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Executive Order to Seize Voting Machines


On Dec. 16, 2020, members of Trump‘s inner circle drafted two slightly different executive orders calling for military personnel to seize voting machines in key swing states. One version was directed at the Department of Defense (DOD), while the other called on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to act. 

Both draft orders were titled PRESIDENTIAL FINDINGS TO PRESERVE COLLECT AND ANALYZE NATIONAL SECURITY INFORMATION REGARDING THE 2020 GENERAL ELECTION. In addition to calling for the seizure of voting machines, they directed a special counsel to investigate fraud and irregularities in the 2020 election. 

Neither order was ever issued and it was initially unclear who had drafted them. However, publications such as The Guardian and Vice later reported that it was likely Trump legal advisor and conspiracy theorist Sidney Powell, who was also presumed to be the likely special counsel called for in the orders. The drafts don’t explicitly name the person to be appointed as special counsel, but the primary one intended for the DOD refers to the person as “her.”

On Dec. 18, 2020, Powell participated in a volatile meeting with Trump, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and White House Legal Counsel Pat Cipollone to discuss strategies to keep the president in power, including seizing voting machines.

The Big Lie

  • The draft executive order relied on thoroughly debunked conspiracy theories to justify seizing voting machines. For instance, it claimed that voting machines were controlled by foreign countries that could have manipulated election results.
  • At some point after the election, Rudy Giuliani, a legal advisor to Trump, reportedly approached Ken Cuccinelli of the DHS to ask if the department could seize voting machines, a move that would have been outside its legal authority.
  • Flynn also advocated for seizing voting machines, saying in a Dec. 17, 2020 interview with Newsmax that the president “could immediately… seize every single one of these machines around the country on his order. He could also order, 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. It’s not unprecedented.”
  • The executive order would have ensured that Trump remained in power well beyond the constitutionally driven date of Jan. 20, 2021 for Biden’s inauguration. The document called for “criminal and civil proceedings as appropriate based on the evidence collected,” and demanded an assessment of the findings from the seized machines 60 days after the action started.