Leaked emails obtained by POLITICO reveal the connection of two outside Trump allies — Washington lawyer Katherine Friess and Texas entrepreneur Russell Ramsland — to the failed push to seize voting machines as part of a desperate bid to overturn the 2020 election.
The emails show then-President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and another former military officer workshopping the draft of a Trump executive order to seize voting machines. The emails between Flynn, retired Army Col. Phil Waldron and others provide new details about the events that preceded the assault on the Capitol last Jan. 6.
It is unclear if the Capitol riot select committee has obtained the emails. POLITICO is publishing them here, solely redacting the senders’ and recipients’ email addresses. We are also publishing two draft versions of the executive order that would have directed authorities to seize voting equipment. CBS News previously reported on the contents of the emails and published one of the drafts.
All three emails were sent to multiple people, including Friess, who appears to have lobbied for a variety of clients, including groups linked to Puerto Rico and the telecommunications industry. Friess’ visibility into the efforts to overturn the election results on Trump’s behalf has drawn comparatively little scrutiny. She did not respond to requests for comment. Ramsland, Waldron, Flynn and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani — also a central player in the election subversion effort — also did not respond to requests for comment.
Inside the emails
Waldron — who has said he worked on secret projects in Afghanistan and Iraq with Flynn — sent the first email on Dec. 16, 2020, at 5:14 p.m. to Friess, Flynn and former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik. Waldron’s email included a draft executive order directing the Pentagon to seize voting machines.
“Per conversation,” Waldron wrote. “This is the final draft document. For discussion and coordination”
“PRE-DECISIONAL,” he added.
That document is nearly identical to a draft executive order the National Archives has shared with the Jan. 6 committee, and that POLITICO published last month. Metadata on the document says it was created by a user named Christina Bobb, and later updated by an unnamed person. A One America News anchor by that name was involved in Giuliani’s work for Trump, and previously worked in the Department of Homeland Security during the Trump administration.
The Washington Post reported that Bobb was on at least one conference call about setting up alternate slates of electors for the Jan. 6 certification vote, and that she was at the Willard hotel “command center” that Trump’s allies used as a home base to coordinate efforts to overturn the election. The emails did not cast light on Bobb’s ties to the draft executive order beyond her name’s appearance in the metadata, and she did not respond to requests for comment.
Flynn noticed a problem with the document Waldron had sent: Its title misspelled the word “analyze.”
“I reviewed,” Flynn replied half an hour later to Waldron, Kerik, and Friess. “Fix the spelling error in the title. Ensure it gets a legal review, but this is ready to go from my standpoint. Thanks for getting the key points in.”
It’s not clear if the order got the legal review Flynn referred to. But the email traffic came at a sensitive moment for Trump allies’ push to keep him in office despite his loss to President Joe Biden. Two days after the first email, dated Dec. 16, 2020, Flynn and others held an Oval Office meeting with Trump to press for drastic action to keep his baseless election challenges alive. The New York Times reported that voting machine seizures were discussed at that meeting.
Another email appears to be a forward of a message from Ramsland, a Texas businessman who — according to The Washington Post — pushed a company called Allied Security Operations Group into “a quixotic attempt” to find proof of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election. State-level officials as well as Trump’s own former attorney general have said no fraud occurred that could have changed the outcome.
Ramsland’s forwarded message included three attachments: a draft of an executive order to have the Department of Homeland Security seize voting machines, a draft document that appears to be intended to justify law enforcement officers obtaining warrants to seize those machines, and Ramsland’s public key — in other words, his digital fingerprint used in encrypting ProtonMail messages.
Ramsland’s message was sent on Dec. 17 at 8:44 a.m.
Two minutes later, Waldron forwarded it to Kerik, Friess, and Giuliani.
“Final draft finding – includes DHS switch language as well as Foreign interference expansion and warrant issuance language,” Waldron wrote.
The first two pages of the DHS version of the executive order are virtually identical to those of the Pentagon document. But its final page details a plan for DHS to seize voting machines.
That draft says the Homeland Security secretary “shall seize, collect, preserve, protect, retain and analyze all machines, equipment, electronically stored information, and material records” required under a federal statute that governs the preservation of election records.
It also says the Homeland Security secretary can “determine the interdiction” of other election materials, “including hardware, software, documentation, ballots, key cards and any other physical items to include security badges, polling official rosters, and related items.”
It adds that the DHS secretary and subordinates shall have the power to immediately seek “the issuance of any and all search warrants” they need.
And it says the DHS secretary can ask the secretary of Defense “to provide select personnel/capabilities (federalization of appropriate National Guard assets authorized)” to support “a Defense Support of Civil Authorities mission.” Those missions have previously included support to civilian agencies handling natural disasters, presidential inaugurations, and oil spills, according to the Congressional Research Service.
It’s not clear what expectations the order’s authors had for the National Guard. CNN first reported the existence of a draft order that would have had DHS seize voting machines.
Chris Krebs, a former top DHS official who defended the election’s integrity and was subsequently fired by Trump, told POLITICO that the draft order was a mess.
“This draft executive order is more of the same sloppy, half-baked nonsense written by someone with only a Facebook Groups-level understanding of government authorities, capabilities, and responsibilities,” he said. “That it may have made its way to the Resolute Desk is hard to comprehend, and we should all be thankful that some sane person somewhere near the Oval Office killed this thing.”
A second document attached to the Ramsland email contained a variety of outlandish allegations involving Saddam Hussein, the Saudi Binladin Group, and Pakistan’s intelligence service. POLITICO has chosen not to publish the document.
Tim Parlatore, a lawyer for Kerik, provided the following statement: “Members of the legal team were exploring various options to preserve evidence to ensure that the vote count was accurate. As with any legal team, various theories are considered and ultimately not followed.”
The draft executive orders cite an Antrim County, Mich., “forensic report” as evidence of significant voter fraud, but allegations from that report have been thoroughly rebutted. Ramsland wrote that report and co-founded a company called Allied Security Operations Group, according to The Washington Examiner.
Friess, who is listed as a recipient on all three emails, sought access to Michigan voting machines in November 2020 and told election officials in Antrim County that she worked on a forensics team for ASOG, the Traverse City Record-Eagle reported at the time. That paper said she flew in by chartered jet on Nov. 27, and told officials that she had dined with Trump and Giuliani the night before. Former Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne told The Washington Post that he paid for the travel.
Friess’ group “made calls to township people on Thanksgiving Day to set all this up, they were strong-arming local clerks to get in and see those machines,” said Antrim County Clerk Sheryl Guy, according to the paper.
The Washington Post previously detailed how Ramsland pushed conspiracy theories about voting machines for years before the 2020 election. Friess and Ramsland were both on an email first reported by Rolling Stone that Waldron sent to a Arizona state lawmaker on Dec. 8, 2020, including what he called a “research document.”