Transcript

Plot to Overturn the Election

View film

MALE VOICE 1:

An election permeated with fraud. Is that an election?

CROWD:

No!

MALE VOICE 1:

We all know that Biden didn’t get 80 million votes. Give me a break.

A.C. THOMPSON, ProPublica/FRONTLINE:

I’ve come to Phoenix, Arizona.

MALE VOICE 2:

We already have a president, and his name is Donald Trump.

A.C. THOMPSON:

It’s been more than a year since Donald Trump was defeated.

SEN. WENDY ROGERS (R), Arizona Senate:

We will, if I have anything to say about it, decertify the November 2020 presidential election!

JOE OLTMANN, Conservative podcaster:

If you don’t think that fraud exists in the election and you don’t think the election was stolen, you’re either stupid or you’re just not that bright. [Laughter]

A.C. THOMPSON:

But across the country, millions of Americans continue to believe that the election was stolen from him. I’m here to talk to a man who’s a big part of the reason why.

FEMALE SPEAKER 1:

We’re excited to hear you.

PATRICK BYRNE:

Thank you.

FEMALE SPEAKER 2:

Thank you so much for what you’re doing.

PATRICK BYRNE:

Thanks for—it’s an honor to be able to do it.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Patrick Byrne is a former CEO who’s spent millions of dollars casting doubt on Joe Biden’s election.

PATRICK BYRNE:

When I go up and go up on the stage, it would be a good shot to come up behind me and film that, because the whole crowd does do this.

MALE ANNOUNCER:

Patrick Feel-the-Byrne!

A.C. THOMPSON:

He’s part of a right-wing movement spreading the idea that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.

PATRICK BYRNE:

There's overwhelming evidence that it happened in November ’20, that the election was rigged. And we’re now at the point that—

A.C. THOMPSON:

The movement is trying to gain political power and change the way elections are run.

A.C. THOMPSON:

I’m here because I want to understand the stolen election myth. Where did it come from? Who’s behind it? And how is the ongoing battle over the last election threatening the next one?

PATRICK BYRNE:

We are going to defeat this.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The numbers just came in from North Carolina. This is what we have right now. Too early to call. But our first numbers as the polls close—

A.C. THOMPSON:

Election night, Nov. 3, 2020.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

270 electoral votes. That’s what’s required to take the presidency. And we are still early in this night.

A.C. THOMPSON:

I was in Washington, covering the activists mobilizing for Trump.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The polls have closed in three more states. Let’s take a look. We can't project any of them right now.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Trump had long claimed that the vote would be marred by fraud. As the results rolled in that night, he alleged they were rigged.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

This is a fraud on the American public. This is an embarrassment to our country.

CROWD [chanting]:

USA! USA! USA! USA! USA!

A.C. THOMPSON:

In the coming weeks, I was focused on the violence in the streets. I didn’t realize that something far more consequential was happening in the hotel suites around me: a plot to undermine and overturn the election. When I began to investigate, I was led to a remote county in northern Michigan.

In the days after the election, Antrim County became a key focus of the stolen election myth. Antrim is a Republican stronghold, but the initial results showed something strange: Biden was ahead of Trump.

RONNA McDANIEL:

There was a major software issue in Antrim County that we have concerns could have caused problems in other counties as well.

FEMALE SPEAKER:

Ballots were counted for Democrats that were meant for Republicans, causing a 6,000-vote swing against our candidates.

A.C. THOMPSON:

I went to see Sheryl Guy, Antrim’s county clerk, a Republican who voted for Trump in 2020. The morning after the election, she got an alarming message: The results showing Biden winning seemed to be wrong.

What turned out to be the problem?

SHERYL GUY, Antrim County Clerk, Michigan:

Well, what happened is originally the ballot had left off a village trustee, and we had to add that village trustee to the ballot. The problem was is we did not pull back all of our jurisdiction cards, and so they fell into the wrong cell. It was human error.

A.C. THOMPSON:

It was human error. Here?

SHERYL GUY:

Yes. Yes. It was an honest mistake. I owned it within two, three hours the next morning. And—

A.C. THOMPSON:

She tells me that with the error fixed, Trump won the county, and she hoped that was the end of it. But a local Republican sued the county, questioning whether the voting machines had been tampered with. Then she learned that a group from out of state was coming. They arrived on a private jet.

SHERYL GUY:

On Thanksgiving Day, all of the local clerks were contacted to see if the group that flew in to the Antrim County Airport could come and take a look at their machines.

It was shocking, because for one thing, a private jet that was coming actually to this town, in our airport?

A.C. THOMPSON:

What was their jurisdiction to be able to come in and say, "Hey, we're going to look at your voting equipment"?

SHERYL GUY:

I believe it was just intimidation. I think that they found some weaker links and they took advantage.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Guy is uncertain about who exactly flew here and inspected the county’s voting machines. But she says it happened again about a week later.

I want to know who they were, so I obtain the log of aircraft that landed at Antrim’s small airport. It confirms the arrival of the private jet, but the names of the passengers are not listed.

I drive north, to a local elections office where a clerk had allowed the visitors to access the voting machines. The office is closed. I call the clerk, but she won’t talk to me. Two days after she let the visitors into her office, a photo of the voting equipment was posted online by someone using the Twitter handle “We_Have_Risen." The account is no longer public, but I contact a cybersecurity researcher who tracked the Twitter user. He operates anonymously online and asked that we conceal his identity.

