After Trump indictment details Wisconsin fake elector scheme, Kaul weighs charging decision
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The federal indictment filed Wednesday against former President Donald Trump prominently features Wisconsin; it's one of the states where Trump and his closest associates are accused of orchestrating a plot to submit fake slates of Republican electors and have them counted on January 6, 2021.
While Trump is the only person named as a defendant in the case following Special Counsel Jack Smith's investigation, prosecutors at the state level are weighing whether to file their own charges against those connected to the fraudulent electoral documents.
Last month, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, filed charges against that state's 16 alternative electors. In Fulton County, Georgia, a grand jury is weighing whether to indict the 16 GOP electors there.
In Wisconsin, Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul has previously said he wanted to see how federal investigators proceed before deciding whether to charge anyone connected to Wisconsin's fake elector papers.
After the Trump indictment was announced Tuesday, Kaul was noncommittal when asked whether the new charges would influence his actions.
"We're gonna review the indictment carefully," Kaul told reporters at the state Capitol. "But ultimately, decisions that we make, and whether we are involved in a case in any respect, depends on the facts, the law, and ultimately, what makes sense moving forward from a strategy standpoint."
Wisconsin's role in the indictment
The charging document against Trump outlines how efforts to create fake GOP elector slates began in Wisconsin with a November 2020 record investigators called the "Wisconsin Memo." Amid a recount happening in Milwaukee and Dane counties, the memo called for Trump electors to submit their own electoral votes in case the final results favored Trump.
Instead, President Joe Biden's margin of victory grew slightly as a result of the recount. On December 6, 2020, a new memo "marked a sharp departure" from the Wisconsin Memo. It called for Republicans in Wisconsin, as well as Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania to "meet and mimic as best as possible the actions of the legitimate Biden electors, and that on January 6, the Vice President should open and count the fraudulent votes."
Former Republican Party of Wisconsin Chairman Andrew Hitt signed on as one of the state's 10 fake electors. The Wisconsin GOP maintained then, and still does today, that the state's electors were only following legal advice -- that they were told to submit an alternate slate in case Trump's legal challenges succeeded.
"That has been our position, is that it was in case the votes got- something happened with the votes down the line, which they didn't," Republican Party of Wisconsin Chairman Brian Schimming told CBS 58 in a July 19 interview.
The indictment noted on December 14, 2020, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled against Trump's attempt to have more than 220,000 absentee ballots from Milwaukee and Dane counties thrown out.
However, the attempt to submit a fake elector slate didn't end there.
The indictment notes efforts from a Trump agent to deliver the fake elector slates from Michigan and Wisconsin to a U.S. Senator on January 6, 2021.
The House January 6 Committee had previously revealed Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin was that senator. In a June 2022 interview, Johnson told a conservative radio host that agent was Jim Troupis, Trump's lawyer in the 2020 Wisconsin lawsuit.
"It said, 'Need to get a document on 'Wisconsin electors' to you and the VP immediately. Is there a staff person I can talk to immediately? Thanks, Jim,'" Johnson said on WIBA-AM. "So, again, need to get a document on Wisconsin electors."
The January 6 committee's report noted a staffer for then-Vice President Mike Pence rejected the efforts from Johnson's chief of staff, Sean Riley, to deliver the fraudulent elector papers.
Troupis was the recipient of the Wisconsin Memo, which was sent by Trump associate Kenneth Chesebro.
Local clerk: "Pathetic" to say anyone was tricked into being a fake elector
The indictment stated some of the Republican electors might not have foreseen a scenario where their signatures were used in a fraudulent attempt to overturn the election.
"Some fraudulent electors were tricked into participating based on the understanding that their votes would be used only if the Defendant succeeded in outcome-determinative lawsuits within their state," the indictment reads.
Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson said Wednesday he doesn't buy the idea that any of Wisconsin's electors were duped, even though the fake elector idea spawned from the Wisconsin recount.
"The notion, that some of them are claiming they were tricked into this, I think, is pathetic," Christenson said. "Because, quite frankly, they're grown adults; they know what they're doing."
Christenson carefully answered questions about whether he felt Kaul should bring state charges against anyone connected to the Wisconsin fake elector slate. At the same time, he said he believed criminal charges would help deter anyone from trying to undermine future elections.
"I personally do believe that they knew what they were doing. They were trying to subvert our democracy," Christenson said. "That puts our election officials at risk."