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Port: Wrigley responds to reports about his call for recounts in 2020 election

"I would never and did not advocate for any sort of end-run shenanigans. I wanted to push to make sure that shenanigans weren't being pushed in either direction," North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley said in response to a report that he advocated for recounts in the 2020 election in a message that reached former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows.

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North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley
Dave Olson/The Forum
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This column has been updated to include additional reporting about Wrigley's messages, as well as his response to it.

MINOT, N.D. — The first time I ever met Drew Wrigley, who is currently North Dakota's attorney general, he pulled out a little baggie from his wallet that contained a small piece of paper in it.

It was one of the infamous "hanging chads" from the contested 2000 election between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore.

Wrigley, then the executive director of the North Dakota Republican Party, traveled to Florida as a volunteer to help monitor the ongoing recounts.

"People from all over the country were down there," he told me. "We were observing and making sure the votes were being counted appropriately," adding that the Republican and Democratic observers were friendly and even "played cards."

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That collegial attitude, even as vote counting in Florida drove national drama in 2000, is in sharp contrast to the 2020 election between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden, which has seen nearly two years of pitched partisan battle, and a riotous assault on the U.S. Capitol as members of Congress were set to vote on the results.

Now a book from former Republican congressman Denver Riggleman, who worked as staff for the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack, claims that Wrigley sent a text message to U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer, who in turn forwarded to Trump administration chief of staff Mark Meadows, calling for recounts in the states.

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"The book reveals Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) sent Meadows a forwarded note from North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley, who shared his own idea for a 'last-ditch effort' to demand statewide recounts of absentee and mail-in ballots in crucial states," Axios reports .

Reached for comment late Monday evening about the Axios reporting, Wrigley acknowledged sending the text messages, but said he couldn't recall the exact content, nor the exact date. He was still in office as a Trump-appointed U.S. attorney, however.

"I can say conclusively that I didn't advocate for anything crazy," Wrigley told me.

Wrigley said he was of the opinion that federal and state officials ought to be ensuring that all lawful ballots were successfully cast.

"I was advocating to make sure we get every vote counted. I haven't advocated, and would not advocate, any sort of end-around," he told me, adding that he's confident the full text of his messages will prove this to be the case.

"I would never and did not advocate for any sort of end-run shenanigans. I wanted to push to make sure that shenanigans weren't being pushed in either direction," he continued. "At the end of the day there's a constitutional course to be followed, and it was followed. In the end the constitution prevailed."

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At no point, Wrigley insisted, did he advocate for overturning the results of the 2020 election, but additional reporting from The Guardian newspaper , published after I spoke with Wrigley, and after this article originally published, included actual text from the messages he sent to Cramer, and through him to Meadows.

“Trump’s legal team has made a joke of this whole thing," Wrigley wrote in one message.

“Demand state wide recount of absentee/mail-in ballots in line with pre-existing state law with regard to signature comparisons,” Wrigley continued. “If state officials refuse that recount, the legislature would then act under the constitution, selecting the slate of electors.”

Reached for additional comment early Tuesday morning, Wrigley said he remembered feeling frustrated at reports that some states weren't following their laws for recounts and signature analysis.

"There was all this stuff about, I think it was Arizona specifically, they were talking about you can adjust the tolerance level for signatures. Whether you’re really playing it tight with whether it’s a valid signatures. We were just seeing what had been reported," he said.

He argued that his messages were a plea for the states to follow their own laws, including constitutional provisions that allow state lawmakers to select alternate slates of electors.

"We never got to that point. No states seriously contemplated doing any of this," he said. "There never was sufficient fraud for states to do this."

Wrigley took issue with the Guardian report's claim that his legal arguments fueled the Trump administration's legal strategies against the election. "It implies that they did this because Drew Wrigley told them to," he said. "Everything I advocated to Kevin for them to do was follow the state laws."

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He added that he wasn't aware that Cramer was forwarding his messages to Meadows. "No I don’t recall any sense of that at all."

Wrigley also said that President Joe Biden's election was valid.

"He's clearly elected by the Electoral College. I don't know how many other ways to say it, but here we are. The election is behind us, we need to move forward. The Electoral College voted. Those were all lawful electors sent in from every state."

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Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., speaking at a podium in May 2016 alongside then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, who cited Cramer's energy expertise and early backing in his quest for the Republican Party nomination for president.
File photo by Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

"The only debate that's worth pushing is to do everything humanly possible to ensure that the 2024 election doesn't have half the country questioning the outcome," Wrigley said when asked if he felt the ongoing debate over the 2020 election results are healthy for our country. "The only constructive way to discuss the 2020 election, if at all, is where can we improve procedures and processes to help ensure clarity for voters. They're not entitled to the results they wanted, they're entitled to a fair and lawful election."

Sen. Cramer didn't respond to phone calls made late Monday evening. Early Tuesday morning, he responded by text, reacting to the reporting from The Guardian.

"There was a time when Drew suggested to me that state legislatures have both legal and constitutional authorities to recount/review results in their states and offer a slate of electors," Cramer said. "Some states did that and none concluded a different slate was appropriate. I'm pretty sure that's not dubious. In fact it's confirming of the results."

"I also recall Drew being very critical of Trump lawyers," he continued. Of course all of this was before Jan. 6. I realize people trying to cash in on all things Trump or journalists suffering from Trump obsessions just can't help themselves. Of course it is an obvious strategy for Democrats to try to make this election about something other than the absolute disaster that is Joe Biden's entire administration. It won't work."

Cramer will be a guest on my podcast, Plain Talk , on Friday for a previously scheduled interview.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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