Ex-Michigan GOP chair: Idea to hide Trump electors in Capitol overnight 'insane'

Washington — Former Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Laura Cox told a U.S. House committee that supporters of former President Donald Trump, at one point, contemplated hiding in the state Capitol overnight to strengthen their bid to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

The detail from Cox, who was state party chair in 2020, revealed internal discussions that unfolded within the Michigan GOP as some Republicans pushed to submit a false certificate to Congress and the National Archives, saying Trump won the state's election. Democrat Joe Biden won Michigan by 154,000 votes.

In recorded testimony revealed Tuesday, Cox said a lawyer who was working with the Trump campaign informed her of the plans to get inside the Michigan Capitol ahead of the Dec. 14, 2020, meeting of the Electoral College. The attorney was Robert Norton, a Hillsdale College official.

"He told me that the Michigan Republican electors were planning to meet in the Capitol and hide overnight so that they could fulfill the role of casting their vote per law in the Michigan chambers," Cox said. "And I told him in no uncertain terms that that was insane and inappropriate."

A group of Republican electors walks toward the Michigan State Capitol to try to  gain entry to cast their ballots in Lansing, Mich., on Dec. 14, 2020.

The statement was part of a hearing by the Democrat-led U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, which has spent more than a year probing Trump's efforts to overturn his loss to Biden.

Cox, Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, Democratic Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel of Northville were all featured in Tuesday's hearing, which focused on Trump's effort to influence state officials.

"The state pressure campaign and the danger it posed to state officials and state capitols around the nation was a dangerous precursor to the violence we saw on Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, during the hearing.

The session detailed the plans by Trump allies to submit false electors certificates incorrectly stating that he had won Michigan and six other battleground states won by Biden: Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Nevada and Wisconsin.

Conversations about the fake electors' scheme began around Thanksgiving 2020 among Trump's advisers including lawyer Rudy Giuliani and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, according to Tuesday's testimony.

McDaniel told the committee that Trump called her and introduced her to attorney John Eastman, who said the RNC needed to help assemble "contingent" electors in case any of the ongoing legal challenges in contested states were successful.  

"My understanding is the campaign did take the lead, and we just were helping them in that role," McDaniel said in video testimony. 

Under Michigan state law, presidential electors were required to meet in the state Senate chamber at 2 p.m. Dec. 14, 2020. At that time, however, the electors for Biden were meeting, and the building was closed to the public because of safety concerns.

The Detroit News first reported in January that Trump electors had weighed how to circumvent the building's closure.

The Michigan Republicans didn't follow through on their plans. Instead, the 16 Trump electors met inside state GOP headquarters in Lansing where they signed the certificates and then walked over to the Capitol building, where state troopers refused to allow them inside.

Still, the Michigan Trump electors, including Meshawn Maddock, co-chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, signed the documents falsely stating they had "convened and organized" in the Capitol.

The official Electoral College certificates are what each state sends to Washington, D.C., to be counted before a joint session of Congress, where the vice president presides and certifies the vote.

New texts presented by the committee Tuesday showed that, moments before the joint session convened on Jan. 6, 2021, a staffer for U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, texted an aide to Vice President Mike Pence to say the senator needed to hand deliver documents to Pence. The documents were the fake elector certificates from Michigan and Wisconsin, according to the text exchange.

"Do not give that to him," Pence aide Chris Hodgson texted back.  

At least two Trump campaign lawyers and the RNC's Josh Findlay told investigators for the select committee that they refused to participate in the fake electors scheme as the campaign lost court challenges in the contested states.

"I either replied or called somebody saying, unless we have litigation pending in these states, I don't think this is appropriate. Or this isn't the right thing to do," former Trump attorney Justin Clark told the committee. "Like, I'm out."

The former head of the Wisconsin GOP, Andrew Hitt, told the panel that he was told the Trump electors' certificate would only be used if a court ruled in Trump's favor in challenging the state's election. 

"So that would have been using our electors in ways that we weren't told about and (that) we wouldn't have supported," Hitt said in his testimony.

In addition, the White House counsel's office told top Trump aides that they thought the scheme was not legally sound, though Trump and others proceeded to move forward with it anyway. Documents obtained by the committee indicated that the electors were told they had to cast their ballots in secrecy, according to testimony.

"We were kind of useful idiots or rubes at that point," said Robert Sinners, a former Trump campaign staffer, adding he now feels he was misled about the effort.

"I'm angry because I think, in a sense, no one really cared if people were potentially putting themselves in jeopardy."

In January of this year, Democratic Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel's office referred to federal prosecutors an investigation into the pro-Trump electors, and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco has confirmed the U.S. Department of Justice is looking at the fake certificates. 

The U.S. House panel also presented recorded testimony Tuesday from Shirkey and Benson about threats and messages they received from Trump supporters as the former president was pressuring state officials to intervene in the results of the 2020 election in certain states where Biden won.

Shirkey recounted the flood of close to 4,000 texts he received after Trump posted his cellphone number on Twitter in January of last year, urging him to "take action."

That move followed a high-profile November 2020 meeting at the White House where Shirkey and then-House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, told the president that they wouldn't do anything that violated Michigan law.

"I think the words that were more likely used were 'We were going to follow the law,'" Shirkey said.

More:Michigan GOP leaders after White House meeting: 'We will follow the law'

Shirkey said there was a “loud, consistent cadence” from the Trump supporters who wanted lawmakers to change who Michigan's 16 presidential electors were.

“They were believing things that were untrue,” said Shirkey, noting that Michigan law required the electoral votes to go to Biden because he won the state's election.

The committee also played a video clip shot outside Benson's home in Detroit where protesters had gathered in early December 2020. The protest took place after dark on a Saturday as Benson and her family had wrapped up decorating for Christmas and her 4-year-old was about to watch "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

"You're a threat to democracy! You're a threat to free and honest elections!" protesters shout in the clip played by the committee.

"We started to hear the noises outside my home, and that's when my stomach sunk, and I thought, 'It's me," Benson said in an audio recording played during Tuesday's hearing. 

"The uncertainty of that was what was the fear. Like, are they coming with guns? Are they going to attack my house? I'm in here with my kid. I'm trying to put him to bed. And so, that was the scariest moment — just not knowing what was going to happen."

Benson last month also told NBC News that Trump allegedly said she should be tried for treason and "potentially executed” following the 2020 election. She has not named her source for that information. 

Tuesday's hearing by the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 attack also involved testimony from elections workers and other state officials who resisted Trump’s calls to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia and Arizona, despite threats to their families and lives.

Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, called it a "relentless, destructive pressure campaign." He has called Trump's plot to remain in power an "attempted coup."

Lawmakers on the panel argued that Trump's pressure campaign, fed by his false claims of voter fraud, led directly to the riot at the U.S. Capitol 18 months ago.

"The point is this: Donald Trump did not care about the threats of violence. He did not condemn them. He made no effort to stop them. He went forward with his fake allegations," said Vice Chair Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming. 

The Tuesday hearing is the fourth by the panel this month, following a yearlong probe into the events leading to the insurrection.