. The pro-Trump electors were merely claiming without any authority to be electors, as documented in the fake certificates sent to the National Archives. The certificates were essentially an elaborate public relations stunt.
The new documents weren’t the only fake certificates sent to the National Archives. Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, told CNN’s Don Lemon that a second group called the “Sovereign Citizens of the State of Arizona” sent a rogue document to the National Archives in 2020, and she said they improperly used the Arizona state seal on their fake certificate.
“They used this fake seal to make it look official, which is not a legal activity,” Hobbs said.
Key focus for January 6 panel
The fake certificates and accompanying emails that were also obtained by American Oversight were sent in mid-December 2020, while Team Trump was aggressively pushing false claims about widespread voter fraud in an effort to overturn the election. Weeks later, pro-Trump rioters stormed the US Capitol in a violent bid to stop Congress from certifying Biden’s victory.
Their pressure campaign against election officials in many of these battleground states is now a key area of focus for the House select committee that is investigating the January 6 attack.
An entire team of investigators, known as the “gold team,” is dedicated to unpacking that pressure campaign. The panel has spoken to numerous election officials from states where Trump falsely claimed there was evidence of fraud, and in some cases traveled to those states.
All of the testimony and information the committee has gathered from these election officials about the pressure campaign will materialize in its first set of hearings, potentially in primetime hours, which is set to debunk the “Big Lie” that the election was stolen. Some of the state election officials that the committee has interviewed in private could even appear as witnesses.
Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the Democratic chairman of the committee, told CNN ,”We’ve gone to Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania. We have reviewed 60-odd lawsuits that had been filed in federal various courts, and obviously dismissed. We’ve talked to people who conducted elections in areas where people say those elections are fraudulent.”
CNN has independently confirmed that the panel has spoken to Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and members of her staff and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a GOP official who forcefully batted down pressure from Trump to overturn his state’s election results, for more than four hours.
In addition to Benson, the committee has also interviewed Chris Thomas, a former longtime Michigan director of elections who was brought in during the 2020 election to oversee absentee ballot processing at the TCF Center in Detroit.
“I think it’s important that in our body of work, we try to make sure we cannot say what beyond a shadow of a doubt that elections will honest, conducted fairly, and the elections being certified was the right thing to do,” Thompson said.
CNN’s Annie Grayer and Katherine Dautrich contributed to this story