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New special counsel issues key subpoenas for Trump communications

Special Counsel Jack Smith has hit the ground running, and his new subpoenas suggest a keen interest in Team Trump's fake electors scheme.


It was nearly three weeks ago when Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Jack Smith as a special counsel to oversee both Justice Department investigations into Donald Trump. Among the initial concerns was whether this would delay the process.

“Given the work done to date and Mr. Smith’s prosecutorial experience,” Garland told the public, “I am confident that this appointment will not slow the completion of these investigations.” Smith issued a statement of his own, adding, “The pace of the investigations will not pause or flag under my watch.”

I expressed some skepticism, acknowledging that getting a special counsel’s office up and running has, in the recent past, been a daunting challenge. But a Washington Post report yesterday suggests Smith has hit the ground running.

Special counsel Jack Smith has sent grand jury subpoenas to local officials in Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin — three states that were central to President Donald Trump’s failed plan to stay in power following the 2020 election — seeking any and all communications with Trump, his campaign, and a long list of aides and allies.

These subpoenas appear to be among the first, if not the very first, to go out after Smith’s appointment. Indeed, it was of interest to see that at least three of the subpoenas were dated Nov. 22.

In other words, Garland tapped Smith to serve as special counsel on Friday, Nov. 18, and just two work days later, the special counsel’s office was issuing new subpoenas as part of a criminal probe into the former president.

But even more important was the nature of the information the special counsel’s office demanded. An NBC News report added that the subpoenas are “an indication that Smith is probing into a scheme involving fake electors, a slate of individuals who signed documents purporting they were their states’ rightful electors and asserting Trump was the victor in their states even though Biden won.”

The fake electors scheme has long been one of the most amazing elements of the scandal surrounding Team Trump and its efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. In fact, let’s not forget that we recently learned quite a bit about the partisan plot.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, the Jan. 6 committee, for example, helped document the fact that the former president was directly involved in the scheme. We also learned that Team Trump knew the scheme was illegal because the White House counsel’s office told them so. It also came as a surprise when Ronna McDaniel acknowledged that the Republican National Committee helped put the slates of fake electors together. We even learned that some Trump campaign lawyers distanced themselves from the scheme because it was so obviously dubious.

It was against this backdrop that The New York Times reported in July that key figures in the Republican operation were quite candid — in messages they did not expect the public to see — freely using the word “fake" and leaving little doubt that their plot was unlikely to withstand legal scrutiny.

The Times highlighted one email, for example, from a lawyer who helped organize the bogus electors in Arizona. “We would just be sending in ‘fake’ electoral votes to Pence so that ‘someone’ in Congress can make an objection when they start counting votes, and start arguing that the ‘fake’ votes should be counted,” Jack Wilenchik wrote on Dec. 8, 2020, in an email to Boris Epshteyn, a strategic adviser for the Trump campaign.

The lawyer soon added that “‘alternative’ votes is probably a better term than ‘fake’ votes.” The email added a smiley face emoji.

George Conway, a prominent Republican lawyer, added soon after, “If you had asked me to hypothesize, for illustrative purposes, a set of emails that prosecutors would find helpful in proving a fake-elector fraud conspiracy, I would not have come up with anything nearly as incriminating as the emails that the Times just reported on.”

Now, as Smith gets to work as special counsel, one of his first tasks was subpoenaing top elections officials in states where fake electors schemes were considered and/or hatched.