Exclusive: Recordings, emails show how Trump team flew fake elector ballots to DC in final push to overturn 2020 election

(CNN) — Two days before the January 6 insurrection, the Trump campaign’s plan to use fake electors to block President-elect Joe Biden from taking office faced a potentially crippling hiccup: The fake elector certificates from two critical battleground states were stuck in the mail.

So, Trump campaign operatives scrambled to fly copies of the phony certificates from Michigan and Wisconsin to the nation’s capital, relying on a haphazard chain of couriers, as well as help from two Republicans in Congress, to try to get the documents to then-Vice President Mike Pence while he presided over the Electoral College certification.

The operatives even considered chartering a jet to ensure the files reached Washington, DC, in time for the January 6, 2021, proceeding, according to emails and recordings obtained by CNN.

The new details provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the chaotic last-minute effort to keep Donald Trump in office. The fake electors scheme features prominently in special counsel Jack Smith’s criminal indictment against the former president, and some of the officials who were involved have spoken to Smith’s investigators.

The emails and recordings also indicate that a top Trump campaign lawyer was part of 11th-hour discussions about delivering the fake elector certificates to Pence, potentially undercutting his testimony to the House select committee that investigated January 6 that he had passed off responsibility and didn’t want to put the former vice president in a difficult spot.

These details largely come from pro-Trump attorney Kenneth Chesebro, who was an architect of the fake electors plot and is now a key cooperator in several state probes into the scheme. Chesebro pleaded guilty in October to a felony conspiracy charge in Georgia in connection with the electors’ plan, and has met with prosecutors in Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin, who are investigating the sham GOP electors in their own states.

Chesebro is an unindicted co-conspirator in the federal election interference indictment against Trump.

CNN has obtained audio of Chesebro’s recent interview with Michigan investigators, and exclusively reported earlier this month that he also told them about a December 2020 Oval Office meeting where he briefed Trump about the fake electors plan and how it ties into January 6.

An attorney for Chesebro declined to comment. A spokesman for the special counsel’s office did not reply to a request for comment for this story.

‘A high-level decision’

Emails obtained by CNN corroborate what Chesebro told Michigan prosecutors: He communicated with the top Trump campaign lawyer, Matt Morgan, and another campaign official, Mike Roman, to ferry the documents to Washington on January 5.

From there, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and a Pennsylvania congressman assisted in the effort to get the documents into Pence’s hands.

“This is a high-level decision to get the Michigan and Wisconsin votes there,” Chesebro told Michigan prosecutors. “And they had to enlist, you know, a US senator to try to expedite it, to get it to Pence in time.”

Chesebro also discussed the episode with Wisconsin investigators last week when he sat for an interview with the attorney general’s office as part of a separate state probe into the fake electors plot, a source familiar with the matter told CNN.

Wisconsin prosecutors asked about the episode “extensively,” the source said, noting Chesebro discussed how a Wisconsin GOP staffer flew the certificate from Milwaukee to Washington and then handed it off to Chesebro.

The firsthand account from Chesebro’s perspective helps fill in the narrative behind the effort to hand-deliver elector slates to Pence, which is vaguely referenced in Smith’s federal indictment.

Trump pleaded not guilty to the charges, which include conspiring with Chesebro and others to obstruct the January 6 certification proceeding. Before Chesebro’s guilty plea in Georgia, his attorneys reached out to Smith’s team. As of this week, he has not heard back from federal prosecutors, a source familiar with the matter told CNN.

Federal investigators have spoken with several individuals involved in the scramble with the phony elector certificates, according to a source familiar with the matter. This includes interviews with Trump staffers who were tapped to fly the papers to DC, and some fake electors who knew of the planning.

A spokesperson for the Trump campaign did not reply to a request for comment.

Asked about the episode, a spokesperson for Johnson pointed to his previous comments, where he said, “my involvement in that attempt to deliver spanned the course of a couple seconds,” and that, “in the end, those electors were not delivered.”

‘Day-by-day’ coordination

According to the recordings of Chesebro’s sit-down with Michigan prosecutors, he explained how a legal memo he wrote for Wisconsin transformed into a nationwide operation, where Trump lawyers were “day-by-day coordinating the efforts of more than a dozen people with the GOP and with the Trump campaign.”