A.C. THOMPSON:

How did you become interested in this We_Have_Risen Twitter account?

MALE VOICE:

Around the same dates that teams were in Antrim, Michigan, investigating voter equipment, they had posted pictures of—it was an aerial picture of a lake. And I looked at the Antrim airport on Google Maps and there was a lake right next to the Antrim airport that matched that same shape. I noticed similarities between content that We_Have_Risen had posted and information that was included in an affidavit submitted by a firm in Texas called Allied Security Operations Group.

A.C. THOMPSON:

That outfit, Allied Security Operations Group, do you know what their deal is?

MALE VOICE:

The Antrim report that came out that was released by Allied Security Operations Group, you could tell that it was either written by someone that didn't know better, or that was intentionally trying to push a specific narrative.

A.C. THOMPSON:

The researcher points me to the Dallas-based company Allied Security Operations Group, or ASOG, and the report they wrote about Antrim County’s election.

A public face of the company is a retired Army colonel named Phil Waldron. ASOG’s report claimed that the voting machines in Antrim, made by a company called Dominion, were intentionally designed to produce fraud and to alter the election’s result.

MARIA BARTIROMO, Fox News:

And now the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, on the telephone. Mr. President, thank you very much for being here.

DONALD TRUMP:

Thank you, Maria, thank you.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Around that time, President Trump started making allegations similar to those that would surface in the report.

DONALD TRUMP:

The Dominion machines, where tremendous reports have been put out, we had glitches where they moved thousands of votes from my account to Biden's account. And these are glitches—

A.C. THOMPSON:

Emails released since then show that Trump’s assistant sent the Antrim report to the Justice Department, calling it “evidence of intentional fraud” and claiming it proved that Michigan “cannot certify for Biden.”

I go to see J. Alex Halderman, a computer scientist who’s one of the country’s most prominent experts on voting systems. He investigated what happened in Antrim for the state of Michigan, and his analysis found that ASOG's report was laced with falsehoods.

What do you think of this group that did the analysis in Antrim County, the Allied Security Group?

ALEX HALDERMAN, Prof., University of Michigan:

Frankly, I had never heard of them before, and based on the report that they produced and how many obvious errors and false claims it contains, I don't have a high opinion of their work.

A.C. THOMPSON:

What did the report say?

ALEX HALDERMAN:

The high-level claim in that report is that the Dominion equipment in Antrim County was somehow engineered deliberately to produce error or to enable fraud. And there's just no evidence whatsoever of that.

One of the claims in the report is that the Dominion system was using what's called electronic adjudication, that this was a mode of committing massive fraud in Antrim County. It's entirely preposterous, because when you actually look at Antrim County, they didn't use that electronic adjudication feature at all. Antrim County never bought it or installed it.

A.C. THOMPSON:

And they just missed this, or—?

ALEX HALDERMAN:

They were just completely off base. This is a highly technical subject, and you have to actually go in and look at the evidence and understand what it's telling you. Once you do, it's pretty clear that this was the result of human errors. But if you are grasping at straws and just trying to find anything that might be used to spin a narrative about fraud, well, I think the public's trust has been greatly undermined.

A.C. THOMPSON:

ASOG has said publicly that it had only six days to do its report and that Halderman contradicted only some of its findings.

DONALD TRUMP:

The best is yet to come.

A.C. THOMPSON:

President Trump would repeatedly use Antrim County as proof that the election had been rigged, despite the evidence.

DONALD TRUMP:

In one Michigan county alone, 6,000 votes were switched from Trump to Biden. And the same systems are used in the majority of states.

A.C. THOMPSON:

The false claims of the Antrim report had taken root and would become a key part of the stolen election myth.

I reach out to my colleague Doug Bock Clark, who’s part of a team of ProPublica reporters investigating election fraud claims. He tells me that to really understand the Antrim report, it helps to look at what happened a few weeks after the election. That’s when a group of Trump supporters gathered at this plantation in South Carolina, owned by a lawyer named Lin Wood.

You and I had a phone call and you said, "Hey, I'm looking at stuff that happened on Lin Wood's plantation and what was going on there."

DOUG BOCK CLARK, ProPublica:

Yes. So after the Nov. 3 election, many of these people were convinced there's no way Trump could lose. There has to have been fraud. And so they started a process of trying to prove it. What Lin Wood's plantation became was sort of a headquarters, in which a lot of them gathered, synthesized a lot of the information that was pouring across the nation and then decided how to act on it. And at this point, Mike Flynn has come in to Lin Wood's plantation.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Among the people who were there was Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, who had resigned and pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

Documents Doug obtained show that Flynn worked with a small team of lawyers and cybersecurity people at the plantation and that President Trump spoke on the phone to lawyers there at least once. Some of the people there had been coordinating remotely with ASOG, the Dallas firm that wrote the Antrim report.

A.C. THOMPSON:

What evidence did you gather to let you know this is what happened at the plantation?

DOUG BOCK CLARK:

We got ahold of well over 1,000 emails, hundreds of text messages of what was happening on the plantation. It was almost like finding a key to understanding why much of the country believes that the election was stolen.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Can you walk me through it?

