As new details of Trump team's fake electors scheme emerge, here's what we know

The Jan. 6 committee's hearings have laid out a plan by the Trump campaign between the 2020 election and its certification to find fake electors who could reelect former President Donald Trump.

Ella Lee
USA TODAY
  • The plan to use fake electors relied on gathering Trump supporters in states where he had lost.
  • The scheme relied on interpretations of the 12th Amendment and the Electoral Count Act.
  • It relied on states putting up a second slate of electors that would replace Biden's electoral votes.

WASHINGTON — Evidence revealed during Tuesday's Jan. 6 congressional hearing showed a concerted effort by former President Donald Trump and his allies to use slates of fake electors in battleground states to overturn the 2020 election

The plan, based on a debunked legal theory, relied on key states to find Trump-supporting electors and on former Vice President Mike Pence to toss out the real electors.  

Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, a Republican, who was pressured by Trump to find new electors in his state, told the committee that when he learned of the scheme, he thought of the book “The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight." 

"And I just thought, this is a tragic parody,” Bowers said.

Here's what we know about the fake electors scheme.

Jan. 6 hearing takeaways:Trump's false claims led to threats that turned lives 'upside down'

Basis for the fake electors plan 

The Trump campaign's plan to overturn the election relied on atypical interpretations of the 12th Amendment and the 1887 Electoral Count Act.

His lawyers, namely John Eastman, argued that the 12th Amendment gave Pence the sole authority to count the votes, and the Electoral Count Act — which codified the rules for counting votes — gave him the authority to reject votes from states with rival slates of electors. 

Electors make up the Electoral College. When the registered voters cast ballots on Election Day, they’re really voting for a group of electors appointed by state parties to cast the votes that formally elect the president. This takes place about a month after the popular vote occurs.

The Electoral College is a “winner takes all” system; the winner of the popular vote in each state gets all the state’s electoral votes. In the 2020 election, Biden received 306 electoral votes and Trump received 232.

VP and the electoral count:After Jan. 6, lawmakers want to clarify that vice presidents have ceremonial role in counting votes

According to the Jan. 6 committee, the Trump campaign's plan, leaning on novel interpretations of the two laws, was to pressure key swing states into putting forth a second slate of Trump-supporting electors so Pence could reject Biden's electoral votes. 

"There was no basis in the Constitution or laws of the United States at all with the theory espoused by Mr. Eastman," retired conservative Judge Michael Luttig, who advised Pence on his actions, told the committee. "At all. None."

Eastman — who didn't believe his own theory, according to evidence revealed by the Jan. 6 committee — requested a pardon from Trump.

Rusty Bowers, Brad Raffensperger and Gabriel Sterling are sworn in before testifying before the Jan. 6 committee on June 21.

Execution of the scheme

On Dec. 14, 2020, fake electors did meet in seven states — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Nevada and Wisconsin. The fake electors signed documents falsely claiming they were the "duly elected" electors from their state, at the Trump campaign's request, USA TODAY previously reported.

During testimony Tuesday, it was revealed that Michigan Republican fake electors intended to hide in the Michigan Capitol overnight so that they could cast votes there the next day.

But many of the state lawmakers needed to execute the plan pushed back against Trump.

Bowers, the Republican Arizona House speaker, testified to the panel that U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., asked whether he would "sign on both to a letter that had been sent from my state and or that I would support the decertification of the electors." Bowers replied, "I said I would not."

Recap:State election officials tell Jan. 6 committee of pressure, threats from Trump and allies

Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and Pennsylvania House Speaker Bryan Cutler, both Republicans, also pushed back and described a torrent of harassment from Trump supporters for doing so, the committee revealed.  

Eventually, Trump's own campaign workers began to see the plan as bunk.

Justin Clark, one of Trump's campaign lawyers, said in videotaped testimony to the Jan. 6 committee that he told others the plan to bring together a fake slate of electors where Trump lost, without pending litigation, was not appropriate. 

“I’m out,” Clark said.

A top aide to Trump's chief of staff recalled to the committee that the White House counsel's office said the law didn't support the plan for alternate electors, and a former campaign staffer said he and others felt like "useful idiots" for helping to execute a scheme unsupported by the lawyers.

Bowers recalled Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani talking about election fraud: "We've got lots of theories, we just don't have the evidence."

Thousands of Donald Trump supporters storm the Capitol building following a "Stop the Steal" rally on Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C. The protesters broke windows and clashed with police.

A joint session to certify on Jan. 6, 2021

Congress was set to convene a joint session on Jan. 6, 2021, to certify Biden's electoral votes, officially deeming him winner of the 2020 election.

The same day, Trump held his now infamous rally near the White House that spurred on riots at the Capitol, at least in part. In his speech, Trump said, “I hope Mike Pence comes through for us," referring to throwing out Biden's electoral votes. 

Pence penned a letter Jan. 6 on the debate over the objections, which said his "oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not."

The Jan. 6 hearings revealed additional details about the pressure Trump and his allies placed on Pence to overturn the election.

Marc Short, Pence's chief of staff, said in a videotaped deposition that despite the pressure, Pence both wrote a letter to Trump saying he had no legal authority to overturn the election and communicated the same concept to him “many times” and “very consistently.” On the morning of Jan. 6, Trump telephoned Pence and called him a “wimp” and the “p-word,” according to videotaped witness testimony. 

"We're fortunate for Mr. Pence's courage on Jan. 6," said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss, chair of the committee. "Our democracy came dangerously close to catastrophe." 

Supreme Court allows release of Trump's files to the House committee investigating the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Panel reveals Trump's role in trying to overturn the election

Tuesday's hearing shed light on just how involved the former president was in efforts to overturn the election at the state level. 

The Jan. 6 committee played recordings of calls Trump made to state officials asking them to find a separate slate of electors, despite knowing the allegations of a stolen election were "nonsense," according to Rep. Liz Cheney.

Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee, told the Jan. 6 panel that during a phone call, Trump handed the phone to Eastman, who then "proceeded to talk about the importance of the RNC helping the campaign gather these contingent electors, in case any of the legal challenges that were ongoing changed the result of any of the states," she said in a committee deposition.

"My understanding is the campaign did take the lead and we (the RNC) were just helping them in that role," McDaniel said.

Contributing: Bart Jansen