States refer forged pro-Trump election docs to federal prosecutors

Two state attorneys general have asked federal prosecutors to investigate the scheme surrounding the Republicans' forged election documents.


The Republican efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election have created a multifaceted scandal, but in recent weeks, there's been an unexpected twist. Republicans in multiple states created forged election materials and sent the documents to, among others, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. Archivist, as if the materials were legitimate. They were not.

Among the many questions was one obvious line of inquiry: Was this legal? According to some who've reviewed what transpired, the answer is, perhaps not. The Detroit News reported the other day:

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said Thursday she referred to federal prosecutors a probe into Republicans who signed and submitted a certificate falsely claiming Donald Trump won Michigan's electoral votes. The revelation demonstrated the potential seriousness and ongoing nature of the investigation and could have repercussions throughout state politics, as the 16 Republicans in question include high-ranking members of the state GOP, like Co-Chairwoman Meshawn Maddock.

Nessel, who made the comments on The Rachel Maddow Show last week, added that she believes a variety of legal lines may have been crossed — and while she's referred the matter to the Justice Department, the Michigan attorney general hasn't ruled out the possibility of state charges.

She's not alone. The Albuquerque Journal reported that New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas has made the same referral. "Election laws are the foundation of our democracy and must be respected," the Democratic state AG said in a written statement. "While review under state law is ongoing, we have referred this matter to the appropriate federal law-enforcement authorities and will provide any assistance they deem necessary."

In case anyone needs a refresher, it originally appeared that the controversy was limited to one state. In December 2020, while Wisconsin electors met for an official ceremony at the state Capitol in which the state formally assigned its participants in the electoral college, a group of Wisconsin Republicans quietly held a separate, fake ceremony — in the same capitol, at the same time — to cast electoral votes for Donald Trump, despite his defeat in the state.

They then proceeded to forge the official paperwork, claiming to be the "duly elected and qualified electors," though that was plainly false. They also submitted the bogus documents to government agencies.

We learned soon after, however, that Wisconsin Republicans had some company: Republicans in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, and Nevada did the same thing.

And when I say "the same thing," I mean the same thing: The fake documents had identical formatting, spacing, fonts, and phrasing, leaving little doubt that there was a template for Republicans to follow in each of these states.

In two other states — Pennsylvania and New Mexico — Trump fans took similar steps, but they added qualifiers to the materials, saying that someday, under some circumstances, the GOP electors might eventually become the real electors.

The caveats mattered: Because these Republicans did not purport to be the "duly elected and qualified electors," their efforts are qualitatively and legally different. In fact, a local report out of Lancaster reported yesterday, "The Pennsylvanians' insistence might've spared them from a criminal investigation."

State Attorney General Josh Shapiro's office added in a written statement, "Though their rhetoric and policy were intentionally misleading and purposefully damaging to our democracy, based on our initial review, our office does not believe this meets the legal standards for forgery."

But for Republicans in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, and Wisconsin, the legal scrutiny — at the state and federal level — remains ongoing.

All of which brings us back to the three questions we considered when this story first came into focus.

1. Was this scheme legal? I can't speak to this with any authority, but it increasingly appears that some state attorneys general believe the legal controversy is serious enough to warrant investigation.

2. How many states were part of the scheme? As of now, the answer appears to be five, though if we include Pennsylvania and New Mexico, it's seven.

3. Who orchestrated the scheme? Clearly, several states didn't generate fraudulent election materials entirely on their own. The Republicans who submitted the bogus documents had some outside help.

We don't yet know who provided this assistance and/or created the fake materials for official submission. That said, the report out of Lancaster quoted a local GOP official in Pennsylvania who pointed the finger at a Trump campaign lawyer. The Detroit News had a similar report, quoting a Michigan GOP official who also said he'd received guidance from a Trump campaign lawyer.

Watch this space.