OPINION: 2020 election lunacy deposits Georgia GOP chief in a legal stew

A photo of Georgia GOP Chairman David Shafer and other "electors" for Donald Trump at a Dec. 14, 2020 meeting at the state Capitol. Photo shot and then tweeted out by WSB-TV reporter Richard Elliott.

Credit: Richard Elliott, WSB-TV

Credit: Richard Elliott, WSB-TV

A photo of Georgia GOP Chairman David Shafer and other "electors" for Donald Trump at a Dec. 14, 2020 meeting at the state Capitol. Photo shot and then tweeted out by WSB-TV reporter Richard Elliott.

In his heart, Georgia GOP Chairman David Shafer pretty much knew President Donald Trump was toast.

It was mid-December 2020, more than a month after it was clear Trump had become what he hated most — a loser. One election shocker was that Joe Biden won Georgia, seemingly a red state, by nearly 12,000 votes.

Atlanta automotive executive Mark Hennessy, a fellow GOP Electoral College voter asked Shafer if he was still voting on Dec. 14, 2020.

Shafer replied by email saying he was: “The Trump campaign is asking us to preserve his rights by meeting Monday and casting our votes. I am going to go. Crazy times. But in the unlikely event he wins the contest, we will be screwed if we did not meet and vote.”

It was, indeed, Crazy Times, a dark, fact-free period of the “Kraken” lawsuits and “Stop the Steal” conspiracies, including one with Venezuelans rigging American voting machines. State legislators were threatening to meet and overturn election results. The state of Texas was suing to overturn other states’ elections, including Georgia’s. Election workers were being threatened and followed home.

You know, modern-day democracy.

Shafer is now under investigation by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis for his role in this post-election lunacy. Her two-year-long quest centers on a January 2021 call by Trump to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger urging him to help a fellow Republican and find enough votes to win the state.

Fulton County D.A. Fani Willis (center) confers with colleagues Nathan Wade (left) and Donald Wakeford (right) during a Jan. 24, 2023, hearing before Fulton Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney. Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

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Credit: Miguel Martinez

Part of the DA’s theory is the GOP electors fraudulently certified themselves, hence furthering the Trumpian conspiracy to keep him in office.

Shafer’s email cited above was included in an 11-page letter sent by his legal team to the DA asking her to leave him alone.

The letter says Shafer is no instigator, colluder or criminal — he simply was following the “repeated and detailed advice of (Trump’s) legal counsel” and that should eliminate him from “any possibility of criminal intent or liability.”

At the time, Shafer was a plaintiff in a Trump lawsuit contesting Georgia’s election. The suit was still pending when the electors met.

Shafer has contended he’s being persecuted for simply performing “normal political activities,” although I must say “normal” has morphed in recent years.

The letter, written by attorneys Holly Pierson and Craig Gillen, said the Republican electors were relying on a 1960 precedent from Hawaii. In that case, Democratic electors voted even when it seemed Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon had edged out John F. Kennedy in that state. In the end, a recount determined Kennedy was the winner there by 115 votes out of 185,000 cast.

Despite the similarities, there is a difference: Trump lost Georgia by 11,779 votes and, by the time the GOP electoral butts plopped in their seats, three recounts had made Biden’s victory clear.

The Shafer team is waging a legal and publicity initiative to extract him from this mess. I get it. Lawyers aren’t cheap and it would be a pretty expensive and dire situation if Shafer is indicted and ends up in a courtroom along with Trump and others facing racketeering charges.

Shafer’s lawyers took aim at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other media saying we have “continued to perpetuate the ‘closed door hoax’ and have disparaged such electors as ‘fake or phony.’” The letter calls them contingent electors.

The “closed door” term came about after AJC reporter Greg Bluestein and independent journalist George Chidi were turned away from the room in the state Capitol shortly before GOP electors held their meeting. Bluestein was told there was an “educational meeting” occurring. Now, scram!

Trump supporters gather Nov. 14 for a "Stop the Steal" protest at the Georgia State Capitol. Credit: Zachary Hansen

Credit: Zachary Hansen

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Credit: Zachary Hansen

A day earlier, several GOP electors told Bluestein nothing was scheduled for Dec. 14. Also, a Trump operative emailed electors a day earlier, telling them “complete secrecy and discretion” was needed for the effort.

In their letter, the Shafer team noted that WSB-TV reporter Richard Elliott was allowed into the room with the electors. That means it wasn’t a secretive cabal.

One could argue that. But could also argue that Bluestein and Chidi had stumbled onto the meeting and then tweeted what happened immediately after being turned away. Once that happened, the electors knew, as Chidi told me, “That the jig was up.” They didn’t want to seem any more secretive than they already were.

Anthony Michael Kreis, a constitutional law professor at Georgia State University, said the DA seems to be squeezing the electors, including Shafer, to go up the ladder and net bigger GOP fish, including the Big Tuna himself.

“Even if all those fake electors thought they were doing right,” he said, “those encouraging them may have known they were committing fraud.”

Shafer contends he knew nothing of that sort.

Meanwhile the former state senator from Duluth awaits whatever is in store for him.

For decades, Shafer was an old-timey Regular Republican, a connected suburban conservative. But in 2019 he took over the state GOP Party chairmanship and figured that the wingnut wing of the party was the route to go.

The problem is, once you grab the Kraken by the tail something bad is bound to happen.