The Justice Department is intensifying its investigation into the fake Georgia electors a day after the House committee probing the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol presented fresh evidence that tied the former president directly to the scheme to put forward pro-Trump slates.
The 16 Republicans who filled out the fake slate are a cross section of influential leaders. They include Georgia GOP Chair David Shafer and state Sen. Burt Jones, a Trump-backed candidate who won the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor.
Jones spokesman Stephen Lawson said the candidate hasn’t received “anything from the FBI — but will certainly fulfill his civic duty, should it be necessary.”
Other state GOP electors were more circumspect.
“I’d rather not answer any questions on that,” said Kay Godwin, a South Georgia activist who was among the members of the GOP slate. Likewise, state Sen. Brandon Beach said he “can’t respond to any questions” about the investigation.
Shafer, whose subpoena was first reported by CNN, helped orchestrate the fake elector scheme. At the time, he and other GOP officials said they were submitting alternate slates in case Trump’s legal challenges were successful. Each of the challenges was rejected by courts.
In a December 2020 email, then-Trump aide Robert Sinners urged the electors to act with “complete discretion in this process” and to mislead state Capitol security guards and the media. Sinners later said he didn’t know at the time that the plan had no legal justification and that he regretted his participation in it. He said he was treated as a “useful idiot” by Trump’s campaign.
It’s the latest sign that investigators are sharpening their scrutiny of the Republicans who met, in secrecy, at the Georgia Statehouse in December 2020 to cast illegitimate ballots for Trump, even as Democrats met a floor above them to formally vote for Biden.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in May that federal investigators interviewed several Georgia Republicans who refused to join the alternative slate. Patrick Gartland said he was pressed on whether he talked to Trump or his top allies.
“Basically, they thought I was doing it because I was mad Trump lost,” said Gartland, who said he decided not to join the slate because his wife died, not because of any political reason. “I told them I know a lot of somebodies but that I was a nobody.”
Jason Shepherd, an activist who also rebuffed entreaties to join the slate, told the AJC he was interviewed by federal investigators who sought specific documents after Oct. 1, 2020, that were related to discussions on the alternate slate of electors.
The Justice Department also is reviewing fake Electoral College documents to determine whether the electors committed a crime.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis recently confirmed that the GOP electors were under scrutiny as part of her investigation into Trump’s attempt to reverse his defeat.
Prosecutors have interviewed Shafer and at least one other GOP elector, though it’s unclear whether any of them testified before a special grand jury. State Sen. Jen Jordan, the Democratic nominee for attorney general, told the AJC she was asked about the “alternate” electors when she testified Tuesday.
The congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection, meanwhile, has issued subpoenas to at least two Georgians on the fake slate.
A recorded deposition by Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel that was played at the committee’s hearing on Tuesday revealed Trump was personally involved in the scheme to put forward alternate slates in hopes of replacing legitimate electors who voted for Biden.
McDaniel said during a phone call with the former president, he put attorney John Eastman on the phone to “talk about the importance of the RNC helping the campaign gather these contingent electors.”
That took place despite testimony from several lawyers who said they warned the campaign that the plot to put forward alternate slates of electors in hopes of replacing the legitimate slates was illegal.
The inquiry into Shafer only adds to mounting problems for the embattled state GOP chair. Allies of Gov. Brian Kemp and other powerful Republicans are considering ways to render the state party meaningless in the 2022 election after Shafer sided with Trump-backed challengers who lost decisively in last month’s primary.
Staff Writer Tamar Hallerman contributed to this report.