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Two Texas businessmen, with ties to former Gov. Rick Perry, met with former President Donald Trump a week after the 2020 election and presented him with a fringe theory that state legislatures could overturn election results, according to the congressional report on the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol that was released Thursday.
The theory fueled one of the main strategies Trump's closest allies pushed to overturn the 2020 election results, even though legal experts, including those within Trump's White House, dismissed the idea as unlawful and said there was no evidence of widespread fraud.
The two Austin-area businessmen, Morgan Warstler and John S. Robison, met with Trump in an Oval Office meeting on Nov. 10, 2020, according to the report. The exact nature of what they discussed was not detailed, but Warstler tweeted in June that he had told the “whole Trump team in Oval” that “State legislatures can choose the electors-no matter what current state law OR state courts say” — in essence empowering Republican-controlled state lawmakers to overturn President Joe Biden’s win.
After the meeting, Robison sent the White House an email to “explain the move forward plan for what was discussed,” including using a parallel set of state electors who would vote for Trump in the Electoral College.
Then-deputy White House Chief of Staff Dan Scavino said Robison’s email was “Bat. Shit. Crazy,” according to the congressional report.
Robison did not respond to requests for comment on Friday. Warstler acknowledged being named in the report on social media, saying his theory was justified by the Constitution.
“I'm in the Jan 6th report!,” he tweeted. “Shweet! Trump should have listened to me.”
The report did not say whether Warstler and Robison were the first to introduce the idea of using alternate electors to Trump. But, according to the report, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien told congressional investigators that Trump was intrigued by the idea and “was very interested in keeping pathways to victory open.”
It’s also unclear how or why Warstler and Robison gained access to an Oval Office meeting with Trump to discuss election strategy. The two are not known fixtures among Texas or national politics and they do not appear to have any background in law or elections. Neither of them are notable contributors to Trump in a state where the former president has a healthy pool of billionaire megadonors. Warster does not appear to have donated any money to Trump and is a rare contributor to elected officials. Robison donated a total of $805 to Trump and his associated PACS in 2020.
But the two share a notable history with Perry, who served as Trump’s first energy secretary. Warstler is the founder and CEO of GovWhiz, a cryptic tech company with limited digital presence and a LinkedIn page describing it as “still in stealth.” Robison is chairman of the company. Perry took heat in 2015 for his role helping introduce GovWhiz representatives to high-ranking officials in the Texas Lottery Commission that raised questions about his own relationships with the company, The Austin American Statesman reported at the time.
Warstler and Robison have largely flown under the radar in the months-long saga of the congressional investigation into the Jan. 6 attack, which has seen a wide cast of characters from low-level staffers to members of Congress thrust into the national spotlight. The 895-page report was the long-awaited culmination of the committee’s efforts as it disbanded just before Republicans were set to take control of the House. In a final recap of its work, the committee referred Trump and some of his close allies for criminal prosecution by the Justice Department. The department will have ultimate say in whether to pursue charges.
The report also mentioned that Perry appeared to be on board with the idea of state legislatures choosing alternate electors. On Nov. 4, 2020, Perry texted then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows asking “Why can’t the states of GA NC PENN and other R controlled state houses declare this is BS (where conflicts and election not called that night) and just send their own electors . . . I wonder if POTUS knows this.” Perry’s text was first reported last year by CNN.
A spokesperson for Perry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Constitutional scholars, lawmakers and aides within Trump’s inner circle all dismissed the idea of alternate electors as absurd. Several fake electors who presented alternate election results have been subject to criminal investigation.
The disclosure comes as the U.S. Supreme Court considers the validity of “independent state legislature doctrine,” a theory pushed by some Republicans that claims the U.S. Constitution delegates power over federal elections exclusively to state legislatures. Election experts – including a bipartisan coalition of secretaries of state – have warned the theory would effectively allow states to overturn the results of presidential contests, and sow chaos in the electoral process more broadly.
Perry’s past with Warstler, Robison
In 2015, Perry’s relationship with GovWhiz was scrutinized by ethics experts as potentially part of a pattern of alleged, improper use of the governor’s office to curry political favors. They pointed to the meeting between Perry, Lottery Commission leaders that he appointed and GovWhiz representatives as suspicious due to the obscure firm’s quick access to high-ranking state officials. Perry had just recently ended his tenure as governor, and the exact nature of his relationship with the firm was murky, though representatives of the company told the Statesman he had no financial interest. The firm was also developing technology for potential use by state agencies. There were no allegations of criminal activity, and the company insisted everything about the meeting was legal.
Perry reportedly had connections to at least four people at GovWhiz, including two lobbyists who had been high-ranking officials in his administration and two others with close ties to the governor’s alma mater, Texas A&M. Robison said at the time that Perry did not set up the meeting and was not involved in GovWhiz during the process.
“He just thinks it's a great idea," Robison said at the time. “He sells the state well. In an odd way, I'd love it if he could be kind of an ambassador for the state. Maybe Gov. (Greg) Abbott can send him around like Henry Kissinger."
According to his LinkedIn, Robison remains at the helm of GovWhiz as well as two other Austin-area companies: ArenaEdge, a “unified video platform for business, education and government”; and New Republic Studios, a Bastrop-based film company that he took over in 2017.
Prior to that, he was the chairman of Hollywood Movie Works, during which time he was credited with helping “break open the Chinese market for American films and film production,” the Austin Chronicle wrote in 2017.
In that role, he was reportedly contacted by Perry, who wanted to court Robison to expand his film company in Texas, rather than China. Perry’s pitch was simple: “The creativity of L.A., the technology of San Francisco, nice people, and no income tax,” Robison recalled in an interview with South By Southwest.
In 2017, Robison took over the Bastrop-based Spiderwood Studios and soon after changed its name to New Republic Studios.
Robison has also donated about $47,500 to Gov. Greg Abbott’s gubernatorial campaigns since 2015, campaign finance records show.
Carla Astudillo contributed to this report.