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WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 09: Special Counsel Jack Smith delivers remarks on a recently unsealed indictment against former President Donald Trump on June 9, 2023 in Washington, DC. Former U.S. President Donald Trump has been indicted on 37 felony counts in the special counsel's classified documents probe. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Exclusive: Jack Smith trades immunity for fake elector testimony in Jan. 6 probe
02:06 - Source: CNN
Washington CNN  — 

Special counsel Jack Smith has compelled at least two Republican fake electors to testify to a federal grand jury in Washington in recent weeks by giving them limited immunity, part of a current push by federal prosecutors to swiftly nail down evidence in the sprawling criminal investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

The testimony, described to CNN by people familiar with the situation, comes after a year of relative dormancy around the fake electors portion of the investigation and as a parade of related witnesses are being told to appear before the grand jury with no chance for delay.

That activity could signal that investigators are nearing at least some charging decisions in a part of the 2020 election probe, sources added. It also comes just as the special counsel’s office filed charges against former President Donald Trump for his handling of classified documents.

Prosecutors initially obtained documents and interviews last spring from many of the Republicans who signed false certificates to the federal government, asserting they were the rightful electors for Trump in seven battleground states won by Joe Biden.

Prosecutors have played hardball with some of the witnesses in recent weeks, refusing to grant extensions to grand jury subpoenas for testimony and demanding they comply before the end of this month, sources said. In the situations where prosecutors have given witnesses immunity, the special counsel’s office arrived at the courthouse in Washington ready to compel their testimony after the witnesses indicated they would decline to answer questions under the Fifth Amendment, the sources added.

Locking in witness statements

The compelled testimony has allowed the special counsel’s office to lock in witness statements and potentially information that other investigators who have looked at the aftermath of the 2020 election couldn’t obtain.

At least one other witness has spoken to investigators in the past two weeks outside of the grand jury with an agreement the person would be protected from potential prosecution, another source said.
At least half a dozen witnesses have testified before the federal grand jury in Washington over four days in the past two weeks, with many of the sessions focused on the fake electors’ plot orchestrated by attorneys assisting the Trump campaign in 2020. The numbers, profile of the witnesses and prosecutor tactics suggest a probe picking up its pace, several people familiar with the investigation said.

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trump smith split
This is the 'single most important' piece of evidence in Trump indictment, according to CNN legal analyst
01:36 - Source: CNN

Lawyers who have been in touch with the special counsel’s office in the wake of Trump’s indictment in Florida have found that prosecutors are still examining what appear to be other aspects of the investigation into Trump and his allies’ efforts to subvert the 2020 election results.

It is not clear if Trump is a target in the fake electors aspect of Smith’s ongoing criminal probe. But in recent months, prosecutors have pursued information about the former president’s words and actions after the 2020 election, including securing court-ordered testimony from his former vice president, Mike Pence.

Prosecutors have also asked multiple witnesses recently about Trump’s actions before, during and after the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, sources said.

An interest in former Trump legal team

In recent weeks, the special counsel’s office has also shown interest in several members of Trump’s post-election legal team who promoted baseless claims of widespread voter fraud, including his former lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, as well as former Justice Department appointee Jeffrey Clark, who tried to help Trump’s push to use the Department of Justice to overturn the election.

Giuliani played a key role in overseeing the fake electors plot across seven battleground states as part of the broader push to overturn the 2020 presidential election results for Trump, as CNN has previously reported.

Rudy Giuliani speaks to the press about various lawsuits related to the 2020 election, inside the Republican National Committee headquarters on November 19, 2020.

Prosecutors have also continued to focus on potential financial crimes and money laundering after Trump raised millions of dollars off false claims the election was stolen. One former Trump campaign official who testified this month before the grand jury was asked about specific campaign ads and messaging produced as part of those fundraising activities, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Multiple 2020 election witnesses are scheduled for grand jury appointments in the coming days, sources say.

Fake electors in Nevada

The fake electors scheme – one of the more public efforts to overturn Biden’s win in the 2020 election – now appears to be at the forefront for prosecutors, sources said. The Republicans at the center of the fake electors effort asserted that Trump won in seven battleground states that he actually lost, and signed documents claiming they were the rightful electors.

The two Nevada Trump electors who were given the limited immunity – the state’s Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald and another Nevada GOP official, Jim DeGraffenreid – both testified before the grand jury last week.

At least two more grand jury witnesses this week had insight into the fake electors scheme, including Gary Michael Brown, a 2020 Trump campaign election day operations official, who had told campaign staff he delivered fake elector votes for Trump to Congress from battleground states. Brown previously never responded to House Select Committee investigators who tried to reach him in their separate investigation.

Attorneys representing the witnesses declined to comment to CNN.

McDonald and DeGraffenreid previously declined to answer some questions about the fake electors scheme in the House inquiry.

McDonald also previously told reporters in Nevada that the FBI seized his phone as part of the federal probe related to January 6 and efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

The two Nevada fake electors who testified recently spoke to the grand jury about the actions of Nevada’s former GOP attorney general Adam Laxalt, and Jesse Binnall, a lawyer who worked for the Trump campaign in Nevada. Laxalt and Binnall both appeared at a press conference in mid-November 2020 to tout a lawsuit challenging the presidential election results and spreading claims of election fraud.

“Donald Trump won the state of Nevada after you account for the fraud and irregularities that occurred in the election,” said Binnall, who was one of the lawyers who brought a failed lawsuit on behalf of the GOP electors in Nevada.

“Adam Laxalt has never been contacted by the special counsel,” Robert Uithoven, a Laxalt spokesman, told CNN.

Binnall declined to comment.

As part of the special counsel’s investigation into the state-level efforts to overturn the election results, several county election commissions and state officials in battleground states Trump tried to contest received subpoenas last year for documents related to communications involving his campaign and various allies.

Nevada’s Clark County was among those that produced documents following a subpoena. In the batch of documents handed over and obtained by CNN, representatives for Trump’s campaign were in touch with election workers in Clark County. In their communications, the election workers parried questions from the Trump campaign about mail-in ballots and knocked down rumors, including a claim that there were problems with ballot tabulation hardware, the documents show.
This story has been updated with additional reaction.

CNN’s Kaitlan Collins and Paula Reid contributed to this report.