The Collegian
Tuesday, November 29, 2022

UR law alum testifies before special grand jury investigating efforts to overturn 2020 election

<p>Jennis Ellis and former president Donald Trump in the White House Oval Office. <em>Courtesy of Jenna Ellis's Twitter.</em></p>

Jennis Ellis and former president Donald Trump in the White House Oval Office. Courtesy of Jenna Ellis's Twitter.

Jenna Ellis, a University of Richmond law school graduate and legal adviser to former President Donald Trump, testified before a grand jury investigating the Trump administration’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia.

CBS reported that Ellis, ‘11, testified behind closed doors in Georgia on Aug. 25 after a judge earlier that month approved Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ request that Ellis be compelled to travel from Colorado to appear in court.

Ellis did not respond to The Collegian’s request for comment.

Willis is investigating several issues, including whether or not Trump advisers violated a Georgia law prohibiting false statements to government officials. Trump’s advisers may have broken that law by citing faulty evidence of election fraud when they spoke with Georgia lawmakers, according to The Washington Post.

Willis filed petitions in July 2022 seeking testimony from seven Trump associates and advisers including Ellis, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani. 

Ellis sent legal memos to Trump and his attorneys stating that former Vice President Mike Pence should dismiss electoral college votes from Georgia and other states when Congress met to certify the election results on Jan. 6, 2021, Willis wrote in the petition.

Prosecutors are also interested in Ellis’ role in several Georgia legislative hearings in December 2020 where it is believed Trump advisers made false claims about fraud during the 2020 presidential election.

Willis wrote that prosecutors want to know more about Ellis’ social media posts and media appearances in which election fraud claims were spread. 

At least 17 people were notified that they were targets of a criminal investigation and could be indicted and possibly face criminal charges, Willis said in an interview with The Washington Post published on Sept. 15. Willis would not identify targets but said more names would be added to the list. She said it could take months before she made a decision on whether there would be any indictments and if Trump would face any charges.

Originally from Colorado, Ellis studied journalism at Colorado State University before graduating from University of Richmond’s School of Law. Ellis began her legal career as a deputy district attorney handling misdemeanor and traffic cases in Weld County, Colorado. She was fired after about six months and the Weld County District Attorney’s office declined to comment on the subject when asked by The Wall Street Journal.

Ellis caught Trump’s attention in 2018 when she began appearing on Fox News and joined his campaign advisory board the same year, according to The Wall Street Journal. In November 2019, she was hired as a senior legal adviser to Trump and the 2020 campaign, according to The New York Times.

Ellis has identified herself as a member of an “elite strike force team” of Trump lawyers that worked to overturn President Joseph Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election. 

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Before the 2016 presidential election, Ellis criticized Trump and his supporters. 

“I could spend a full-time job just responding to the ridiculously illogical, inconsistent and blatantly stupid arguments supporting Trump,” Ellis posted on Facebook in March 2016.

But after Trump became the Republican nominee in 2016, Ellis began supporting Trump and retracted her previous comments, according to CNN

In 2015, Ellis became an affiliate faculty member teaching political science and pre-law and was an assistant professor of legal studies at Colorado Christian University, according to The New York Times.

Ellis was a legal commentator on a Denver radio show and wrote for The Washington Examiner in September 2016. The Examiner identified Ellis as a professor of constitutional law at CCU, but CCU does not have such a program, according to CCU’s website.

Ellis began representing herself as a constitutional law attorney in 2018, but court records do not show her participation in any election law or federal judiciary cases before December 2020, according to a report from The New York Times.

In 2015, Ellis self-published a book: “The Legal Basis for a Moral Constitution: A Guide for Christians to Understand America’s Constitutional Crisis.” In the book, Ellis argues that the U.S. Constitution should only be interpreted according to the Bible. Ellis is also known for her homophobic comments when in 2016 she described homosexuals as sinners and whose actions are vile, according to The New York Times.

Some legal professionals argue the Constitution should be read corresponding to moral principles introduced in the Bible, Henry Chambers, a UR law school professor with a specialty in constitutional law, wrote in an email to The Collegian. Chambers is not aware of any other legal professionals who argue the Constitution must be interpreted strictly according to the Bible, he said.

Ellis’ book “spits in the face” of the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, senior Lexi Cobbs, president of the Richmond College Democrats, said.

Cobbs said the Richmond College Democrats do not condone Ellis’ actions or role in the investigation and is disappointed that Ellis chose to use her UR degree to support Trump. 

“She is a danger to American democracy and we hate that she is associated with UR at all,” Cobbs said. “That is not who we are. At least I hope that is not who we are.”

While the results of the 2020 presidential election alarmed Republican supporters, it is best to move forward as a unified nation, junior Brady Lang, chairman of the Richmond College Republicans, wrote in an email to The Collegian.

“We all know how it ended up, as Joe Biden has been president since his inauguration without any serious efforts to remove him,” Lang wrote. “They [U.S. citizens] want to go forward to a more prosperous society, one that is both richer and safer.”

Willis told The Washington Post on Sept. 13 that prosecutors have interviewed about 65 percent of the witnesses and will stop calling witnesses for a month leading up to the general election. Willis said the fact-finding stage of the investigation will likely conclude by the end of the year. Once the grand jury has received testimonies from all witnesses, it will provide Willis with a report, including recommendations for indictments. Willis can then decide if she will bring charges against anyone, she said.

Contact news writer Katie Castellani at katie.castellani@richmond.edu.

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