On January 4, 2021, Morgan sent an email to Chesebro and Roman asking for confirmation that all of the Trump elector slates had been received by Congress, according to the documents obtained by CNN.

Roman responded that the Michigan certificate had been mailed on December 15 but was still “in transit” at a US Postal Service facility in DC. Wisconsin’s certificate also had apparently not arrived.

Chesebro told prosecutors that Morgan was “freaked out” when the campaign realized the phony certificates from Michigan were still in the mail.

That same day, Morgan weighed in over email asking Chesebro and Roman to rethink how they would deliver the certificates to Pence.

“As I thought about this more, a courier will not be able to access the Capitol to deliver a sealed package,” Morgan wrote on January 4, according to emails obtained by CNN “You will probably need to enlist the help of a legislator who can deliver to the appropriate place(s). I strongly recommend you guys discuss a revised delivery plan with Rudy (Giuliani) to make sure this gets done the way he wants.”

‘Can we charter a flight?’

Roman was concerned the Wisconsin documents wouldn’t reach Washington in time.

“Can we charter a flight? The only available commercial from MKE (Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport) to DCA (Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport) arrives at 2130 tomorrow night,” Roman wrote to Chesebro on January 4 at 11:24 p.m.

The job of physically flying the elector documents to Washington fell to two people: A Trump campaign staffer and a Wisconsin GOP official, according to the emails and what Chesebro told prosecutors.

The Wisconsin GOP official who had that state’s elector documents landed after 10 a.m. on January 5 at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, according to the emails.

Trump campaign aide Michael Brown flew with the Michigan certificates to Washington National Airport with a scheduled arrival around 1 p.m., according to emails obtained by CNN.  A source familiar with the matter told CNN that Brown flew to DC from Atlanta, because the Trump staffers who had custody of the Michigan ballots were in Georgia for the Senate runoffs.

The campaign booked and paid for Brown’s flight on Southwest Airlines, the source said. Federal campaign finance records indicate that a pro-Trump super PAC paid the airline on the day of Brown’s flight for travel related to election “recount” efforts.

Trump Hotel meetup

The emails show that Brown and the Wisconsin GOP official were instructed to meet Chesebro at the Trump International Hotel in downtown Washington to hand off the fake elector certificates. Chesebro said in an email that he’d keep the ballots in his hotel room safe until it was time to pass them along.

Wisconsin Republican Party officials were annoyed at the request to courier the fake elector certificates to Washington. “Freaking trump idiots want someone to fly original elector papers to the senate President,” a Wisconsin GOP official wrote to then-state party chairman Andrew Hitt on January 4, according to the January 6 committee report.

Hitt – who has provided information to federal investigators about the efforts to get the fake elector certificates to Washington, according to a source familiar with the matter – told the January 6 committee that the couriering ended up being overkill, because the original documents that the state party had mailed to Washington actually made it in time.

Getting the certificates inside the Capitol

The documents still had to be hand-delivered to Pence’s Senate office in the Capitol.

The electors plot – as envisioned by Chesebro and other Trump allies – was that Pence could reject Biden’s legitimate electors and recognize Trump’s “alternate electors” on January 6, while lawmakers tallied the electoral votes from each state. Per federal law, the certificates need to be physically presented on the floor of Congress during the joint session, while lawmakers tally the electoral votes.

Chesebro told investigators that Roman connected him with an aide for a Pennsylvania GOP lawmaker that he believed was Rep. Scott Perry to turn over the documents. Chesebro wasn’t certain which congressman the staffer worked for – and the January 6 report says a staffer for a different Pennsylvania Republican, Rep. Mike Kelly, helped shuttle the documents that day.

“I had the Wisconsin stuff. [Trump campaign aide] Mike Brown had the Michigan stuff. We walked to the Longworth Office Building, and the guy with Perry, or whatever his name is, and some other fellow, that were like staff members of the House, took them and said, ‘We’re going to walk them over to the Senate and give it to a Senate staffer,’” Chesebro told Michigan prosecutors, according to the audio obtained by CNN.

“I don’t know why logistically we didn’t take it directly to Johnson. But that’s how we did it,” he added.

Kelly and Perry’s offices did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment.