DOUG BOCK CLARK:

Yeah. This set of papers basically shows a set of emails that show how they crafted one of the lawsuits in order to try and get access to the Dominion machines. On Nov. 17, Phil Waldron had written, "Gents, this is our best first list for the equipment lists that need to be included on the injunction list." So he's saying, "This is what we think the equipment is that we need for the lawsuits we're going to do." It lists the actual things that they feel that they would need to prove the fraud. What are the pieces that we're going to need?

A.C. THOMPSON:

Talking about voting equipment.

DOUG BOCK CLARK:

Right. They're talking about voting equipment.

A.C. THOMPSON:

So versions of this end up getting used in lawsuits all over the country.

DOUG BOCK CLARK:

Mm-hmm. So the next day, on 11—

A.C. THOMPSON:

Has anybody ever seen this?

DOUG BOCK CLARK:

No.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Doug says that Flynn and the team carried out a multipart effort to challenge the presidential election results. Lawsuits, public persuasion and getting their hands on voting machines and opening them up to scrutiny.

DOUG BOCK CLARK:

On Thanksgiving Day, while many of these people were eating turkey together at Lin Wood's plantation, calls went out to the county clerks in Antrim, Michigan. And they were basically told, "Tomorrow there's going to be a group that's coming up, and you should let this group access to the machines. Please let them see it."

A.C. THOMPSON:

Doug tells me that it's not clear who exactly made the calls. But the next day, the private jet arrived in Antrim.

DOUG BOCK CLARK:

They were hoping to find evidence of a stolen election. And what they found was nothing. What they found was a bunch of computer logs which they did not know how to read. They produced a long report which was deeply riddled with errors, which multiple experts would find to be utterly bunk. But this sort of veneer of technical legitimacy that they would bring to this report would mean that it would spread very wide and go viral in certain ways, and create a pillar of the election fraud myth.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Doug shows me a photo of Michael Flynn carving the Thanksgiving turkey at the plantation. He had much to be thankful for.

MALE FOX NEWS COMMENTATOR:

This is a tweet from the president: “It is my great honor to announce that Gen. Michael D. Flynn has been granted a full pardon. Congratulations."

A.C. THOMPSON:

President Trump had just pardoned Flynn, ending his three-year federal prosecution.

SIDNEY POWELL:

—Dominion Voting System. Why it was ever allowed into this country is beyond my comprehension. And why nobody—

A.C. THOMPSON:

And Flynn’s attorney, Sidney Powell, had just filed the first of four lawsuits challenging Trump’s loss.

When I visit the plantation, Lin Wood won’t agree to an interview. In an email he denies being part of an organized group but confirms that he hosted guests at his home.

DAVE HANCOCK, Security consultant:

Sidney was then there, Sidney. Obviously Mike Flynn and Sidney knew President Trump.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Doug connects me to the security consultant who set up internet and surveillance systems at the plantation. He’s a former Navy SEAL named Dave Hancock. He’d had a falling-out with Wood and had been kicked off the plantation, but he had a remote, real-time view of its network.

DAVE HANCOCK:

Tons of people were signing onto the network. So I'm seeing these people who have host names in their computers signing on to the network. You got Gen. Flynn. Sidney Powell. Doug Logan—

A.C. THOMPSON:

And who's Doug Logan?

DAVE HANCOCK:

I turned over the network with Doug Logan. Doug Logan was Lin's "cybersecurity expert." Like Lin said, "This is my cybersecurity expert, Doug Logan," right? "From Cyber Ninjas," or whatever.

A.C. THOMPSON:

So you can see that all these people are converging on Lin Wood's property.

DAVE HANCOCK:

Are converging on Lin Wood's property, yeah.

A.C. THOMPSON:

And do you know how they got fixated on Dominion voting machines? Because at a certain point, Dominion voting machines become central to all these theories. Do you know what that was about?

DAVE HANCOCK:

Yeah. OK, so a guy by the name of Josh—

A.C. THOMPSON:

Josh Merritt, yeah.

DAVE HANCOCK:

Josh Merritt. Josh filled out an affidavit for Sidney Powell—

A.C. THOMPSON:

This is one of the lawsuits?

DAVE HANCOCK:

This is one of the lawsuits, right. And he claimed his experience was in military intelligence, and there was this big sort of—

A.C. THOMPSON:

Josh Merritt had been an early employee of ASOG, and Hancock tells me he was an important contributor to the Dominion conspiracy theory. I head to Texas to find him. In an old airplane hangar north of Dallas, I visit ASOG’s office. The place looks abandoned. The only evidence the company exists is a small label on a mailbox, with an earlier version of ASOG’s name. I find a video of ASOG employees speaking about election fraud on a right-wing Texas talk show. One of them is identified only as a hacker named "Jekyll."

MALE TALK SHOW HOST:

—some of the things he’s uncovered. Jekyll, can you hear me?

MALE VOICE [electronically distorted]:

Yes I can, Kevin, and good morning.

A.C. THOMPSON:

It turns out that Jekyll is the former ASOG employee I’m looking for: Josh Merritt, an Army veteran and former member of the Oath Keepers militia group.

JOSHUA MERRITT, Fmr. analyst, Allied Security Operations Group:

I was brought on as vice president of cyber operations. I ran everything having to do with computers in the company.

A.C. THOMPSON:

And how big was the company when you joined it?

JOSHUA MERRITT:

The largest it ever got to in 2019 was seven employees.

