The leaders of True the Vote, an organization that has spread unfounded claims questioning the results of the 2020 election, were taken into custody Monday morning after a federal judge in Texas ruled them in contempt of court.
Founder Catherine Engelbrecht and former board member Gregg Phillips were escorted by federal marshals out of a Houston courthouse and into a holding cell following the judge’s decision.
The order marked the latest twist in a defamation case brought last month by Konnech, an election software company that True the Vote claimed allowed the Chinese government to have access to a server in China that held the personal information of nearly 2 million U.S. election workers. Konnech has vigorously disputed the claim.
The judge overseeing the case, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt, had ordered Engelbrecht and Phillips to reveal the name of a person who allegedly helped True the Vote access Konnech’s computer systems.
When they declined to meet the court’s 9 a.m. deadline, the judge found them in contempt. The pair have claimed, without evidence, that the person who helped them was a confidential FBI informant.
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In a statement, Engelbrecht said that “we will be held in jail until we agree to give up the name of a person we believe was not covered under the terms of the judge’s” order.
Michael J. Wynne, a lawyer for Engelbrecht and Phillips, said that “we’re looking at alternate remedies” and declined further comment. Katie Breen, a spokesperson for True the Vote, released a statement that said the organization was calling for the “immediate release” of its leaders and that its attorneys were appealing the ruling.
Dean Pamphilis, a lawyer for Konnech said: “Judge Hoyt’s order holding Ms. Engelbrecht and Mr. Phillips in contempt speaks for itself.”
Konnech chief executive Eugene Yu was arrested in early October on charges that appeared to mirror some of the claims of True the Vote. The Los Angeles districts attorney’s office later downgraded its accusations, saying Konnech had exposed the personal information of “tens of thousands of County workers to possible compromise.”
Yu’s attorney has requested that the charges be dismissed, arguing that they are without merit.
Phillips and Engelbrecht are prominent and long-standing members of the election denier movement.
Just days after the 2016 presidential election, Phillips claimed without evidence that he had “verified” that more than 3 million votes had been cast by noncitizens — just enough to wipe out Hillary Clinton’s margin in the popular vote tally. Donald Trump, then president-elect, avidly repeated the claim.
Phillips later announced that a fundraising effort was underway to verify his claim. But in a 2017 video posted on YouTube, he said not enough donations were received to finish the job.
True the Vote later received millions in donations to investigate the 2020 election. One donor, Fred Eschelman, gave the group $2.5 million but later sued to get his money back, claiming True the Vote directed much of his money to people or businesses connected to Engelbrecht. A lawyer for the organization denied Eschelman’s claim.
Engelbrecht and Phillips most recently were executive producers of “2,000 Mules,” a widely discredited film purporting to show countless people casting illegal votes by mail based on surveillance video and geotracking data. Though spokespeople for the movie said it made millions of dollars in revenue, no fraud was ever found.