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Tatyana Tandanpolie

New tapes give Smith "powerful" evidence

Two days before the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, the Trump campaign's fake electors plot to block then-President-elect Joe Biden's ascent to the Oval Office faced an almost insurmountable hurdle: The fake elector certificates from two key battleground states were held up in the mail.

Trump campaign operatives scrambled for a solution. They settled on flying copies of the false certificates from Michigan and Wisconsin to Washington, D.C., a move that depended on a chain of couriers and help from two Republicans in Congress to get the files to then-Vice President Mike Pence as he presided over the Electoral College certification.

Those operatives even floated the idea of chartering a jet to ensure the documents reached D.C. in time for the proceeding, according to emails and recordings first 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 outlet reports.

The fake elector scheme is a prominent feature of special counsel Jack Smith's criminal case against the former president. Some of the officials involved have spoken to Smith's investigators. 

The recordings and emails also indicate that a top Trump campaign lawyer took part in last-minute discussions about delivering the fake elector certificates to Pence, potentially undermining his testimony to the House Jan. 6 Committee that he had passed off responsibility and didn't want to put the ex-vice president in a difficult position. 

The details largely come from Trump-aligned lawyer Kenneth Chesebro, an architect of the fake elector plan who is now a key cooperator in several state probes of the plot. Chesebro pleaded guilty in October to a felony conspiracy charge in Georgia in connection with the elector's scheme and has convened with prosecutors in Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin, who are investigating the false electors in their respective states.

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

CNN obtained audio of Chesebro's recent interview with Michigan investigators. Reports from earlier this month said that he also told state investigators about a December 2020 Oval Office meeting where he briefed Trump about the fake elector plot and its ties to the Jan. 6 insurrection. 

Emails the outlet obtained corroborate Chesebro's statement to Michigan investigators that he communicated with top Trump campaign lawyer Matt Morgan and another campaign official, Mike Roman, to ship the documents to D.C. on January 5.

From there, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., along with a Pennsylvania congressman, assisted in the effort to transport the documents to Pence.

“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 explained the episode with Wisconsin prosecutors when he sat for an interview with the attorney general's office last week as part of a separate state investigation into the fake elector scheme, a source familiar with the matter told CNN.

Wisconsin prosecutors asked about the episode "extensively" the source said, pointing out that Chesebro talked about how a Wisconsin GOP staffer flew the certificate from Milwaukee to Washington and then gave it to Chesebro. 

The firsthand account from Chesebro's perspective clarifies the narrative underlying 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 certification process on Jan. 6. Before Chesebro's guilty plea in Georgia, his attorneys contacted 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 interviewed several people involved in the scramble with the false elector certificates, another source told the outlet. That includes sit-downs with Trump staffers who were tapped to fly the papers to D.C. and some fake electors who knew of the planning. 

Asked about the episode, a spokesperson for Johnson pointed CNN 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.”

The recordings CNN obtained could strengthen Smith's body of evidence against Trump in his federal election subversion case, according to former federal prosecutor Elliot Williams.

"It's one thing for a jury to read a transcript or even hear someone talk about things they heard somebody else say, it is another thing to hear voices to have sort of an evocative effect, that is more valuable and powerful," Williams said during a Thursday afternoon appearance on the network.

He explained that the attempts to transport these ballots across state lines and to D.C. "could be introduced as evidence showing the state mind of not just of the former president, or people around him who knew what they were doing and attempting to take all efforts to get these fake or alternate — their argument is — ballots to Washington, D.C.., it can speak to intent."

Former impeachment lawyer and CNN legal analyst Norm Eisen echoed those sentiments in an appearance on "The Situation Room" Thursday evening, arguing that the new details will likely be "very important" for Jack Smith's effort to prove his case as well as for prosecutors charging the conduct at the state level, like Fulton County, Ga. District Attorney Fani Willis.

"And the reason those details about the elaborate plan to get all the materials to Washington for Jan. 6 matters so much is they go directly to the intent here," Eisen said.

Chesebro's account, he added, paints a clear picture of the widespread, last-ditch efforts to prevent the transfer of presidential power to Biden. 

"This wasn't just, as it started out, a preventive measure in case Trump won court cases," Eisen said. "This was an active alleged conspiracy to have Mike Pence and Congress block the rightful winner of the election from taking office, and Jack Smith has said that that is a criminal conspiracy. And it's hard to understand how lawyers and other professionals couldn't see why that was wrong."

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