Wednesday night’s Republican presidential candidate debate veered into well-trod territory, including China, transgender rights and immigration, for the party faithful.
While those questions were asked by the moderators of the debate in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, a question on election security was entrusted to an unexpected source: a conservative activist who had coached former President Donald Trump to falsely claim victory in 2020 — and who is likely one of the unindicted co-conspirators listed in the Georgia criminal case against Trump for allegedly trying to overturn its 2020 presidential election results.
“Many Republicans are concerned about the legitimacy of elections,” said Tom Fitton, president of the right-wing activist group Judicial Watch, who joined in as a guest questioner via a video hookup at the debate that didn’t include Trump.
“What should states do now to increase election integrity and voter confidence for the 2024 election?” Fitton asked, directing his question first to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Fitton also asked former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie about restoring public faith in federal law enforcement agencies after they had, he said, gone after Trump while treating his 2016 presidential rival Hillary Clinton and the 2020 presidential winner Joe Biden “with kid gloves.”
This exhibit from a video released by the House select committee that investigated the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol shows excerpts of an email from Tom Fitton to Trump aide Molly Michael and deputy White House chief of staff Dan Scavino on Oct. 31, 2020.
Judicial Watch has has long been involved in a variety of conservative causes, including what it sees as censorship in social media, the prosecution of President Joe Biden’s son Hunter and the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.
But Fitton is also likely the unidentified co-conspirator named as Individual 1 in the indictment of Trump by Fani Willis, district attorney for Fulton County, Georgia. Trump has been charged with 13 felony counts for alleged racketeering over his attempts to change the presidential election results in the state.
The bipartisan House select committee that investigated the Jan. 6 attack found a Fitton email to the White House dated Oct. 31, 2020, three days before the election, with suggested wording for a Trump public statement claiming victory and saying that some ballots shouldn’t be counted.
“We had an election today ― and I won. Some believe Election Day deadlines don’t matter and would attack democracy through fraud and judicial activism. Counting ballots that arrive after Election Day is unfair and shows contempt for the will of the people,” Fitton wrote in what he called “a draft statement.”
Because many ballots cast either by mail or before Election Day were not counted until later, some early tallies showed Trump ahead in states that he later ended up losing. Even though the process of counting ballots was well known beforehand, Trump claimed the process was suspect and in the early morning hours of Nov. 4, 2020, he said, “Frankly, we did win this election.”
CNN noted that the Georgia indictment mentioned but did not identify an individual with whom Trump’s Nov. 4 statement had been discussed prior to election and said it was likely Fitton. The email obtained by the Jan. 6 panel showed Fitton saying he was passing along his draft statement “as you requested” to Trump assistant Molly Michael and deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino, making Fitton the likeliest candidate to be Individual 1.
Fitton called the Trump indictment in Georgia “a naked threat and act of intimidation by the Democratic Party against any and all their political opponents.” He has not been charged in the case.