A.C. THOMPSON:

So basically you were vice president of yourself?

JOSHUA MERRITT:

Correct. [Laughs] I had a department of one.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Was it always a political thing, or was there a time when it took a political turn?

JOSHUA MERRITT:

No, it was always a political thing. It was just sort of in the background. They always talked about wanting to find ways to help Trump. They were specific with clients. They wouldn't work with anyone that was of the left.

A.C. THOMPSON:

They wouldn't?

JOSHUA MERRITT:

No, they wouldn't.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Merritt tells me that on election night, he looked at the swing states Biden was winning. To him, only a conspiracy involving voting machines could explain why.

JOSHUA MERRITT:

In all of these battleground states, Dominion, for the most part, there are some spots that wasn't Dominion, but the consensus was it was Dominion in these hotbed contested areas.

A.C. THOMPSON:

And you start thinking in these battleground states, particularly, it looks like that technology is being tweaked to get a result that’s not the real result.

JOSHUA MERRITT:

Correct. And I'll keep saying this: I don't think Dominion Voting is at fault. There's been a lot of debate, and I've even talked to their attorneys about it because they sent me a cease-and-desist paper in December.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Merritt’s theory was that Dominion had allowed countries like Iran and China to access its infrastructure in order to manipulate the election.

MARIA BARTIROMO:

Sidney, good morning to you. Thank you for being here.

A.C. THOMPSON:

He knew Sidney Powell and her team through ASOG. He says he sent his ideas to them, which were put into an affidavit.

SIDNEY POWELL:

We have got to fight tooth and nail in federal court to expose this abject fraud and the conspiracy behind it and get—

A.C. THOMPSON:

The lawsuits Powell filed relied in part on Merritt’s affidavit, citing him as a former military intelligence official, though the Army has said he never finished intelligence training.

And so your research, it ends up on the president's desk. It ends up in lawsuits. It ends up as talking points all throughout the media.

JOSHUA MERRITT:

Yeah.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Did you feel like you had any responsibility for that, that you had put out this idea that got widespread currency that Trump cited on Jan. 6?

JOSHUA MERRITT:

I know that—I think the problem was the people who took that information just put it out to courts or posted it publicly.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Do you mean that they didn't fact-check your work or that they didn't just understand it?

JOSHUA MERRITT:

I don't think they even back-checked it, because no one ever asked for clarification on any of the information that I put out.

FEMALE ANNOUNCER:

USA! USA!

A.C. THOMPSON:

I reach out Sidney Powell about all this. She won’t talk to me.

SIDNEY POWELL:

There was and is still massive voter fraud across this country.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Powell widely promoted the Dominion conspiracy theory. Dominion would go on to sue Powell and others for defamation. All of her lawsuits would be dismissed, and a federal judge would heavily sanction her for bringing baseless theories into court.

MALE PROTESTER:

Patriots, rise!

CROWD:

Patriots, rise!

A.C. THOMPSON:

But there was a broader campaign to sway the public.

RUDY GIULIANI:

Colonel, please introduce yourself.

PHIL WALDRON:

Good afternoon, senator. Colonel and gentleman. Ladies. My name is Phil Waldron. I’m a retired Army colonel of 30 years.

A.C. THOMPSON:

At the center of that effort was Phil Waldron, who worked with ASOG. Waldron traveled the country speaking to state legislators, telling them that the election was tainted by fraud.

PHIL WALDRON:

So all of these election systems have a common DNA.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia and Arizona, where crowds gathered to watch.

PHIL WALDRON:

The voting systems in the U.S. were built to be manipulated. They’ve been used in stolen elections around the world, in Venezuela, Italy—

A.C. THOMPSON:

He drew on the Dominion conspiracy theory—

PHIL WALDRON:

We began to look at anomalies in the voting systems.

A.C. THOMPSON:

—and ASOG’s inaccurate Antrim report.

PHIL WALDRON:

This was included in the forensics report on Central Lake Township in Antrim, Michigan.

A.C. THOMPSON:

He talked about the need to get access to more voting machines to do what he called a “full audit” of the 2020 election.

PHIL WALDRON:

It would be possible and feasible to do a full audit, a ballot audit.

LOU DOBBS, Fox News:

Joining us now is Col. Phil Waldron. Your testimony has been fascinating before each of these state legislatures.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Waldron wouldn’t respond to my attempts to talk to him. But he has said that he worked with Michael Flynn in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that he’s an expert in psychological warfare.

PHIL WALDRON:

I spent the better part of my career studying warfare, unconventional warfare. Narrative warfare is a real part of information warfare.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Waldron owns a bar outside of Austin, Texas. I head there to try to speak to him. Around closing time, I find him standing outside with two men, one armed with a pistol.

MALE SPEAKER:

Hey, guys, no filming, please.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Hey, we’re trying to do an interview with Mr. Waldron.

MALE SPEAKER:

No, no filming. Please take the camera and leave immediately or we’ll charge you with trespassing.

A.C. THOMPSON:

OK. We’re from PBS. I sent you an email, Mr. Waldron, so if you get a chance, just email me back. We'd love to set something up.

MALE SPEAKER:

When he gets here, I'll let him know.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Thank him.

Waldron doesn't get back to me; he’s been subpoenaed by Congress’ Jan. 6 committee. But he and others are carrying on the public campaign—most prominently, Michael Flynn.

