By Aaron Blake / The Washington Post
Yet another figure who promoted Donald Trump’s stolen-election claims has backed down in the face of legal scrutiny. This time it’s the Trump campaign’s then-legal adviser, Jenna Ellis.
But even among the succession of walk-backs, this one stands out.
That’s because, as part of her censure deal with the Colorado Supreme Court in a disciplinary proceeding, Ellis actually admitted to 10 specific “misrepresentations.”
• Her claim to evidence of “a coordinated effort in all of these states to transfer votes either from Trump to Biden, to manipulate the ballots, to count them in secret.”
• Her claim of “overwhelming evidence proving this was stolen.”
• Her claim that, “The election was stolen and Trump won by a landslide” (a version of which she said repeatedly).
• Her claim that, “The proper and true victor … is Donald Trump.”
• Her claim that, “We have over 500,000 votes [in Arizona] that were cast illegally.”
Ellis’s commentary broadly echoed many of the Trump team’s most frequent claims. And Ellis is now admitting that none were true.
Perhaps most notably, as part of a deal that apparently helped Ellis avoid potentially stiffer penalties (some have sought the disbarment of lawyers who promoted such claims), the document says she also agreed that she acted “with at least a reckless state of mind.” She also agreed that her actions “undermined the American public’s confidence in the presidential election, violating her duty of candor to the public.” And she agreed that she had “selfish motives” for alleging what she did, but the fact that she hadn’t faced prior discipline weighed to her benefit.
In response to the news, Ellis has sought to emphasize that she didn’t agree that she lied. Rather, she says, she was merely admitting that her claims were unintentionally false.
“They’re now trying to falsely discredit me by saying I admitted I lied,” Ellis tweeted Thursday morning. “That is FALSE. I would NEVER lie. Lying requires INTENTIONALLY making a false statement. I never did that, nor did I stipulate to or admit that.” She noted that the standard involved cites “dishonesty, fraud, deceit, OR misrepresentation.”
Ellis’ tweeted statement walks up to the line of saying she was forced to cave to political and legal pressure. (“This is and always was political lawfare to intimidate lawyers from representing Trump or Republicans candidates,” she said in the statement.) But while asserting that she would keep fighting for her causes, she cited “having learned I can do so in media even more carefully.”
Given that explanation, it’s worth looking at the specific “misrepresentations” Ellis admitted to.
Ellis didn’t just claim the election was stolen. She contended Trump’s legal team had “testimonial and other evidence” to back that up and cited “the overwhelming evidence proving this was stolen.”
Perhaps her most pronounced claims came in a Nov. 20, 2020, appearance on the Fox Business show “Mornings with Maria” hosted by Maria Bartiromo, a host who has recently figured prominently in Dominion’s lawsuit against Fox News.
Bartiromo leaned into Ellis’ allegations, starting her show by citing “explosive claims from the Trump legal team” involving “allegedly widespread global voter fraud and a coordinated effort to change the outcome of the 2020 election.”
Bartiromo asked Ellis what evidence she had, and Ellis assured her there was plenty: “We had affidavits from witnesses, we have voter intimidation, we have the ballots that were manipulated, we have all kinds of statistics that show that this was a coordinated effort in all of these states to transfer votes either from Trump to Biden, to manipulate the ballots, to count them in secret.”
But elsewhere in the interview, Ellis also suggested that the most damning evidence would have to remain secret.
“Maria, no credible attorney is going to go out and actually show the evidence to the mainstream media to have them pick apart and especially dox witnesses, when we’ve already had this type of intimidation of our own attorneys,” Ellis said.
To put Ellis’s comments on television in the context of what she is now admitting, she’s saying the evidence that she assured viewers existed, somewhere, didn’t actually prove what she believed it did. She apparently misunderstood it. Perhaps a more public vetting would have been a good thing?
That’s a particularly stunning explanation when it comes to the last bullet point mentioned above: the one about there somehow being more than 500,000 illegal votes in Arizona. That amount would account for in excess of 1 out of every 7 votes in the state. It just wasn’t a serious claim, even before it was repeatedly confirmed that there was nothing to back it up.
These are pretty remarkable things for a lawyer to flub. But that’s what Ellis says happened. She apparently contends that she decided to allege a massive conspiracy that she now acknowledges “undermined the American public’s confidence in the presidential election,” as the court filing states — and she even reportedly drafted a plot to overturn the election on Jan. 6 in part by having Vice President Mike Pence reject the submitted electoral votes — based on misunderstandings.
But in effectively admitting that she didn’t have the goods to make such claims, she has plenty of company.
Sidney Powell, who has been targeted for disbarment and ordered to pay for frivolous claims, has contended in the Dominion case that “reasonable people would not accept” her statements at face value. She later acknowledged that maybe the “Kraken” she promised wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
“Millions of Americans believe the central contentions of [Powell’s] complaint to be true,” reads a filing from a case seeking the disbarment of Powell and another lawyer, “and perhaps they are.”
Even when Trump’s lawyers and their allies were taking his claims to court, they often conspicuously admitted that they weren’t actually alleging the voter fraud, dead people voting or rigged voting machines that Trump spoke about publicly. Actually proving those things seemed to be too high a bar to clear. So instead they pointed to alleged irregularities and process problems.
And those spouting or promoting the voting-machine claims repeatedly backed down or clarified in the face of legal pressure, including Fox, Newsmax, One America News and the conservative website the American Thinker.
Newsmax apologized to a Dominion employee who was invoked, acknowledging it “subsequently found no evidence that such allegations were true.” OAN settled a defamation lawsuit filed by two Georgia election workers it had spotlighted, acknowledging that an investigation showed they “did not engage in ballot fraud or criminal misconduct.” The American Thinker issued a full-throated apology acknowledging the sources it relied upon were “discredited” and saying their “statements are completely false and have no basis in fact.”
Despite this series of walk-backs, polls indicate that a majority of Republicans apparently still believe the election was stolen. They were led to believe that by many people who have now admitted — either explicitly or effectively — that they didn’t have the goods to back up their claims. And now one of them acknowledges that the case was made for “selfish” reasons.
It was certainly a heck of a thing to be careless about, to the extent that’s what happened.
Aaron Blake is senior political reporter, writing for The Fix. A Minnesota native, he has also written about politics for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and The Hill newspaper. Follow him on Twitter @aaronblake.
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