The Family Research Council, a major player in the religious-right political movement, was deeply involved in former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election—a fact made all the more apparent by revelations during the June 23 public hearing of the House select committee investigating the conspiracy that led to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
We had already known that FRC publicly supported Trump’s schemes to unlawfully stay in power. FRC President Tony Perkins and other leaders connected with the secretive Council for National Policy had signed a letter in mid-December 2020 falsely claiming, “There is no doubt President Donald J. Trump is the lawful winner of the presidential election. Joe Biden is not president-elect.” That letter called on state legislatures in six battleground states won by Joe Biden to “appoint clean slates of electors to the Electoral College to support President Trump.” It urged the House and Senate to reject pro-Biden electors from those states.
FRC Executive Vice President Jerry Boykin also signed that letter, as did Kenneth Blackwell, FRC’s senior fellow for human rights and constitutional governance. Blackwell, a notorious voter suppresser who abused the power of his office when he was Ohio’s secretary of state, was all-in on Trump’s election lies from the earliest days of the so-called “Stop the Steal” movement. Just days after the election, Blackwell used wildly false and inflammatory language in support of Trump’s claims, denouncing Pennsylvania’s governor, who defended his state’s election results from false claims of voter fraud, and “his legion of darkness.”
Blackwell and Perkins signed a second open letter at the end of December 2020 urging Senate Republicans to contest the votes from five battleground states.
Two days before the insurrection at the Capitol, Blackwell tweeted a video message using the “Stop the Steal” hashtag. “This is not a time for sideline sitters or backbenchers,” he said. “You must do what you can with what you have where you are. Our republic demands it.”
It turns out that Blackwell was busy behind the scenes, too.
At the Jan. 6 committee’s June 23 hearing, Vice Chair Rep. Liz Cheney revealed the contents of a Dec.28, 2020, email from Blackwell that read in part, “As I stated last week, I believe the VP and his staff would benefit greatly from a briefing by John and Ken.”
“John” would be John Eastman, the far right-wing lawyer who doggedly pushed illegal schemes to keep Trump in power based on false claims of election fraud and bogus theories about the vice president’s power to single-handedly decide who would become the next president. “Ken” referred to Ken Klukowski, a religious-right lawyer and pundit, longtime associate of Blackwell, and former director of FRC’s Center for Religious Liberty.
Blackwell’s email was sent to Ed Corrigan, a former Heritage Foundation vice president who served as part of the leadership team of Trump’s transition and now heads up the Conservative Partnership Institute, which promotes voter suppression in the name of “election integrity.” It also went to Rep. Louis Gohmert’s chief of staff Connie Hair, whose promotion of Big Lie conspiracies about the election was quoted by Ginny Thomas in her post-election emails to Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows. Completing the circle, Meadows is now a “senior partner” at the Conservative Partnership Institute, which received $1 million from Trump’s PAC shortly after the Jan. 6 committee was created.
Klukowski had joined the Trump administration’s Office of Management and Budget in the fall of 2019. After the 2020 election, Klukowski was parachuted into the Justice Department office of Jeffrey Clark, who was scheming to drag the DOJ into Trump’s efforts to overturn the election in key battleground states. Blackwell clearly seemed to recognize the bad optics of Klukowski’s involvement, urging in his email, “As I also mentioned, make sure we don’t overexpose Ken given his new position.”
Clark has unwillingly played a starring role in the Jan. 6 committee’s investigation, which has painstakingly exposed his effort to get Trump to name him acting attorney general. Clark and others had originally planned to send a letter to Georgia legislators—a letter that Klukowski helped Clark write—falsely claiming that the DOJ had identified major election problems in the state and encouraging them to convene a special session to consider naming a pro-Trump Electoral College slate. When Clark’s DOJ superiors blocked his scheme, Trump seriously considered making Clark acting attorney general so he could carry it out, abandoning the plan only after other top Justice Department officials threatened a massive leadership resignation that would swamp news of the letter and define Trump’s legacy.
As Rep. Cheney concluded, “This email suggests that Mr. Klukowski was simultaneously working with Jeffrey Clark to draft the proposed letter to Georgia officials to overturn their certified election and working with Dr. Eastman to help pressure the vice president to overturn the election.”
In other words, while a battle raged between principled White House and Justice Department officials who were committed to upholding the election results and facilitating a peaceful transfer of power and the defeated president and his power-at-all-costs supporters, current and former FRC leaders were in the trenches with Trump and the would-be election overthrowers.
Their collusion on Trump’s attempt to overturn the election is far from the first Blackwell-Klukowski collaboration. They co-authored numerous partisan diatribes in the form of op-eds and books, including “Blueprint: Obama’s Plan to Subvert the Constitution and Build an Imperial Presidency” and “Resurgent: How Constitutional Conservatism Can Save America.” In 2016, Klukowksi guest-hosted FRC’s “Washington Watch” radio program and had Blackwell on as a guest.
At FRC’s October 2021 Pray Vote Stand conference—the rechristened activist gathering known for years as the Values Voter Summit—Blackwell slammed federal voting rights legislation and backed new voting restrictions being put in place by Republican state legislators.
The revelations of the Family Research Council’s all-out effort to help Trump stay in power despite his rejection by voters makes it even more appalling to learn from ProPublica that FRC has successfully petitioned the IRS to change its official classification to that of an association of churches, a tactic that Right Wing Watch has reported has been used by other religious-right groups like Focus on the Family and Liberty Counsel to evade public scrutiny and accountability.