ALEX JONES:

They're going to try to stop us from having a real election in a year.

GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN:

They’re going to continue to focus on how do they maintain control, or how do they get better control so—

A.C. THOMPSON:

Flynn is traveling the country with a roadshow called the "ReAwaken America" tour.

PATRICK BYRNE:

Just open the ballot boxes in six places.

A.C. THOMPSON:

He often appears alongside Patrick Byrne, the former CEO of Overstock.com. If Flynn is the movement’s biggest name, Byrne is one of its largest patrons. Flynn won’t talk to me, but when I contact Byrne, he invites me to meet him on the road.

Byrne’s father was the chairman of Geico insurance; he considers billionaire Warren Buffett a family friend and mentor. In 2019, Byrne resigned as Overstock CEO after revealing that he had dated a Russian spy, an episode he tells me was part of an elaborate FBI conspiracy.

"The Deep Rig" film by Patrick Byrne

A.C. THOMPSON:

Byrne says he's a libertarian and that he didn’t vote for Trump. He supports what he calls a “pro-freedom” agenda. As part of that, he produced and starred in a film about the 2020 election.

"The Deep Rig" film by Patrick Byrne

PATRICK BYRNE:

This election was not free, fair and transparent. I see this really as the possibility of the lights going out, not just for us, but for the world.

A.C. THOMPSON:

It features interviews with Phil Waldron; a trio of anonymous hackers talking about inspecting Antrim County voting machines; the lawyer who sued Antrim County; and Michael Flynn.

So we've been looking at this series of meetings on Lin Wood's plantation in late 2020. Sidney Powell was involved. Gen. Michael Flynn was involved.

PATRICK BYRNE:

It's kind of funny people are asking me. Yeah, I think I can probably tell the whole story better, of all the events leading up to the events of Jan. 6, about as well or better than anyone.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Did you go down there? Did you go to Lin Wood’s?

PATRICK BYRNE:

For two days. For two days. At the beginning. What happened was this thing that accumulated around me, which I think—

A.C. THOMPSON:

Byrne tells me that he began to work with Flynn and Powell after the election, which led him to the plantation. But he rejects the idea that they had a multipart, organized plan.

PATRICK BYRNE:

Sidney either came down with me or she had already gotten there, and other people were there, a whole bunch of lawyers. And so that—so I, after about two days, I left. Mike Flynn went down for several days.

A.C. THOMPSON:

And so, what were you trying to do with this team?

PATRICK BYRNE:

Well, it started by just aggregating the information that was coming in from all kinds of citizens around the country, as well as working with the cyber people in trying to understand the vulnerabilities in the systems and what might have happened.

A.C. THOMPSON:

We went to Antrim County, and there's a group of operatives that show up there in December 2020, and they end up inspecting voting machines. What was your role in all that?

PATRICK BYRNE:

These were all volunteers, and I had, I—who had shown up and that I was picking up the bill for. I think no one was under any compensation at that point, but I was picking up the bill for all the hotels and the travel.

A.C. THOMPSON:

And the team came in on a private jet. Are you the one that—

PATRICK BYRNE:

Yes.

A.C. THOMPSON:

—that helped book that and arrange that?

PATRICK BYRNE:

Yes. I would love it if someone else were to do a real audit. There's a guy named Halderman in Michigan.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Yeah, so I interviewed J. Alexander Halderman, and he looked at the work that the ASOG team did.

PATRICK BYRNE:

In Antrim. Everything's [inaudible] Antrim.

A.C. THOMPSON:

In Antrim. And he was critical of it.

PATRICK BYRNE:

He was critical.

A.C. THOMPSON:

He did not think it was accurate.

PATRICK BYRNE:

Well, fair enough. It was quick work done in three days. It's ridiculous to pretend that's what this is about. You're throwing out things that happened a few weeks after the election as we’re all scrambling, just beginning to unravel the biggest heist in history. It's gone far beyond that.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Out of all the people I've met, you seem to be the person most personally responsible for motivating this election fraud movement, and some would say for spreading disinformation. Do you think that's an accurate way—that you are sort of the kingpin?

PATRICK BYRNE:

Well, or that I'm the one who's waking up Americans to this deep problem in our election apparatus.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Let me ask you if you agree to this simple binary. If you're right, you're saving the country. If you're wrong, you're destroying it.

PATRICK BYRNE:

Yep. I'll—I can live with that.

A.C. THOMPSON:

In mid-December 2020, after every state certified its presidential electors, Byrne and the others escalated their tactics. Byrne says that on Dec. 18, he, Michael Flynn and Sidney Powell went directly to the White House. They didn’t have a meeting scheduled.

PATRICK BYRNE:

Mike got in touch with somebody he'd worked with, and that got us up to within about 20 yards or 20 feet, 30 feet of the Oval Office, and then Sidney and I kind of hung, lurking, until we saw President Trump walk by, and we stuck our heads out. And he recognized us and looked around and he said, "Hey. Come on in." [Laughs]

So we went down and walked in, and we're all, the four of us, sitting right there in front of President Trump, across the Resolute Desk.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Byrne says they proposed that President Trump issue an executive order. They urged him to appoint Sidney Powell as a special counsel to investigate the election and to order federal forces to seize voting machines and inspect them for fraud.

