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Arizona becomes fourth state to indict fake electors

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Nearly three dozen so-called fake presidential electors have now been charged across four states. These are people who signed documents falsely claiming Donald Trump won their state in 2020 as part of a scheme to get Congress to overturn the results of the presidential election that Joe Biden won. The latest charges came this week in Arizona as part of a broader indictment of Trump allies in the swing state. For more, we are joined by Ned Foley. He's an election law expert who teaches at The Ohio State University. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

NED FOLEY: Good be with you.

DETROW: Before we get into these latest charges, can you quickly remind us what the goal of these fake electors was - why their actions mattered in 2020?

FOLEY: They wanted to send this alternative set of documents claiming that Trump had won, when he hadn't won, in the hope that Congress would accept their documents instead of the true Biden documents or, at the least, allow confusion over which documents were the valid ones to cause Mike Pence as vice president to side with them rather than with Biden.

DETROW: We've seen charges now in Georgia, Michigan and Nevada. I should mention that there was a civil settlement in Wisconsin. What struck you from this latest round in Arizona?

FOLEY: Well, I think the most significant thing about the Arizona indictment is that it includes individuals who are not themselves the fake electors - who weren't purporting to be electoral voters from Arizona. Instead, it's people associated with President Trump and the campaign who orchestrated this plot in Arizona and across other states as well.

DETROW: You know, the people who were indicted in Arizona have said that these charges are unjust, that they're political in nature. I'm wondering how you view this moment of accountability for this level of involvement in this broader alleged scheme that we saw play out across so many states.

FOLEY: Sure. I think it's important to distinguish a couple of things.

DETROW: Yeah.

FOLEY: I think, definitely, some people need to be prosecuted for the effort to subvert the election. And I think the primary culprits are former President Trump himself and some of the people closest to him, like Rudy Giuliani, for example. But the fake electors themselves, in my mind, are - come in two different categories, if you will, speaking generally. One are people who were very plugged in politically, like the chair of a state party. They were instrumental in organizing the plot to subvert the elector and, therefore, arguably have the same kind of criminal culpability the leaders of the plot did.

But there were other fake electors in some of these states who kind of went along with the ride - who were almost as much victims of the fraud as perpetrators of the fraud. So I think it's important to distinguish exactly who are the perpetrators versus who are the victims here.

DETROW: Now, Trump was not charged in this case. Of course, he's facing criminal charges actively this week in a couple other cases. But here, in this Arizona group of charges, he was listed as an unindicted coconspirator. Can you tell me what you make of that - what that means in the scope of the charges that were brought in Arizona?

FOLEY: Yes. I mean, I think that's an indication that Trump is the one ultimately responsible for all of this alleged criminality, whether it's in the January 6 federal case in Washington or in this Arizona case. I mean, all of this was done at Trump's behest for his benefit.

DETROW: Do you think, going into this next presidential election, another attempt like this is more or less likely based on the focus of the last few years?

FOLEY: I think less likely. It doesn't mean that the risk is zero, but the most important protection that we got was the new law that Congress passed at the end of 2022, which is the Electoral Count Reform Act. That cleared up language in this old federal statute that had some ambiguity in it that invited, unfortunately, this whole plot to try to manipulate the session of Congress on January 6.

DETROW: That's Ned Foley, a professor of election law at Ohio State. Thanks so much.

FOLEY: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Tyler Bartlam
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Tinbete Ermyas
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Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.