By Linda So and Jason Szep
(Reuters) - A member of Donald Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign arranged and participated in a meeting at which a Georgia election worker says she was pressed by a Chicago publicist to falsely admit voting fraud.
The revelation directly ties a senior figure in the former president’s political operation to an extraordinary late-night Jan. 4 meeting in which a $16-an-hour election worker faced pressure to implicate herself in a baseless conspiracy theory, stoked by Trump himself, as he sought to overturn his Georgia election loss.
Harrison Floyd - who was executive director of a national campaign coalition called Black Voices for Trump in 2020 - told Reuters on Monday that he asked Chicago publicist Trevian Kutti to visit the Atlanta area to speak with 62-year-old temporary election worker Ruby Freeman. Floyd said he then participated by phone in a meeting Kutti held with Freeman at a police station in Georgia’s Cobb County.
Kutti was accompanied at the meeting by another Trump campaign figure: Garrison Douglas, who was a Georgia leader in Black Voices for Trump during the campaign and now works as a Republican Party spokesperson in the state. Douglas confirmed to Reuters that he was present at the meeting. Floyd said he recruited Douglas and Kutti because he was unable to attend himself.
In a statement to Reuters on Monday, Douglas said: "On January 4th, I was unemployed and received a call to serve as a volunteer driver, as I had many times in the past. I had no involvement in the meeting beyond the task of driving."
In a phone interview Monday, Floyd said he was asked if he’d be willing to set up the meeting by a man he described as a chaplain with “connections” in federal law enforcement. He declined to name the clergyman or to detail what those connections involved. Floyd said the chaplain, who is white, wanted him to approach Freeman, who is Black, to discuss an immunity deal for her, out of a belief that she would not trust a white stranger. Floyd, Douglas and Kutti are Black.
Floyd said that he had left his role in the Trump campaign before the Jan. 4 meeting. Trump himself “never asked me to go” to Georgia, he said, and board members of the Black Voices for Trump group “had no involvement in this.”
Floyd said he arranged the meeting in an effort to help Freeman. He said he himself believed she was seeking assistance, including immunity from prosecution over claims from the Trump camp that she had committed voting fraud.
Freeman, through a spokesperson, said she never reached out to anyone to seek immunity. Her lawyer, Von DuBose, declined to comment further.
A former Justice Department official in Georgia confirmed that state and federal investigators concluded in December 2020 that there was no evidence Freeman committed fraud. As a result, the department never considered offering her immunity, said the official, who had direct knowledge of a Federal Bureau of Investigation inquiry into Trump’s Georgia election-fraud claims.
Floyd did not directly answer when asked whether Freeman requested immunity at the meeting. He said Freeman wasn’t willing to “put anything down on paper,” so he had nothing to “run up the flagpole,” referring to his more senior contacts in Trump’s political operation.
Asked if he told Freeman that he was a Trump campaign official, Floyd said: “I’m pretty certain that I made it clear.” He referred to a comment by Kutti, captured on police bodycam video, telling Freeman that “federal people” were involved in offering her help.
“Who was the current president at that time? President Trump,” said Floyd. “If she’s there saying, I’m here to connect you with federal people, well, that’s people in the Trump administration.”
Freeman told Reuters in a previous interview that she did not know Kutti was a Trump supporter until after the meeting at the police station, when Freeman researched the publicist online.
Kutti and her lawyer, Robert Barker, did not respond to requests for comment. In an Instagram post last Monday, Kutti denied pressuring Freeman to falsely admit fraud.
A spokesperson for Trump did not respond to requests for comment for this story. The Republican National Committee, where Douglas is now employed, did not respond to a request for comment.
The involvement of Trump campaign figures in the meeting with Freeman highlights the aggressive and unusual steps taken by backers of the former president to help reverse his loss in the once-reliably Republican state.
Beginning on Dec. 3 last year, Trump and his allies falsely claimed that video of vote-counting at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena proved that Freeman and her daughter, Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, another Fulton County election worker, committed election fraud. They alleged the mother and daughter illegally tabulated mysterious ballots from a suitcase multiple times to create 18,000 fraudulent votes - enough to cause Trump to lose the Georgia election. State and county officials quickly disproved that allegation. The false claims sparked months of death threats and other harassment by Trump supporters toward Freeman and her daughter.
