Trump’s Merry Racketeers: Jenna Ellis Edition

Jenna Ellis at a Trump legal team press conference (Image from story posted by CBS Denver)

Former president Donald Trump was at the center of the criminal charges filed this week related to his attempts to overturn his defeat in the 2020 presidential election, but he was not alone: 18 other people were indicted with Trump under racketeering charges brought by a grand jury convened by Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani Willis. Right Wing Watch is publishing profiles of some of Trump’s fellow indictees.

Jenna Ellis, Trump Attorney, Religious Right Activist and Pundit

Former Trump attorney Jenna Ellis was charged with violating the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and with solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer regarding efforts to convince state legislators to name phony pro-Trump electors in states he lost.

Before the 2020 election, Ellis was a strident campaign advocate for Trump, claiming that “the progressive left” was a “domestically grown enemy that was trying to destroy “ordered society” and “create chaos.” After Trump lost, she energetically promoted his stolen election claims alongside Rudy Giuliani and, for a while, Sidney Powell—and pressed those claims on religious-right media outlets like Eric Metaxas’ radio show. Ellis served as Giuliani’s sidekick during a hearing in Gettysburg organized by state Sen. Doug Mastriano in late November 2020. In late December 2020, she denounced the “failures” of the judicial branch and state legislatures and called for members of Congress to challenge Electoral College votes.

She was also busy behind the scenes. Like fellow accused racketeer John Eastman, Ellis wrote legal memos offering justifications for Vice President Mike Pence to stop congressional certification of Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory.

Journalist Jonathan Karl wrote about Ellis’s memo in his book “Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show.” Here’s the plan her memo laid out: Pence would halt the constitutionally mandated congressional counting of Electoral College votes on Jan. 6 and give the battleground states until Jan. 15 to send a new set of votes. If no set of votes arrived by that time, the state’s Electoral College votes would not be counted. Ellis figured that would throw the election to the House of Representatives, where she believed Trump would be declared the winner.

She promoted a similar-sounding plan during a Jan. 4, 2021, interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody. Ellis said Pence should refuse to accept electors from states being challenged by Trump and throw the question of the electors’ legitimacy back to the state legislatures—something for which there is no legal or constitutional authority. With a straight face, Ellis said such an act “wouldn’t be political” and would create a “clean outcome” for the election. Brody endorsed Ellis’s scheme, tweeting, “Good idea!”

Ellis had upset some Trump backers during the post-election chaos by disavowing calls for him to use the Insurrection Act or declare martial law to stay in power.  Ellis claimed Trump was “a constitutionalist,” adding, laughably, “We do not undermine the rule of law.” In fact, she backed calls by right-wing leaders for swing state legislators to overrule voters and give Trump the election.

The Georgia indictment is not the first trouble Ellis has gotten into for her efforts on behalf of Trump. In a Colorado disciplinary hearing against her in March 2023, she admitted that false comments she made after the 2020 election were “reckless” and “undermined the American public’s confidence in the presidential election, violating her duty of candor to the public.” Among the statements she admitted were false was a claim she made on Fox host Jeannine Pirro’s show that Trump’s legal team had found more than 500,000 votes “that were cast illegally” in Arizona. Ellis accepted censure and agreed that she violated regulations that say it is “professional misconduct for a lawyer to engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.”

Ellis, whose Twitter bio in Trumpier and less humble days described herself as “America’s Lawyer,” now sports the humble brag, “A Servant of Jesus Christ.” Ellis is popular in religious-right circles for representing churches that challenged public health restrictions imposed during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. She was a fellow at Liberty University’s then-named Falkirk Center and has served as special counsel to the religious-right Thomas More Law Center.

In 2015, she wrote a book arguing that “divine law” is “the only legitimate basis for constitutional authority.” In the introduction, Ellis wrote that the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling created “a Constitutional crisis greater than we have ever faced since the original Constitutional Convention in 1787.” Later in the book, she criticized the Court’s 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas for “making same-sex sexual activity legal under a fabricated ‘privacy right’ found nowhere in the Constitution.”

Ellis now hosts a show on the American Family Network, the radio arm of the anti-LGBTQ American Family Association, a platform she has used to denounce the multiple legal investigations of Trump.

Her legal team has launched a legal defense fund for Ellis on the Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo.

Given how tightly she is now legally connected to Trump, it is interesting to note that while she enthusiastically rode the Trump train to prominence in the MAGA movement, she has recently ditched her former boss and is promoting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for president. As a result, Ellis has now become an enemy to many in the MAGA movement for which she fought so hard.