Former Trump lawyer pleads not guilty in Arizona fake elector case

fake elector

May 17, 2024; Phoenix, Ariz., U.S.; John Eastman, a former lawyer for the Trump campaign during his arraignment in Maricopa County Superior Court in Phoenix. Eastman and 17 others, including 11 Arizona Republicans sometimes called “fake electors”, were charged by a grand jury in a scheme to give the U.S. Congress, a path to reject President Joe Biden's presidency. Photo by Rob Schumacher/Pool via Arizona Republic

By Camaron Stevenson

May 17, 2024

The main proponent of a plan to circumvent the will of Arizona voters in 2020 and deliver the presidency to Donald Trump was arraigned in Phoenix on Friday, and pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy, fraud, and forgery.

Former Trump attorney John Eastman is the first of 18 individuals indicted by a grand jury for their role in a conspiracy to overturn Arizona’s election results in 2020 to appear in court. Twelve others—including Arizona’s slate of 11 fake electors—have arraignments scheduled May 21.

More arraignments scheduled

While Eastman denied his involvement in orchestrating Arizona’s fake electors scheme, he did not disavow his strategy to have Republicans in states that voted for President Joe Biden send a slate of electors on Trump’s behalf to the Electoral College anyway. The hope of Eastman and those involved was that the attempt would halt US Congress from certifying the election, and in turn lead to a series of events that would result in Trump maintaining the role of president.

“I just had an appearance and an arraignment on charges that, in my view, should never have been brought,” said Eastman. “I of course pled not guilty. I had zero communications with the electors in Arizona, zero involvement in any of the election litigation in Arizona or legislative hearings, and I’m confident that with the laws faithfully applied, I’ll be fully exonerated at the end of this process.”

What are fake electors?

In December 2020, 11 people met at the state Republican Party of Arizona headquarters in Phoenix and signed documents claiming to be the legitimate electors, or representatives, of Arizona’s electoral votes.

Electors are people appointed by state parties, sometimes before the general election, to represent voters. The job is often given to current and former party officials, state lawmakers, and party activists.

The winner of the state’s popular vote determines which party’s electors are sent to the Electoral College, which convenes in December after the election to certify the winner of the presidency.

In 2020, the majority of Arizona voters cast their ballots for Democratic candidate Joe Biden, so the Arizona Democratic Party chose the state’s slate of official electors. Unofficially, and illegally, the Republican Party of Arizona also chose a slate of electors to be sent to Congress:

  • Tyler Bowyer: CEO, right-wing student organization Turning Point USA; National Committeeman, Republican Party of Arizona
  • Nancy Cottle: Chairperson for slate of fake electors; Vice President of Programs, Arizona Federation of Republican Women
  • Jake Hoffman: Arizona state senator representing Queen Creek
  • Anthony Kern: Arizona state senator representing Phoenix and Glendale; candidate for Arizona’s 8th Congressional District
  • Jim Lamon: Former Republican candidate for US Senate; former CEO of DEPCOM Power, a subsidiary of Koch Engineered Solutions
  • Robert Montgomery: Former chairman of the Cochise County Republican Committee
  • Sam Moorhead: Former Gila County Provisional Community College District Governing Board Member; former Gila County Republican Party Second Vice Chair
  • Loraine Pellegrino: Secretary for slate of fake electors
  • Greg Safsten: Executive Director, Republican Party of Arizona
  • Dr. Kelli Ward: Former state legislator, former Chair of the Republican Party of Arizona
  • Dr. Michael Ward: Husband of Dr. Kelli Ward

Similar efforts to send a false slate of electors to Congress in 2020 took place in Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. The legal theory that served as a framework for the fake elector plot was devised by Eastman and fellow Trump attorney Kenneth Chesebro.

The plan failed, and individuals involved in the fake elector operations in Michigan, Georgia, and Nevada have been indicted on charges similar to those in Arizona. In October 2023, Chesebro pleaded guilty to charges in Georgia and has since met with prosecutors in Georgia, Nevada, and Arizona, offering full cooperation.

All indicted individuals in Arizona are expected to be arraigned over the next month, with the final hearing scheduled for June 18. The defense and prosecutors, led by Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes, will then undergo monthslong pretrial meetings leading up to the first trial on October 10.

Author

  • Camaron Stevenson

    Camaron is the Founding Editor and Chief Political Correspondent for The Copper Courier, and has worked as a journalist in Phoenix for over a decade. He also teaches multimedia journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

CATEGORIES: GOP ACCOUNTABILITY

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