Analysis: Trump’s alleged fraud relied on states’ help

Leaders’ unwillingness to go along with the plan is what ultimately stymied the GOP nominee.
Television crews park outside federal court Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023 in Washington. Former President Donald Trump has been charged by the Justice Department for his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. The charges include conspiracy to defraud the United States government and witness tampering. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

At the heart of the indictment of former President Donald Trump for his alleged intent to overturn the true result of the 2020 election is the pressure he applied to Republican state officials to help him — and their steadfast resistance to it.

The indictment, unveiled Tuesday, cites by title then-Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers (R), Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr (R) and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), and then-Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R) and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R). It also lays out the false claims that Trump and his alleged co-conspirators made directly to other state legislators in an attempt to build enough support to have the rightful slates of electors for President Biden decertified.

But in state after state, the indictment reads, leaders’ unwillingness to go along with the plan because of a lack of evidence is what ultimately stymied Trump’s attempt to stay in office despite losing.

“The plan depended on going through the states because that’s where the Electoral College votes are,” said Rick Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law. “It shows how decentralization can increase the risk of election subversion.”

In Arizona, the claim made to Bowers was that thousands of non-citizens and non-state residents voted.

In Georgia, a presentation given to a state Senate judiciary subcommittee claimed 10,000 dead people had voted; a video shown to a House Government Affairs Committee hearing was said to show election workers committing fraud; and, on Jan. 2, 2021, Trump personally called Raffensperger to urge him to help.

The release two years ago of a recording of that call led directly to Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis launching an investigation into Trump. He could also be indicted this month in that separate case.

In November 2020, Trump summoned Shirkey and Chatfield to the Oval Office to reiterate his claim of a “vote dump” in Detroit. The outgoing president and his co-conspirators continued to apply pressure for weeks after, until the day electors were required to make their votes for president, but the leaders did not budge.

“President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris won Michigan’s presidential election. It is our responsibility as leaders to follow the law,” Shirkey said in a Dec. 14 statement.

Chatfield said in his own statement that while he fought hard to help elect Trump, he had no interest in and there was not enough support in the House to pass a resolution retroactively changing the state’s electors for Trump based solely on an unsubstantiated theory of widespread voter fraud. “I fear we’d lose our country forever,” he said.

Beyond the pressure applied by Trump and the reported death threats that followed, the leaders’ pushback came with obvious political peril. It worked out for some, including Carr, Raffensperger and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who were all handily re-elected in 2022.

Bowers was censured by the state Republican Party in July 2022 after he testified before the U.S. House Jan. 6 panel. Term-limited, he lost a state Senate bid a couple of weeks later after being trounced in the GOP primary by an opponent who claimed he had not looked into the alleged fraud to an acceptable degree.

“My district is a very Trump district, and who knows how this is all going to work out,” Bowers told the Associated Press shortly before the primary. “And if it doesn’t work out, great, I’d do it all again the same way.”