PATRICK BYRNE:

Mike Flynn knew of some National Guard units that were cyber specialists that could have been activated to do this. And I know that we like to keep uniforms out of elections, but this is a constitutionally unprecedented moment.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Don't you think people would've freaked out if the National Guard came and started seizing ballot boxes? And do you think that they would've said, "This is a coup. This is a military coup"?

PATRICK BYRNE:

Well, a lot of people were freaking out, thinking, "This is a coup. This was a soft coup."

A.C. THOMPSON:

And what did he say to you when you proposed this to him?

PATRICK BYRNE:

Well, he listened. He had—there was a bunch of paperwork he went through, and he read and absorbed it very quickly.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Dec. 18, you leave the White House. What do you think is going to happen?

PATRICK BYRNE:

I thought Sidney was going to become a special counsel at the White House, just focusing on this issue. And that by Monday people would be going in and imaging hard drives and counting ballots.

A.C. THOMPSON:

That week, Flynn appeared on the pro-Trump network Newsmax and said that the president could seize voting machines.

MICHAEL FLYNN:

Within the swing states, if he wanted to, he could take military capabilities and he could place them in those states and basically rerun an election in each of those states. I mean, it’s not unprecedented. I mean, these people out there, talking about martial law like it’s something that we’ve never done. We’ve done—martial law has been instituted 64—64 times.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Despite their pressure, Byrne tells me that the president’s attorneys convinced him to reject the plan. Just days before Congress was scheduled to certify Biden’s victory, Byrne joined a desperate effort in Washington.

PATRICK BYRNE:

There was a very important meeting where some things were presented. And there were senators and congressmen and representatives of other congressmen there and people watching from Capitol Hill. And what we were going for was to ask Mike Pence to delay, to say—to delay one week and the state legislatures would meet again.

A.C. THOMPSON:

And you were in these meetings?

PATRICK BYRNE:

I was in one of them.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Did you think that Pence was going to execute on this and that he was going to push back—?

PATRICK BYRNE:

I was positive that afternoon. I got word that it was all going to happen and the senators thought it could happen. And I got word that evening that Pence had gone for it, and Pence was in, and Pence was going to do it.

A.C. THOMPSON:

There’s no evidence that Pence had "gone for it." Still, Byrne believed that the effort to challenge the election was on the verge of success. Byrne and Flynn took to the streets in Washington, riling up the crowds that had gathered to protest the certification of Biden’s election.

PATRICK BYRNE:

The one thing that we can never, ever accept is to put up with a rigged election. That’s the first thing.

BARBARA REDGATE, Michael Flynn's sister:

I got my great brother, who we love, my brother General Mike here.

MICHAEL FLYNN:

We feel freedom, we bleed freedom and we will sacrifice for freedom. The members of Congress, the members of the House of Representatives, the members of the United States Senate, those of you who are feeling weak tonight, those of you that don't have the moral fiber in your body, get some tonight. Because tomorrow, we the people are going to be here, and we want you to know that we will not stand for a lie. We will not stand for a lie. God bless you, and God bless America.

A.C. THOMPSON:

The stolen election myth, which they had helped to finance, engineer and spread, had become a powerful political weapon.

CROWD [chanting]:

Stop the steal! Stop the steal! Stop the steal! Stop the steal! Stop the steal!

A.C. THOMPSON:

On Jan. 6, outside the Capitol, the slogans turned into battle cries. And inside, Republican lawmakers—ultimately 147 of them—called for a rejection of Biden’s victory.

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE:

Is the objection in writing and signed by a senator?

REP. PAUL GOSAR (R-AZ):

Yes, it is.

MIKE PENCE:

It is.

A.C. THOMPSON:

But Mike Pence did not join them.

MALE PROTESTER:

Mike Pence, we’re coming for you, too, you f------ traitor.

CROWD [chanting]:

Stop the steal! Stop the steal! Stop the steal! Stop the steal! Stop the steal! Stop the steal! Stop the steal!

A.C. THOMPSON:

The insurrection was put down in Washington. But Byrne and the others kept pushing the stolen election myth. They took their campaign back to the local level, calling for county-by-county audits of the vote.

PATRICK BYRNE:

For 10 months, this gentleman and myself have been saying there’s one and only one solution: open the boxes.

MICHAEL FLYNN:

Open the boxes.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Their first stop was Maricopa County, Arizona, the county crucial to Biden's narrow victory in the state.

PATRICK BYRNE:

This is going to be a big week. Maricopa gets delivered. Let’s all see.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Patrick Byrne posted a video of him and Michael Flynn, eagerly awaiting the results of an audit of Maricopa’s vote.

PATRICK BYRNE:

Mike, would you agree that if they find nothing there, we—I’ll come out and apologize—

MICHAEL FLYNN:

Yeah. I mean, I’ll stand there with Patrick on an international stage and say, “We were wrong.”

PATRICK BYRNE:

"And I’m sorry that we put the country through this." But if we’re right, maybe there’s another course of action.

"The Deep Rig" film by Patrick Byrne

A.C. THOMPSON:

Byrne and Flynn were not just observers of the audit. They were its largest funders, spending more than $4 million to pay for it. And Byrne’s film crew was one of few allowed access. Over five months, a private firm hired by Arizona’s Republican Senate conducted the election review. It became a pilgrimage site for GOP lawmakers across the country, who hoped to bring an audit to their own states.

