By Marshall Cohen and Zachary Cohen, CNN
A draft executive order that then-President Donald Trump considered signing in December 2020 would’ve directed the Pentagon to seize voting machines in key states and hunt for evidence of fraud, according to a draft published by Politico.
Trump never signed the executive order. But it would’ve directed the Secretary of Defense to “seize, collect, retain and analyze all machines, equipment, electronically stored information, and material records” related to Trump’s false claims of an international vote-rigging conspiracy to deprive him of a second term in the White House, according to the draft.
It is unclear who wrote the draft order, which is full of legal language asserting presidential powers to seize the election equipment and conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.
The draft also said the defense secretary could identify National Guard units to be federalized to help the effort. Any operation for the military or federal agents to seize voting equipment for political purposes would’ve been unprecedented in US history, and tantamount to a coup.
The order would have appointed a special counsel to investigate the 2020 election and “institute all criminal and civil proceedings as appropriate based on the evidence collected.”
The draft appears to be one of the documents that Trump fought to block from the January 6 select committee, which is investigating his attempts to subvert the 2020 election.
Addressing the Politico reporting, Rep. Elaine Luria, a Democrat from Virginia and a member of the House committee, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that “it’s incredibly concerning if this is in fact a verifiable document.”
“We got 700 pages today,” Luria said Friday of Trump White House documents provided to the committee by the National Archives. “I know that there’s been some reporting out there from various sources, so we’re still going through those documents, but, having seen the reporting myself, it’s incredibly concerning if this is in fact a verifiable document that was drafted by somebody in the President’s inner circle.”
“We are looking at this very close, still determining if that reporting is accurate, but it is certainly very concerning.”
In a court filing last year, the National Archives said that Trump had asserted executive privilege over “a draft Executive Order on the topic of election integrity” which was four pages long.
One source who was interviewed by the January 6 committee told CNN they were asked about the existence of a draft memo that outlined plans to seize voting machines. But the source couldn’t confirm that that the questions were specifically about the draft published by Politico.
A spokesperson for the committee declined to comment.
CNN has not been able to independently verify the documents.
The draft executive order was dated December 16, 2020, according to the document published by Politico. That was two days after the Electoral College met in state capitals to formalize President Joe Biden’s victory, dealing a huge blow to Trump’s attempts to overturn the election.
The idea was originally floated at a highly controversial December 2020 White House meeting, which included talk of declaring martial law, appointing a special counsel to hunt for voter fraud and ordering federal agents to seize election equipment, according to previous CNN reporting.
These extreme ideas were promoted by former Trump adviser Michael Flynn and his right-wing lawyer, Sidney Powell. CNN also reported that Trump’s then-attorney Rudy Giuliani asked a senior official from the Department of Homeland Security if the department could seize voting equipment in certain states so that they could be examined for evidence of widespread fraud.
CNN previously reported that some White House lawyers and top officials, including Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, strongly argued against the Flynn-backed idea to declare a state of emergency so that the federal government could seize voting equipment in key states.
The January 6 committee has subpoenaed Giuliani, Flynn and Powell — three stalwart Trump allies who led a disinformation campaign about the 2020 election and accused voting machine companies of participating in a global conspiracy to switch ballots from Biden to Trump. Many of their debunked theories were mentioned in the draft executive order, according to Politico.
In subpoena letters to Giuliani and Powell, the committee cited witness testimony and news reports alleging that they “urged President Trump to direct the seizure of voting machines around the country after being told that the Department of Homeland Security had no lawful authority to do so,” CNN reported. They broadly deny wrongdoing related to the 2020 election.
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