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The RNC Thinks Phony Electors Engaged in ‘Legitimate Political Discourse’

The censure resolution was really about defending the phony electors.
February 17, 2022
The RNC Thinks Phony Electors Engaged in ‘Legitimate Political Discourse’
Jae Chin holds a fair election sign outside the State Capitol Executive Tower on December 14, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. The protest occurred at the same time as Arizonas Presidential Electors met to cast their ballots for President and Vice President. (Photo by Courtney Pedroza for the Washington Post)

Most of the uproar around the Republican National Committee censure resolution that described the House Jan. 6th Committee as engaging in a “persecution of ordinary citizens who engaged in legitimate political discourse” missed the point.

Yes, it was despicable that the RNC would censure Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for serving on the Jan. 6th Committee. And yes, any plain reading of the document would leave the reader with the impression the RNC was describing the rioters as engaging in “legitimate political discourse.” That’s troubling enough. But if you look closely at remarks made last week by RNC Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel, you’ll see something even more disturbing.

McDaniel, it turns out, isn’t that upset about hundreds of faceless Trump rubes being prosecuted by the Department of Justice for engaging in physical acts of trespass and violence on Jan. 6th. She’s pissed that RNC members are getting hit with subpoenas for participating in the phony electors scheme designed by the Trump campaign to deny Joe Biden his Electoral College victory.

At least a few RNC members have probably been stewing about the possibility of being investigated for a while, which might explain some of the white-hot hate toward Cheney and Kinzinger.

Although both representatives were censured by Republicans in their home states a year ago for impeaching Trump, RNC member and high-profile Trump ally David Bossie started making rumblings about expelling the pair from the GOP in late January of this year. What the RNC ultimately passed by voice vote has been described as a “watered down” version of what Bossie desired.

Bossie is no disinterested character when it comes to the Jan. 6th investigation. Given his reported participation in meetings at the Willard Hotel that the committee has scrutinized, Bossie has surely thought about whether he’ll get subpoenaed himself. It may only be a matter of time.

While the committee’s interest in Bossie is hypothetical, the committee did subpoena other RNC members last month. On January 28, the committee announced a wave of subpoenas for fourteen of the Republicans who called themselves “alternate electors” for former President Trump. These individuals submitted phony Electoral College certificates to Congress and the National Archives, bestowing upon themselves the titles “chairperson” and “secretary” of fake slates representing seven states Biden won: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. (As Philip Rotner noted last month, the New Mexico and Pennsylvania certificates are perhaps less legally problematic than the certificates from the other five states.)

Four of the fourteen individuals subpoenaed by the committee are RNC members: Kathy Berden from Michigan; Jim DeGraffenreid from Nevada; Michael McDonald from Nevada (also that state’s GOP chairman); and David Shafer from Georgia (that state’s GOP chairman).

On February 15, the Jan. 6th Committee issued six more subpoenas related to the phony electors scheme. Among them, RNC member and Arizona GOP Chair Kelli Ward.

All told, 84 Republicans signed on as false electors for Trump. Most of them were state and local activists, not national-level figures. But the direct involvement in the scheme of RNC members, even if just a handful, is striking.

It’s those RNC members complicit in the phony electors scheme that the authors of the censure resolution had in mind when they wrote about “ordinary citizens” being “persecuted” for “engaging in legitimate political discourse.” McDaniel made this point on Feb. 8:

Last month, reports showed that 90 percent of the committee’s subpoenas have been delivered to people who weren’t even at the Capitol on January 6th. That is political posturing, not pursuing justice. Even an individual on trial has the right to face a jury of his peers, but those being called in front of the committee are faced with a hostile kangaroo court that reached a conclusion long before even asking a question.

This includes individuals like one of the RNC’s members who was subpoenaed because, weeks before January 6th, she served as an alternate elector pending the outcome of ongoing lawsuits—an action with clear legal precedent which Democrats themselves have done in the past. Now she could face costly legal bills even though she was nowhere near the Capitol on January 6th and had nothing to do with the violence that occurred.

McDaniel is attempting to draw a bright line between those who physically rioted on Jan. 6th and those who inspired them to do so. But the notion that the phony electors bear no moral or political responsibility for the insurrection of Jan. 6th makes no logical sense: The fraudulent electoral ballots were a key part of the mechanism of the Trump coup attempt. The actions of the phony electors are entirely germane to the investigations of the Jan. 6th Committee. To overlook their role would be malpractice.

What these Republicans engaged in was no silly public relations stunt or rhetorical flourish; it was a highly orchestrated, elaborate scheme. The Trump campaign recruited Republicans to pose as fake electors. These individuals gathered on December 14, 2020–the day actual electors gathered to certify their states’ election results. They gave themselves fake titles, held fake meetings, and submitted fake documents to the government, all to give the impression they were legitimate. Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward even filmed her session as though it were an official event.

Notably, the infamous Eastman memo begins with the words “7 states have transmitted dual slates of electors to the President of the Senate.” If Trump had gotten his way, these phony electors would have provided the predicate for Vice President Mike Pence to throw out the 2020 election results.

As for the RNC members who could face “costly legal bills” due to their actions, well,  crimes are crimes, whether or not they’re committed on Capitol grounds. The Jan. 6th Committee is not conducting criminal investigations, but federal prosecutors are reviewing the fraudulent certificates these Republicans submitted to the government. The phony electors played critical roles in the overall plot to corruptly obstruct or delay Congress from certifying Biden’s victory, a felony per 18 U.S.C. § 1512.

The phony electors acted on behalf of an unconstitutional, anti-democratic plot to toss out millions of votes and overturn an election. And that’s the “legitimate political discourse” the RNC is proudly, though illegitimately, defending.

Amanda Carpenter

Amanda Carpenter is an author, a former communications director to Sen. Ted Cruz, and a former speechwriter to Sen. Jim DeMint. She was formerly a Bulwark political columnist.