ELIZABETH HOWARD, Brennan Center for Justice:

When you walked onto the floor, it was striking. There are—

A.C. THOMPSON:

Elizabeth Howard is an election security expert who witnessed the audit.

ELIZABETH HOWARD:

People were putting ballots on these spinning wheels and expecting the people that were sitting there at the table to count and mark it on a tally sheet, as those ballots went spinning, spinning, spinning around. Never [laughs]—I mean, this was just—never have I seen anything like this at any sort of post-election review.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Howard even found that the auditors checked ballots for bamboo fibers, based on a conspiracy theory that fake ballots had been shipped from Asia.

Had you ever seen a review like this that gets paid for by big donors, by interested parties in the audit?

ELIZABETH HOWARD:

This is normally a government function, paid for by government. It was shocking. It was apparent that this wasn't a real audit. This was just theater.

MALE PROTESTER:

F--- Joe Biden! F--- Joe Biden!

A.C. THOMPSON:

I head to Arizona for the audit’s release. Hundreds of Trump supporters turn out at the state Capitol.

KARI LAKE, Candidate, Arizona Governor:

We’re going to find out today that we were lied to on Nov. 3. This is our Lexington-Concord moment today.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Inside the state Senate, the crowd fills every available seat.

SEN. KAREN FANN (R), Arizona Senate:

Let’s get this show on the road, so to speak.

A.C. THOMPSON:

The Senate president introduces the person who she and her Republican colleagues hired to conduct the audit.

KAREN FANN:

OK, let’s go to Doug Logan, Cyber Ninjas. You are going to give us your report.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Doug Logan. The same Doug Logan who was on the plantation during those weeks after the election. Logan’s small firm, Cyber Ninjas, had no experience in the complex work of auditing elections.

DOUG LOGAN:

I am listed as a—I'm actually an expert on the Antrim election case.

A.C. THOMPSON:

In presenting their findings, Logan and his colleagues don’t dwell on the fact that based on their recount, Biden still won. Instead, Logan reels off a litany of misleading claims: about duplicate ballots—

DOUG LOGAN:

We had more duplicates than original ballots.

A.C. THOMPSON:

—about dead people casting votes—

DOUG LOGAN:

We have 282 potentially deceased voters in this election.

A.C. THOMPSON:

—about data being deleted.

DOUG LOGAN:

So some individual went into an application to run something that would clear all records in the system that was used to generate the official results the day before an audit started.

MALE SPEAKER:

Next slide, please.

A.C. THOMPSON:

The crowd hangs on every word as he portrays the election as riddled with flaws. An in-depth analysis of the audit produced by Maricopa County said that "nearly every finding included 'faulty analysis, inaccurate claims, misleading conclusions and a lack of understanding of federal and state election law.'"

Logan wouldn't go on camera for an interview, but in an email he stood by his work, saying it was the first “forensic election audit” ever conducted and that he had experts working alongside him.

SEN. WENDY ROGERS (R), Arizona Senate:

Our representative republic suffered a corrupted 2020 election.

A.C. THOMPSON:

After the hearing, Republican leaders outside the Capitol have a simple message.

WENDY ROGERS:

We call on each state to decertify. Decertify!

CROWD [chanting]:

Decertify! Decertify! Decertify!

USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA!

A.C. THOMPSON:

I go see Bill Gates, a member of Maricopa’s board of supervisors and a lifelong Republican. Gates and his colleagues commissioned the 93-page analysis of the audit.

BILL GATES, Chmn., Board of Supervisors, Maricopa County:

This audit is a sham. They're sending out misinformation, half-truths, and then that is being seized upon by the president and others to perpetuate the "big lie."

A.C. THOMPSON:

Gates and other supervisors opposed the audit from the start. Republicans in the state Senate threatened to hold them in contempt and arrest them, and protesters erected a guillotine for them in front of the state Capitol. Gates even received a voicemail from Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani.

RUDY GIULIANI [on voicemail]:

Bill, it's Rudy Giuliani, President Trump's lawyer. If you get a chance, would you please give me a call? I have a few things I'd like to talk over with you. Maybe we can get this thing fixed up. You know, I really think it's a shame that Republicans, we're both in this kind of situation, and I think there may be a nice way to resolve this for everybody. So give me a call, Bill. I'm on this number anytime, doesn't matter. OK? Take care, bye.

A.C. THOMPSON:

And when he says, "We're Republicans in this together," what do you take that to mean?

BILL GATES:

Well, I think they believe that they can pick off elections officials, Republicans who are concerned about their future political prospects, and work with these folks to overturn an election, which is despicable. I think every elected official in the Republican Party who remains silent is aiding and abetting this. They all know this is wrong. They tell me that, but then they're silent.

A.C. THOMPSON:

And what happens to this country if, moving forward, nobody has faith in our elections?

BILL GATES:

That's the beginning of the end of this country, when that happens. That’s the beginning of the end of this democracy.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Gates says the big test is going to come this year in statewide elections. He tells me that I should look into a Republican state legislator named Mark Finchem, who’s running for Arizona secretary of state— the office that oversees elections.

BILL GATES:

Mark Finchem, who's a member of the State House, he's someone who spreads these election conspiracies. He has called for this election to be decertified. He was actually at the Capitol, the U.S. Capitol, on Jan. 6.