The district attorney in Fulton County, where Freeman worked on the ballot count, is conducting a criminal investigation into Trump’s alleged interference in Georgia’s election. The district attorney, Fani Willis, has said the probe would examine a now-famous call in which Trump pressed Georgia officials to “find” him enough votes to overturn his loss in the state. On the call, Trump singled out Freeman by name 18 times, calling her a “professional vote scammer,” a “hustler” and a “known political operative” who “stuffed the ballot boxes.”
That call came two days before Floyd dispatched Kutti and Douglas to visit Freeman.
BLACK VOICES FOR TRUMP
Floyd and Douglas were part of a small but active base of Black political support for Trump. Kutti has worked as a publicist in the music industry and managed the campaign for an unsuccessful Georgia Republican candidate for the U.S. House.
Floyd launched a bid for Georgia’s 7th District congressional seat in May 2019 but dropped out less than a month later. That July, he joined Black Voices for Trump as executive director, a position he says he held until Nov. 15, 2020.
Trump campaign records show that Black Voices for Trump was an official part of the campaign, much like other groups that target specific voters, such as Latinos for Trump and Evangelicals for Trump. The group’s archived website said the site was "Paid for by Donald J. Trump for President, Inc."
Floyd told Reuters that he had an office in the same building as the core campaign in Virginia, where he said he worked on the same floor as the most senior staffers of Trump’s political operation.
Trump called out Floyd for applause while speaking before a crowd at a rally for the group at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta in November 2019. “We’re delighted to be joined by Harrison Floyd of our Black Voices coalition,” the president said. “Where’s Harrison? Where’s Harrison?”
Since April of this year, Floyd has worked as a managing partner at Commonwealth Holdings International, a Washington-based investment firm that specializes in helping clients invest in cryptocurrencies, according to the firm’s webpage and Floyd’s LinkedIn page.
Floyd served in the U.S. Marine Corps for nearly 11 years ending in 2014, including stints as a machine gunner, a martial arts trainer, and an information operations planner, his LinkedIn page shows.
As a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee (RNC), the party’s national organizing body, Douglas regularly posts blog items on the RNC website. He has used that platform to applaud a Republican-backed election law in Georgia that the Justice Department says is “discriminatory” against Black voters. Douglas countered in an RNC blog post that the law, passed this year, “makes it easier to vote and harder to cheat.”
During the 2020 campaign, Douglas was active in Georgia for Black Voices for Trump, according to a Reuters review of his social media posts between August and November of last year. At an event on Aug. 1, 2020, promoted by the Fayette County Republican Party, Douglas introduced himself as the “regional engagement coordinator for Trump victory” and said he was helping to lead Black Voices for Trump in Georgia.
Kutti, a Chicago publicist, has said her clients have included rap star Kanye West; a West spokesperson says Kutti wasn’t associated with the rapper at the time of the Freeman meeting.
Kutti was a supporter of Black Voices for Trump, her social media history shows. On Dec. 5, 2020, more than a month after Election Day, she posted a photo on Instagram showing her holding a “Black Voices for Trump” sign at a Trump rally in Valdosta, Georgia. At that rally, Trump played snippets of the State Farm Arena surveillance video of Freeman and her daughter on a giant screen. The footage, he said, revealed a “crime” committed by “Democrat workers.”
TIME RUNNING OUT BEFORE JAN. 6
The mission for which Floyd recruited Kutti and Douglas came on Jan. 4 - at the height of Trump’s efforts to overturn the November election, and two days before the U.S. Capitol riots on Jan. 6, the day that Congress met to certify Democrat Joe Biden’s election victory.
In an interview with Reuters, Floyd described a fevered atmosphere of allegations involving Freeman in December. At the time, Trump and his lawyers were continuing to press false claims that the election had been stolen.
Floyd said he received calls from “across the country” from people saying they could arrange immunity for Freeman if she were to confess to election fraud. “Some of those phone calls that I mentioned were from lawyers and attorneys who were saying, ‘Is this true? Does she really want immunity?’” He declined to identify those attorneys.
