Allies of former president Donald Trump planned a campaign of harassment and intimidation against election officials and “weak” Republicans that was to culminate in what would become the worst attack on the US Capitol since the Burning of Washington in 181, according to new documents provided to Congress.
The Trump team’s strategy was revealed in documents provided to the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the Capitol by Bernard Kerik, the disgraced ex-New York City police commissioner who spent the days and weeks following the 2020 presidential election promoting baseless claims of election fraud in hopes of dissuading state officials – and later Congress – from certifying President Joe Biden’s victory over Mr Trump.
Mr Kerik, a convicted felon who received a presidential pardon from Mr Trump in February 2018, received a subpoena from the select committee demanding that he produce documents and give evidence concerning his involvement in “efforts to promote false claims of election fraud or overturn the results of the 2020 election” and promotion of “baseless litigation and ‘Stop the Steal’ efforts” on 5 November.
Although many of Mr Trump’s associates have refused to cooperate with the select committee’s efforts, Mr Kerik has not showed the same level of defiance that has left two Trump allies – ex-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon – facing the possibility of criminal convictions for contempt of Congress.
Instead, the ex-police officer has produced some of the documents demanded by the committee and has agreed to give evidence in a voluntary interview with committee members. He has also provided the committee with a log of documents purportedly withheld as “attorney work product”, which his attorney claimed is justified because Mr Kerik, who does not hold a private investigator’s license in New York or Washington DC, was employed as an investigator by Mr Trump’s attorneys.
One of the documents provided to the committee and obtained by The Independent is a 22-page “strategic communications plan” which was to be executed between 27 December 2020 and 6 January 2021, the day a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol in hopes of stopping Congress from executing the final certification of Mr Biden’s Electoral College win.
The staged goal of the “nationwide communications outreach campaign” was to “educate the public” about the baseless claims of fraud floated by Mr Trump and his allies after it became clear that he had lost to Mr Biden in key swing states, and to “inspire citizens to call upon legislators and Members of Congress to disregard the fraudulent vote count and certify the duly-elected President Trump”.
The Trump plan was purportedly targeted at GOP state legislators in swing states won by Mr Biden as well as GOP members of the House and Senate.
The targets of the plan were to be bombarded with talking points disseminated by Trump-aligned media figures, lawyers aligned with Mr Trump’s failed reelection campaign, and a commissioned Assistant to the President, then-National Trade Council director Peter Navarro, as well as Mr Giuliani and Mr Trump himself.
Other “key team members” included “media advisers” such as Boris Epshteyn, a Trump campaign surrogate and ex-Sinclair Broadcasting Company analyst who spent three months in 2017 as the White House assistant communications director for surrogate operations, and Steve Bannon, the ex-White House strategist who currently hosts a pro-Trump podcast.
The plan also called for the Trump team’s false claims of fraud to be pushed out by an echo chamber of conservative social media influencers, including then-8Chan operator and QAnon conspiracy theorist Ron Watkins and Brandon Straka, the “Walk Away” campaign founder turned 6 January rioter who has been cooperating with investigators since he pleased guilty to disorderly conduct charges on 6 October.
But the strategy detailed in Mr Kerik’s plan went further than merely coordinating talking points.
It also called for “rallies and protests” to be organised in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, including protests at the homes of “local officials,” secretaries of state, and “weak members”.
Although it’s unclear whether Mr Kerik’s plan was ever fully put into action, pro-Trump activists frequently targeted the homes of election officials in the days following Mr Trump’s loss to Mr Biden.
In one instance, a group of armed Trump supporters surrounded the home of Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson chanting “stop the steal” and other pro-Trump slogans. Mr Kerik’s plan specifically targeted Ms Benson, a Democrat, with false allegations that she violated Michigan law by ordering county clerks to “delete all electronic records” pertaining to the 2020 election.
Two Georgia election workers named in the Kerik plan, Ruby Freeman and Wandrea Moss, were also targeted by pro-Trump protesters after Trump allies – including Mr Giuliani – falsely accused them of multiple election law violations and circulated security video which they falsely claimed depicted Ms Freeman and Ms Moss illegally counting ballots hidden in “suitcases”.
In court papers filed as part of a defamation lawsuit against Mr Giuliani and the right-wing One America News Network, Ms Freeman and Ms Moss said they “received an immediate onslaught of violent and racist threats and harassment” after their identities were made public by Trump allies.
Ms Freeman, who was forced to flee her home for months as a result of the Trump campaign’s false allegations, had her house surrounded by “a crowd on foot and in vehicles” on 6 January 2020, the same day a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol. Ms Moss also alleged that Trump supporters tried to force their way into her grandmother’s house in an effort to effect a “citizen’s arrest” on her.
Asked to comment on Mr Kerik’s plan to target the homes of secretaries of state with protests, Ms Benson told The Independent she would “never forget the moment armed protestors gathered outside [her] home in the dark of night last December, not the images of the tragedy at our US Capitol on January 6”.
“This abhorrent, un-American, failed effort of those unhappy with the results of the 2020 election to try to intimidate me and many others from protecting and defending the will of the voters in our states shows just how far some were – and are – willing to go to undo democracy in America today,” she said. “Everyone involved in planning these un-American attacks on our democracy must face consequences or we risk seeing an escalated, intensified and potentially more violent recurrence of these attempts in the future”.
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