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Jack Smith; Donald Trump
Robin Van Lonkhuijsen/POOL/AFP via Getty Images; Scott Eisen/Getty Images

News broke overnight on Thursday—from the Associated Press—a Trump campaign staffer in Wisconsin made a secret audio recording of a state Trump Campaign meeting that took place just two days after the 2020 election.

The highly damning audio recording reveals two important things.

  • First, the campaign acknowledged privately that they had lost the election in Wisconsin.
  • Second, they immediately began planning to assert widespread allegations of election fraud which they knewto be false.

That these two things happened is not surprising.

After all, there exists plenty of other evidence that the Trump campaign would cry election fraud if Trump lost. Roger Stone admitted as early as the summer of 2020 that the Trump Campaign planned to contest the results in bad faith.

And former top Trump advisor Steve Bannon was caught on tape telling a group that if Trump was losing on election night, he was going to claim the election was stolen.

What is different here is this tape lays out what was going on at the critical battleground state level. Lower level Trump operatives there have far fewer means and connections to protect themselves against prosecution and they’re unlikely to be willing to fall on the sword for Trump today.

Indeed, the recording was apparently made by another campaign staffer, who chose to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisals. The staffer was concerned that Trump has decided to run again in 2024 and that the nation could see another repeat of the 2020 election chaos.

Let’s take a look at what the leaders of the Wisconsin Trump Campaign were saying and planning on November 5 when they thought no one would ever find out. Then let’s walk through how this fits into the larger picture, especially with respect to potential charges.

“Fan the flame…”

The most telling part of the audio are the words of Andrew Iverson, who was head of the Trump Campaign in Wisconsin in 2020:

"Here’s the deal: Comms is going to continue to fan the flame and get the word out about Democrats trying to steal this election."
"We’ll do whatever they need. Just be on standby if there’s any stunts we need to pull."

Fanning the flame of election denial and pulling stunts are not the words of someone playing by the rules.

The brazenness of the tactics is all the more galling once you listen to another part of the recording where—after the team discusses packing up the office and writing final reports on how the campaign went—Iverson concedes the Democrats outmaneuvered them on the get-out-the-vote efforts and concedes the margin of victory by the Democrats:

"Look guys, at the end of the day, like, this operation received more votes than any other Republican in Wisconsin history. It’s like it wasn’t even close."
"Because we outperformed the President’s team by just over 200,000 votes. Right? Like, say what you want, our operation turned out Republican or DJT supporters."
"Democrats just got 20,000 more than us, out of Dane County and other shenanigans in Milwaukee, Green Bay and Dane. There’s a lot that people can learn from this campaign."

The other notable part of the recording is where the officials joke about their failure to reach Black voters in the state.

While talking about needing “more Black voices for Trump,” Iverson drew laughter from the group by saying, “We ever talk to Black people before? I don’t think so.”

Does this recording move the ball?

One of the first things that Special Counsel Jack Smith did when he took control of the case was subpoena records and communications from state level officials. Smith and the grand jury in D.C. are investigating, among other things, the conspiracy to present false electors to Congress.

Falsification of official documentation is a serious crime, but Smith understands that to prove it you need to show intent and knowledge.

Iverson is currently the Midwest regional director for the Republican National Committee.

Investigators will want to know both the up and the down communications from him, namely whether he coordinated with or took orders from the national Trump Campaign to have the Wisconsin Comms team to “fan the flame” around the false claim that Democrats were “trying to steal the election.”

They will also want to determine whether he coordinated with state GOP officials in any way to have false electors meet and present themselves falsely as the legitimate ones on sworn electoral college certificates.

The tape, which appears to show both intent and knowledge of the fraud, could provide investigators additional leverage, with the threat of a possible prosecution adding pressure to cooperate.

Others who were in the meeting are also potential witnesses, especially the operative who made and turned over the recording to the press.

There is also the possibility for state charges against those who participated in any fraudulent activity.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul was coy when asked a few months ago about this possibility after local election officials turned over documents requested by the Department of Justice under a subpoena.

Kaul said:

“No comment on what we’re doing."
“Just generally speaking, I can say it’s not uncommon for there to be a federal investigation that leads to action at the state level.”

The tape underscores the sprawling nature of the investigation and its many moving parts. Lower level Trump campaign officials will need to lay the foundation for any case that asserts a nationwide conspiracy to defraud that was ordered from the very top.

Evidence of these officials’ understanding of their marching orders and actions taken in furtherance of the fraud become important cards for the government to play, especially with defense counsel for such witnesses looking to get the best deals for their clients.

If I were an investigator sitting across from such a lawyer, I would mince few words.

It might go something like this:

“Look, we know your client knew what he was doing was wrong. He admitted his team came close but lost the election because the Dems turned out 20,000 more votes."
"He understood that the plan was to have Comms fan the flame of election fraud. He was ready to pull stunts to further that false story. And we have it all here, on tape, thanks to a guy who’s already cooperating."
“Now, does your client want to cooperate, too, and tell us who was pulling the strings and giving marching orders at the Trump Campaign, or does he really want to go down for the loser and his team?”