MADISON, Wis. — In a legal settlement Wednesday, the 10 Republicans who signed official-looking paperwork falsely purporting Donald Trump won Wisconsin in 2020 have agreed to withdraw their inaccurate filings, acknowledge Joe Biden won the presidency and not serve as presidential electors in 2024 or in any election where Trump is on the ballot.
Wednesday's civil settlement marks the first time pro-Trump electors have agreed to revoke their false filings and not repeat their actions in the next presidential election. It comes as Republicans in two other states face criminal charges for falsely claiming to be presidential electors, and investigations are underway in three additional states.
Documents released as part of the settlement revealed one of the Wisconsin Republicans appeared to refer to the attempt to install Trump for a second term as a "possible steal." That Republican expressed skepticism about the plan but told others he was going along with it in part because he feared he would face blowback from Trump supporters if he didn't.
The lawsuit, filed last year by two of the state's rightful electors, alleged the Republicans had taken part in a conspiracy to defraud voters and sought up to $200,000 from each Trump elector. No money is being exchanged as part of the settlement.
The Biden electors are continuing their lawsuit against two attorneys who assisted the Wisconsin Republicans - Jim Troupis, a former Dane County judge who led Trump's recount efforts in the state, and Kenneth Chesebro, who advised Republicans around the country and pleaded guilty in October to conspiring to overturn Biden's win in Georgia.
Republicans in seven states that Biden won — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — filled out paperwork in December 2020 falsely claiming Trump had actually won, and Trump's supporters used that material to try to prevent Congress from certifying Biden's victory. Congress confirmed Biden had won on Jan. 6, 2021, hours after a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol.
Special counsel Jack Smith has been investigating the attempt to overturn the 2020 results for the Department of Justice, while some state and local prosecutors are conducting their probes of the GOP electors. Prosecutors in Michigan and Georgia have filed felony charges against some Republican electors, and state probes are underway in Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico.
In Wisconsin, the Republicans said they met at the state capitol to sign the paperwork so their votes would count if a court ever overturned Biden's victory in the state. They met about an hour after the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld Biden's victory in a 4-3 decision that Trump later unsuccessfully appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In addition to agreeing to not serve as presidential electors in 2024 or in any election in which Trump is on the ballot, the 10 Republicans said they would not assist with any attempts to submit false electoral paperwork in any election. They also promised to assist the Department of Justice with its investigation and help the Biden electors as they continue their lawsuit against Troupis and Chesebro. Troupis did not immediately respond to a request for comment and an attorney for Chesebro did not have an initial comment.
In the settlement, the Wisconsin Republicans acknowledged Biden won the 2020 election and said they were not the state's true electors, as they had claimed in the paperwork they filed three years ago.
"We oppose any attempt to undermine the public's faith in the ultimate results of the 2020 presidential election," they said in a statement included in the settlement. "We hereby withdraw the documents we executed on Dec. 14, 2020, and request that they be disregarded by the public and all entities to which they were submitted."
Among the 10 agreeing to the settlement are Andrew Hitt, who was the chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party in 2020, and Robert Spindell, a longtime Republican activist who also serves on the state agency responsible for administering elections and certifying results.
Spindell did not immediately return a call. Hitt said in a statement he and the others were deceived.
"The Wisconsin electors were tricked and misled into participating in what became the alternate elector scheme and would have never taken any actions had we known that there were ulterior reasons beyond preserving an ongoing legal strategy," Hitt said.
Hitt, who said he has been cooperating with the Department of Justice since May 2022, said he would not back Trump next year.
"I will not be supporting Trump in 2024," he said. "We have serious problems facing this country, and we need a President who will not repeat 2020 and will focus on tackling those difficult issues."
Another participant, Darryl Carlson, told others in a text message at the time that the group was meeting at the behest of Trump's lawyers and the state Republican Party. "They don't want to have a technicality mess up the possible steal," he wrote, according to documents made public as part of the settlement. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Carlson, who was a Republican district chairman at the time, in the same text exchange expressed frustrations about what would happen if he skipped the meeting. "I feel like I have to do it otherwise there will be a target on my back in my own district for the chair," he wrote.
The day after the electors met, someone texted Carlson to say it would have been nice to have better candidates in 2020. Carlson responded: "Umm and in 2016 lol." Carlson, who is now an aide to Rep. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Wis., later added, "This country's party system is broken."
Another member of the group, Kelly Ruh, saw the meeting as fruitless. "What a waste of a day off," she wrote. Bill Feehan struck a different tone, posting photos of the meeting on his Facebook page the day afterward and writing, "I am fighting to the end." Ruh and Feehan did not immediately respond to messages Wednesday.
The records also show the Republicans tried to keep their meeting out of the public eye, changing which room in the state capitol they met in to avoid passing the office of a Democratic lawmaker whose staff might recognize them. They brought a four-man armed security team with them, according to the text messages.
Attorneys for the Biden electors said they viewed the settlement as a success because it included the release of records that detailed how the Republicans carried out their plans. They said they hoped it would prevent anyone from filing false elector paperwork in the future.
"What you see in the documents is that, although many people involved have sort of disapproval and sometimes disgust with what is going on, no one said stop," said Scott Thompson, an attorney with the liberal nonprofit firm Law Forward that represented the Biden electors.
Some of the most intriguing exchanges were previously released by the congressional committee that investigated the attack on the Capitol. In one, Hitt disclosed that Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., advocated after the election for having the state's GOP-controlled legislature choose the electors. In another, Hitt expressed worries about the Trump campaign's strategy for the electors. "These guys are up to no good and it's gonna fail miserably," he wrote in a text message to the state party's executive director.
He expressed similar doubts about the Trump campaign's plans in another text exchange before the electors met, writing, "Clearly there is some big plan in the works with all the states still doing elector meetings."
On Jan. 5, 2021 — a day before the Capitol was attacked as Congress met to certify the results — Wisconsin GOP staffer Alesha Guenther flew to Washington so she could deliver the elector paperwork for the Wisconsin Republicans.
"5 minutes until I make the drop," she told Hitt in one text exchange. "I feel like a drug dealer."