Asked how he knew Freeman wanted immunity, Floyd cited “a lot of chatter and discussion on the internet … People were saying, ‘We're hearing that this is what she wanted,’” he said. “But no one could confirm anything.”
When Floyd spoke with Freeman by speakerphone at the precinct late on Jan. 4, he told Reuters, he believed time was running out to arrange a deal because the election would soon be certified on Jan. 6. “If Ms. Freeman wanted to get a message to the president and wanted immunity,” Floyd said, “that’s really important to get to the right people before an election is certified.”
Floyd said he reached out to Kutti and Douglas to approach Freeman.
“I had spoken to some people that I knew and made arrangements for and secured a place where Ms. Freeman could go,” he said, “a place where no one would know that she was there, and no one would harass her there.”
‘WERE THOSE HONEST BALLOTS?’
Kutti showed up uninvited at Freeman’s door at about 8:30 p.m. on Jan. 4, police records show.
As Reuters reported earlier this month, Freeman told police that during that night’s encounter, Kutti tried to get her to falsely implicate herself in voting fraud. A Cobb County Police report identified Kutti as an “alleged Trump supporter who attempted to get Ms. Freeman to make false claims about the ballot counting.”
Freeman, who’d been subjected to threats, was wary of strangers but wanted to hear out Kutti, so she asked the police to send an officer to watch over them.
According to the police report, Kutti told the responding officer that she had been sent by a “high-profile individual” and that Freeman was in unspecified danger, “due to the election.” Kutti told the officer that Freeman had just 48 hours to “get ahead of the issue” before unknown people were going to show up at her home.
The officer suggested that the two women meet at the police station, which they did.
At the precinct, Douglas sat with Kutti and Freeman as the two women talked in the corner of a room, police bodycam footage shows. After a few minutes, Kutti put Floyd on the speakerphone.
Freeman initially told Reuters she thought Floyd’s name was “Harrison Ford.” The news organization later determined that Kutti had introduced the man on the speakerphone as Harrison “Floyd.” That conclusion was backed by an analysis by an outside forensic expert, Focal Forensics, of that portion of their conversation, which was captured on a police officer’s body camera. After Reuters presented this finding to Floyd, he confirmed it was him.
As the meeting began, the footage shows, Kutti told Freeman: “You are a loose end for a party that needs to tidy up.”
Floyd came on via speakerphone, and the meeting continued for another hour. Large portions of the bodycam audio are not clearly audible, because the officer stepped further away from the conversation at Kutti’s request.
Some details can be heard, however. Floyd asked Freeman about what was in the ballot boxes she handled on election night. He asked her if she needed “to know what was already on those ballots inside those ballot boxes?”
Freeman responded: “No, we don’t look at them. I couldn’t tell you who had the most, who had the least.”
“So let me ask you this,” Floyd said. “Were those honest ballots?”
Freeman responded: “Yeah,” and then went into a detailed explanation of the process for handling and counting the ballots. She said the ballots are in sealed envelopes, so it’s impossible to know which candidate was picked by the voter. “Democrat or Republican,” she said, “you don’t know that.”
‘MY NAME NEEDS TO BE CLEARED’
In his interview Monday, Floyd said the meeting was arranged in part to help Freeman cut an immunity deal. Freeman is heard on the recording saying she needs a lawyer, but for a different reason: to prove her innocence.
In the meeting, Freeman mentioned that Fulton County officials had publicly cleared her of any ballot fraud. But she expressed worry about another false accusation that she had done something untoward with USB drives used in the vote-counting.
Trump’s lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, had publicly accused Freeman and her daughter of manipulating vote totals while passing USB drives between them, “as if they’re vials of heroin and cocaine” - again, falsely asserting the State Farm Arena video showed a crime.
Freeman told Kutti and Floyd that the USB allegations had been circulated on YouTube, the bodycam footage shows.
“That’s why I want an attorney,” Freeman said, “because I know my name needs to be cleared.”
After striking out with Freeman that night, Floyd said, there was one more communication with her, which he declined to detail, and then the pursuit was dropped.
In hindsight, Floyd said, “that initial approach in the police station could have and should have been done better.”
(Reporting by Linda So and Jason Szep; additional reporting by Joseph Tanfani and Nathan Layne; editing by Brian Thevenot)