The Justice Department’s investigation of efforts by former President Trump and his advisers to overturn the 2020 election results is moving forward on multiple tracks, with prosecutors focused on ads and fundraising pitches claiming election fraud as well as plans for “fake electors” that would swing the election to the incumbent president, the Washington Post reports. Each track poses potential peril for those under scrutiny. The probe raises tricky questions about where the line should be drawn between political activity, legal advocacy and criminal conspiracy. A key area of interest is the conduct of lawyers who sought to turn Trump’s defeat into victory by trying to convince state, local, federal and judicial authorities that Joe Biden’s 2020 election win was illegitimate or tainted by fraud.
Investigators are trying to determine to what degree these lawyers — particularly Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis, John Eastman, Kurt Olsen and Kenneth Chesebro, as well as then-Justice Department lawyer Jeffrey Clark — were following specific instructions from Trump or others, and what those instructions were. Special counsel Jack Smith’s team has extensively questioned multiple witnesses about the lawyers’ actions related to fake electors — pro-Trump substitutes offered up as potential replacements for electors in swing states that Biden won. Giuliani, a personal attorney for Trump who took over his campaign’s legal efforts after the election, coordinated the fake-elector effort. Ellis helped him urge state legislatures to reject certified Biden results, while Eastman argued to Trump that Vice President Mike Pence could accept alternate slates when certifying the electoral votes on Jan. 6, 2021. Chesebro wrote memos on the fake-elector strategy. Olsen urged lawsuits to overturn the election results in several states, and Clark pressed Trump’s fraud claims from within the Justice Department. Smith’s team has looked at ads and email pitches that raised funds off Trump’s false claims of election fraud. After the election, an advertising firm created three ominously named spots for Trump’s fundraising: “Overwhelming,” “Stop the Steal” and “On Tape.” When campaign lawyers reviewed the ads, they raised concerns that the spots contained false information and might not meet network standards.