In a pivotal episode in the post-2020 election turmoil, a clandestine gathering of GOP electors convened at the Georgia Capitol, making a last-ditch effort to alter the outcome of the presidential election.
Their actions on December 14, 2020, which included casting the state’s 16 electoral votes for Donald Trump, had been veiled in secrecy. However, their intentions were ultimately exposed as reporters from various news outlets managed to infiltrate the meeting.
The meeting, organized by Trump campaign officials, was intended to maintain complete discretion. But it was far from a well-kept secret, as the presence of Republican electors entering the Capitol was evident to onlookers. The press was eventually allowed into the room, capturing images and video of the proceedings, although its significance remained unclear during the chaotic weeks following the 2020 election.
Fast forward to August 2023, and the meeting has emerged as a critical element in the prosecution of former President Trump and 18 others. They stand accused of attempting to overturn President Joe Biden’s narrow win in Georgia, as indicted by a grand jury.
The meeting took center stage in recent court proceedings, as attorney Kenneth Chesebro reached a last-minute plea deal, admitting guilt to one felony charge of conspiracy to commit filing false documents. Chesebro was a key figure in the planning of meetings of Republican electors in states where Biden’s victory had been certified.
The meeting involved what prosecutors characterize as “fake,” “false,” or “fraudulent” electors. Several Republican electors, at least eight of whom were present that day, have now agreed to testify in exchange for immunity from state charges.
David Shafer, then the chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, led the meeting. A court reporter was present, lending it an official air. However, Shafer denied the reporter’s presence, leading to a charge of false statements and writings against him.
Amid the gathering, Republicans replaced four electors who were initially pledged to support Trump, citing eligibility issues. State Senator Burt Jones took one of these spots. Three other electors did not attend, including John Isakson Jr., who voiced concerns about political gamesmanship. Prosecutors allege that creating documents to fill these vacancies without the governor’s consent constituted further felonies.
The meeting took place in a relatively unadorned space usually reserved for lawmakers, adding an administrative veneer to their actions. As each of the 16 Republicans signed certificates declaring Trump and then-Vice President Mike Pence as Georgia’s preferred choice, they allegedly committed felonies, including impersonating a public officer and forgery.
The defendants’ supporters argue that they were acting as “alternate” or “contingent” electors, aiming to preserve legal avenues for Trump amid election challenges. They claim that Trump was unfairly treated in Georgia because a lawsuit contesting the election results was not tried, as required by state law. Lawyers for the indicted electors contend that Congress should have determined which slates of electors should be counted.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ office disputes these claims, emphasizing significant differences between the Georgia Republicans’ actions in 2020 and the Democrats’ actions in Hawaii in 1960. The Hawaii Democrats eventually won a recount, whereas Georgia Republicans’ meeting was perceived as part of a campaign to pressure the vice president and state legislatures while undermining the legitimate results of the election.
Robert Sinners, the Trump campaign staffer who helped arrange the meeting, now distances himself from its purpose, denying Trump’s victory in Georgia. He has cooperated with the U.S. House committee investigating the January 6, 2021, insurrection. In an interview, Sinners expressed regret about the ill-fated attempt to create a false reality of victory during one of the most turbulent periods in American politics.