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Justice Dept confirms investigation into fake, pro-Trump electors

For the first time, the Justice Department has confirmed that the pro-Trump fake-electors scheme is facing a federal law enforcement investigation.

We've known for weeks that Republicans in multiple states created forged election materials, pretending to be "duly elected and qualified electors," 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 unanswered questions, however, is what kind of legal consequences there might be.

The answer is starting to come into focus. CNN reported overnight:

Federal prosecutors are reviewing fake Electoral College certifications that declared former President Donald Trump the winner of states that he lost, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco told CNN on Tuesday. "We've received those referrals. Our prosecutors are looking at those and I can't say anything more on ongoing investigations," Monaco said in an exclusive interview.

To be sure, that quote from the deputy attorney general may not look like much. It's only two sentences, spanning 19 words.

But Monaco's on-the-record comments represent the first official confirmation from federal law enforcement that the Justice Department is not only aware of the controversy, it's also describing the scrutiny of the matter as an ongoing investigation.

Given the circumstances, it seems extraordinarily unlikely that the deputy attorney general would just casually blurt something like this out to a national news organization. It's far easier to believe that the specific wording was vetted in advance.

For those who conspired to cook up this scheme — the Trump campaign officials, those who signed their names to the forged election materials, those who may have helped facilitate the plot, et al. — the Justice Department's interest is not good news. But for those who urged federal law enforcement to take this seriously, the confirmation is overdue.

Let's not forget, it was two weeks ago when Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel confirmed on The Rachel Maddow Show that she'd referred the matter to federal prosecutors. Soon after, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said he'd made the same referral.

Late last week, Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan also made a request to Attorney General Merrick Garland, seeking an investigation. The Wisconsin congressman said it was imperative for the Justice Department to act “to deter other officials who may seek to engage in election fraud.” Pocan urged Garland to act quickly “for Wisconsin, for the Department, and for the nation.”

Evidently, Main Justice got the message.

Meanwhile, it's increasingly clear that this is not the only ongoing investigation into the fake-electors scheme. Politico reported that the National Archives has its own investigatory team, which is also scrutinizing at least part of the effort to submit forged materials to the institution.

And then, of course, there's the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, which is also taking this part of the controversy seriously.

But given the power and reach of federal law enforcement, these newest developments are probably the most striking, in part because of the potential consequences, and in part because of the larger shift. Up until very recently, the Justice Department's role in response to the efforts to overturn the 2020 election was to prosecute Jan. 6 rioters.

Now, the Justice Department's role is expanding.