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Nevada GOP chair repeatedly takes the 5th in Jan. 6 deposition

Updated December 22, 2022 - 9:05 am

Communications between Nevada Republican Party leaders and former President Donald Trump’s campaign in 2020 reveal an orchestrated effort among Republicans in six contested states to send fake electoral certificates declaring Trump the winner of the election.

Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald was deposed in February by staffers with a House committee charged with investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol after he received a subpoena in January 2022. The FBI also seized his cell phone in June as part of the elector probe.

McDonald was questioned closely about his role in the scheme to send fake electoral certificates to Washington, D.C. He refused to answer nearly all questions in the 80-page deposition, claiming Fifth Amendment protection 275 times.

McDonald declined to comment on the deposition Wednesday.

The Jan. 6 committee also subpoenaed Nevada’s Republican National Committeeman James DeGraffenreid, who gave a deposition in which he also repeatedly took the Fifth Amendment to decline to answer the same questions.

Throughout the depositions, the Jan. 6 committee’s attorneys tried to show that litigation challenging Nevada’s election results had been dismissed by the time the Trump electors met on Dec. 14, 2020. The Nevada Republican Party had issued a statement that referred to litigation in the past tense, complaining the “8,000 pages of evidence” had not been meaningfully reviewed by courts.

The questions appeared designed to undercut the defense that the election results were still unclear at the time the fake certificates were signed, so Trump electors were acting to ensure their votes would not be lost if a court overturned Nevada’s results and handed its Electoral College votes to Trump.

Coordination with Trump

The attorneys asked McDonald if he had any conversations with Trump campaign officials or Trump administration officials, members of the Republican National Committee or other members of the Nevada GOP around and after the 2020 election results.

According to the deposition, in a Nov. 4, 2020 text exchange between McDonald and another person about “irregularities” in the election, McDonald said, “I have been on the phone this morning with the President, Eric Trump, Mark Meadows and Mayor Giuliani. There is a major plan. We are meeting at the hotel with attorneys and national staff in about 20 minutes.”

In another text exchange, he said Trump, Trump’s former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Giuliani, Trump’s former attorney, were in “full attack mode.”

McDonald pleaded the Fifth Amendment when asked what “major plan” was discussed.

Attorneys asked when he first became aware of a plan related to alternate electors in the 2020 election, if he was aware of a coordinated effort across multiple states for similar actions and whether he participated in a meeting of Trump electors that took place in Carson City to cast electoral ballots for President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

McDonald pleaded the Fifth Amendment, although he has publicly been outspoken about his role as an alternate elector, saying they were not fake but “legitimate.” A Dec. 14, 2020 tweet from the Nevada Republican Party also confirms he and five other Nevada Republicans were “brave electors” who submitted documents declaring Trump as the winner of Nevada rather than Joe Biden. (The electors themselves were designated by the party to vote in the Electoral College had Trump won the state; the certificates they signed and the ceremony they held were fake.)

Hope for Trump votes

Lawyers asked McDonald if he spoke with Trump’s campaign about the lawsuit in Nevada challenging the election results, which was dismissed. Although he pleaded the Fifth, he did have a Zoom call with the Nevada secretary of state’s office and Trump’s campaign attorneys who challenged the transparency of Clark County’s election process.

In one Oct. 30, 2020 text exchange between DeGraffenreid and Shawn Meehan, another Trump elector, Meehan wrote, “Been reading more on electoral college. If things get really sorted up, I could see Sisolak submitting one slate and Barbara (Cegavske, Nevada’s secretary of state) having to send our slate. As she dislikes controversial situations, I wonder how that plays out.”

DeGraffenreid responded, “Elder might do a lot of things, but sending a slate of Republican electors without them being clearly the winners of the popular vote is not one of them.”

Cegavske, who presided over a meeting of Democratic electors pledged to Joe Biden as Nevada law requires, certified Biden’s victory in the state.

In a Nov. 29 2020 text exchange between DeGraffenreid and Meehan, Meehan wrote, “and we have a template for what we can plea ours and send it in ourselves when Sisolak refuses.”

On Dec. 9, DeGraffenreid, Meehan and Jim Hindle, another elector, instant messaged each other. DeGraffenreid wrote, “And we need to also decide if we’re sending in our own ballot. Need to know which Senator and Congressman will make the objection. (Ted) Cruz (Republican of Texas) and (Jim) Jordan (Republican of Ohio) maybe? What is the deadline for that?”

The law currently requires only one House member and one senator to challenge a result before the two houses break up and individually examine allegations against certification, although an amendment to the law is expected to pass this year. But on Jan. 6, even as rioters massed outside the Capitol, six Republicans in Congress objected to at least one state’s election results.

Concerns about the law

Other text messages and email exchanges show coordinated efforts between Trump’s campaign staff and attorneys and Nevada Republican leaders to cast their electoral certificates and to “run point on the plan to have all Trump-Pence electors in all six contested States meet and transmit their votes to Congress on Monday, Dec. 14.”

Some exchanges showed concerns about whether or not to publicize the electoral certificate ceremony and to invite press. There were also concerns about how Nevada’s ceremony would work compared to other states, because Nevada state law requires the secretary of state to be present for the signing of the certificate of ascertainments.

“Nevada is an extremely problematic State because it requires the meeting of the electors to be overseen by the Secretary of State, who is only supposed to permit electoral votes for the winner of the popular vote in Nevada,” read a Dec. 9, 2020 memorandum titled, “Re: Statutory Requirements for December 14th Electoral Votes” from Kenneth Chesebro, an attorney who helped Trump craft the fake elector plan, according to Politico, to another Trump attorney.

“They make no sense when applied to this situation in which we are trying to have an alternate slate vote in hopes that its legitimacy will be validated before January 6th,” the memorandum continued. “Therefore, perhaps arguably, the Nevada electors could simply meet and cast their votes without the involvement of the Secretary of State.”

The memorandum also said that if Congress were to take away Nevada’s votes from Bidena nd Harris, “presumably along with it would come a vote to overlook this procedural detail.”

Chesebro sent a memorandum to another Trump attorney on Nov. 18, 2020, titled “RE: The Real Deadline for Settling a State’s Electoral Votes.” In the memorandum it says, “what must happen on December 14th.” “Prudence dictates that the electors in each State who are pledged to Trump and Pence meet and cast their votes on December 14th.”

The memorandum says, “It may seem odd that the electors pledged to Trump and Pence might meet and cast their votes on December 14th even if, at that juncture, the Trump-Pence ticket is behind in the vote count and no certificate of election has been issued in favor of Trump and Pence. However, a fair reading of the Federal statutes suggests that this is a reasonable course of action.”

Chesebro also wrote to DeGraffenreid on Dec. 10, “I spoke this evening with Mayor Giuliani who is focused on doing everything possible to ensure that all the Trump-Pence electors vote on December 14th.”

In a Dec. 13, 2020 email from the then-executive director of the Nevada Republican Party, Jessica Hanson, to a number of people in the party including DeGraffenreid, which is titled “Elector Voting Talking Points.” one says, “No court of law meaningfully heard our evidence or allowed us to fully plead our case. No one reviewed the more than 8,000 pages of evidence.”

The deposition also showed a text message in which DeGraffenreid wrote that McDonald was concerned that “we look like foolish crybabies” in regard to the elector ceremony. When asked to explain his concern to the attorneys, McDonald once more pleaded the Fifth.

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on Twitter.

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