MARK FINCHEM, Candidate, Arizona Sec. of State:

Nice to meet you, sir. What does your shirt say?

A.C. THOMPSON:

Finchem is a former cop from Michigan and a one-time member of the Oath Keepers, the far-right militia group whose members were indicted for their role in Jan. 6. Finchem is unapologetic about his own participation that day and says he wasn’t involved in violence.

MARK FINCHEM:

—to just show us how rotten, how corrupt—

WOMAN:

Absolutely. Absolutely.

MARK FINCHEM:

—the federal government is.

A.C. THOMPSON:

He was one of the most vocal supporters of the audit, working with Phil Waldron.

MARK FINCHEM:

Republicans who claim, oh, we didn't need the audit. Really? Prove it. Prove it. There's enough evidence out there to choke a horse.

A.C. THOMPSON:

And do you think Joe Biden legitimately won Arizona in 2020?

MARK FINCHEM:

I don't know who legitimately won Maricopa County, OK?

A.C. THOMPSON:

And so a year out, do you—

MARK FINCHEM:

So a year out, I believe the Arizona election was irredeemably compromised and we should move to set aside the Arizona portion of the electors.

A.C. THOMPSON:

There's people who will say elections in this country, they were basically accurate. And then came along guys like Mark Finchem, and they started spreading a bunch of bogus information about elections that undermine people's faith in democracy, in voting, and delegitimized the government.

MARK FINCHEM:

It's not about Mark Finchem, it's about the people in Everytown, America, who know that something's wrong. The people were looking for a champion when they spotted something, they felt something, they knew something wasn't right. That's what I was elected to do. And if the left, if the Marxists in this country don't like it, I don't bloody give a damn.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Polls show that around two-thirds of Republicans now say that Biden’s election was illegitimate.

After leaving Arizona, I follow Republican efforts to audit the 2020 vote in Wisconsin, Georgia, Texas, Pennsylvania and other states.

MATT DePERNO, Candidate, Mich. Attorney General:

The elites in this state, they don’t want you, the voter, the common man, the taxpayer, right? They don’t want you to see the voting data. Am I right?

A.C. THOMPSON:

In Michigan, one of the leading voices calling for an audit is the lawyer behind the ongoing lawsuit against Antrim County, a star of Patrick Byrne’s film. He’s running for attorney general. Michael Flynn endorses him. So does Donald Trump.

In Georgia, Trump endorses GOP challengers to the sitting Republican governor and secretary of state, who refused to overturn Biden’s victory there.

REP. JODY HICE (R-GA):

Nobody understands the disaster of the lack of election integrity like the people of Georgia. And now it’s our hour to take it back.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Everywhere I go, Trump is wielding his influence, making endorsements in key state races. Governors. Secretaries of state. Attorneys general. Even state legislators. Offices that will be important if the next presidential election is disputed. Every one of his candidates I encounter is a proponent of the stolen election myth.

At a megachurch in Arizona, Patrick Byrne brings me into the "ReAwaken America" tour.

PATRICK BYRNE:

Hello, sir. Oh, hello!

WOMAN 1:

Hi! I love you!

PATRICK BYRNE:

Hi! Well, I love you, too.

WOMAN 2:

What time are you speaking?

A.C. THOMPSON:

He's treated like a celebrity here.

MALE VOICE:

Love "The Deep Rig."

PATRICK BYRNE:

Thank you.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Michael Flynn is a star here, too.

MALE ANNOUNCER:

Welcome back. We have America’s General with us.

FEMALE ANNOUNCER:

Many of you out there know who this amazing gentleman is. This is Gen. Michael Flynn.

MARK FINCHEM:

You are going to hear from Gen. Flynn and a number of other folks, who will help equip you, prepare you and give you a plan of action.

A.C. THOMPSON:

Mark Finchem shares the stage. He’s received Trump’s endorsement.

MARK FINCHEM:

We’re talking about the fight for free and fair elections, OK? Let’s be honest, ladies and gentlemen. This is a fight over power.

A.C. THOMPSON:

The next day, Finchem appears at a massive Trump rally in the Arizona desert. Some call it the first rally of Trump’s next presidential campaign.

MARK FINCHEM:

I did not know that a little over a year ago the act of standing up for you about a suspicious election that has since been proven to be irredeemably compromised would ignite a nationwide populist movement.

A.C. THOMPSON:

For the last year and a half, I’ve watched how the myth of a stolen election has been pushed into mainstream politics.

KARI LAKE:

That election was rotten to the core. We all know it, right? You know that, right?

A.C. THOMPSON:

It’s been promoted by powerful people who have refused to accept the results, despite the facts.

DONALD TRUMP:

The evidence of fraud is so overwhelming, starting right here in Arizona, where your Republican state senators had the courage, the great courage to do a full forensic audit, and this was a really good audit.

A.C. THOMPSON:

What began as a plot to overturn the last election has evolved into something much bigger.

DONALD TRUMP:

—called the big steal. It was a big, corrupt steal.

A.C. THOMPSON:

A mass movement that is already shaping elections to come.

3h 14m
frontline the power of big oil docuseries
The Power of Big Oil
FRONTLINE examines the fossil fuel industry’s history of casting doubt and delaying action on climate change in a three-part documentary series.
April 19, 2022