Brown did not comment for this story. CNN previously reported that he testified in June to Smith’s grand jury in the Trump election subversion probe.

CNN previously reported that Roman sat for a proffer interview with Smith’s team before Trump was indicted.  He was also indicted in the sweeping Georgia election racketeering case, in connection with the fake electors scheme, and has pleaded not guilty.

Roman’s attorney did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The details from Chesebro put a finer point on how members of Congress, including a sitting US senator, were involved in making sure the electoral certificates for Trump ended up in Pence’s hands.

The January 6 committee first revealed last year Johnson’s involvement in trying unsuccessfully to deliver the fake elector certificates to Pence, who announced on the morning of the joint session that it would be unconstitutional to do what Trump wanted and unilaterally overturn the election results.

The committee revealed text messages during their hearings last year that Johnson aide Sean Riley sent to Pence aide Chris Hodgson, saying that Johnson “needs to hand something to VPOTUS please advise.”

“What is it?” Hodgson asked.

“Alternate slates of electors for MI and WI because archivist didn’t receive them,” Riley responded.

“Do not give that to him,” Hodgson said.

‘F**k these guys’

In his Michigan interview, Chesebro also dished on some of the internal disagreements among the Trump lawyers, campaign officials and other allies, who clashed over the purpose of the electors’ plan and how far to take things on January 6.

Chesebro has maintained – then, and now – that the plan was a lawful move to preserve Trump’s legal rights.

Even before the Trump electors met in their state capitals on December 14, 2020, to cast their fake ballots and sign the certificates, Chesebro heard about concerns from some of the electors about possible legal jeopardy, according to emails and text messages reported by the Detroit News and obtained by CNN.

Chesebro added hedging language for the faux certificates from Pennsylvania and New Mexico in response to those concerns. He proposed to Roman and Morgan that they add the contingency caveats to the paperwork for all seven states in the plan. But Roman rejected the idea, according to the emails.

“F**k these guys,” Roman texted Chesebro on December 12, 2020.

By this time, the Trump campaign had essentially cleaved in two. Top officials who had managed day-to-day activity for Trump up to the election, including in court, say they ceded responsibility to Rudy Giuliani and others, such as Chesebro, according to congressional testimony transcripts. Roman effectively switched teams to work under Giuliani’s structure, according to the testimony from Morgan and others.

A spokesperson for Giuliani did not reply to a request for comment.

‘It really went south on me’

Chesebro told Michigan investigators that his own emails show that Morgan remained deeply involved, including in the final hours before January 6, to ensure that the certificates reached DC.

“I don’t have a really warm feeling toward, at least, the top Trump lawyers that did this, hid from me what they were doing and then lied to Congress about me. So, it’s been really difficult,” Chesebro said.

In his congressional testimony, Morgan said he knew of the elector plan but wanted to distance himself from the effort, delegating the work to others, including those under Giuliani.

Morgan told the January 6 committee last year that he initially believed the electors were only meant to be used as a contingency. The electors, he believed, should meet in their state capitals and cast their electoral votes but “not necessarily submit” the certificates to Congress unless “we prevailed” in court.

Morgan told the committee that the plan changed in December, saying it morphed from a “cast-and-hold” operation and had “shifted to cast-and-send.” And that’s when Morgan told the committee that he backed out, testifying that he directed an aide to “email Mr. Chesebro politely to say, ‘this is your task. You are responsible for the Electoral College issues moving forward.’”

“This was my way of taking that responsibility to zero,” Morgan told the committee, later adding that he “moved on” after that email was sent.

Morgan explained that he was concerned that the new plan to try to count the fake electors on January 6 “would make the Vice President’s life harder, and I didn’t want to be a part of that.”

“Mr. Morgan stands by his congressional testimony,” his defense attorneys told CNN in response to his emails and Chesebro’s statements to investigators.

Ultimately, on the eve of the joint session of Congress, Morgan helped get the ballots in place, according to the emails and according to Chesebro, who blamed his legal troubles squarely on the Trump campaign’s legal team.

“I could have avoided all this,” Chesebro vented to Michigan prosecutors. “It’s been a real lesson in not working with people that you don’t know and are not sure you can trust, because it really went south on me.”

CNN’s Avery Lotz, Annie Klingenberg, Fredreka Schouten contributed to this report.

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