Wren Williams had just returned home to Patrick County after the General Assembly adjourned its regular 60-day session last month and he was looking forward to a short getaway to the Outer Banks with his wife, Britt, when he took a call from a colleague in Wisconsin. Williams had previously worked there as part of Donald Trump’s legal team in challenging the state’s outcome of the 2020 presidential election. Would he want to come down to Florida that weekend and visit with the former president?
“Some of my other colleagues from Wisconsin couldn’t make it, so they called me and said it was on short notice,” Williams said in an interview earlier this week. “We had already blocked off the weekend but were lucky enough to change our plans and head down to Florida, visit with the president and enjoy some warm weather,” said Williams, a newly elected Republican state delegate representing what is now the 7th House district.
The couple arrived in Fort Lauderdale that following Friday, March 18. The next morning, they headed over to Sunrise, a city of just under 100,000 in central-western Broward County, where Trump’s “American Freedom Tour” was to make a stop at the FLA Live Arena. The former president was the main speaker at the ticketed full-day event promoted to conservative insiders and Trump supporters, also featuring the who-is-who of Trump world, including Donald Trump Jr., right-wing commentators Candace Owens, Dan Bongino and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, as well as Kimberly Guilfoyle and Sheriff Mark Lamb of Pinal County, Az.
Williams, however, enjoyed special privileges that most Trump devotees inside the 20,000-seat arena did not have – direct access to the former president. After a quick photo op, Williams and his wife joined about 15 other Republican leaders, mostly from Florida and Alabama, in a conference room where they sat around a U-shaped table headed by Trump.
“We got to sit down with him for 30 or 45 minutes and just kind of chat with him about what I was able to accomplish in Wisconsin and my work in the House of Delegates,” Williams said. “There was a lot of conversation about the midterms, because Trump is still very much involved in the Republican Party in terms of endorsements and things like that, so he was very interested in those types of things.”
For Williams, an attorney with a practice in Stuart, his meeting with Trump marked the culmination of his work in support of the 45th president that had begun a year before his election to the House of Delegates in November.
And unlike other Virginia Republicans, including Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who during his gubernatorial campaign treaded a fine line of cautiously embracing and openly distancing himself from Trump, Williams takes pride in fully championing the former president and his policies, and he is currently the only lawmaker from the commonwealth – with the exception of state Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield County – to frequent Trump’s orbit.
But Williams’s association with the former president puts him at odds with Republicans who have a statewide interest in Virginia and who want to move on from the unfounded conspiracies that the 2020 election was stolen, said political analyst Bob Holsworth, a former VCU dean and longtime observer of Virginia’s government. “Trump is an acquired taste in the commonwealth, and he was a disaster for Virginia Republicans – only when he was gone were they competitive again,” Holsworth said. “And Williams continues to talk about what he believes is corruption in Wisconsin, which is not going to fly in Virginia at all, and I think many Republicans would prefer he would keep those thoughts to himself.”
Republican House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore, R-Scott County, declined to comment for this story, but Democrats are eager to seize the opportunity and tie Virginia Republicans to a former president who lost in the commonwealth twice and by wide margins. “Del. Wren Williams is exactly the type of person the Virginia Republican Party is uplifting,” DPVA spokesman Gianni Snidle said in an email. “These are not moderates who are in touch with Virginia voters, rather they are extreme far-right cronies pushing dangerous conspiracy theories from the formerly twice-impeached President Trump. If there’s any question about where the Republican Party is heading, look no further than Del. Williams.”
Holsworth noted that Williams appears to be using his proximity to the former president to build a broader public profile that would allow him to seek statewide office in the future. “One would think that he certainly enjoys the limelight and he enjoys the theater of politics,” Holsworth said.
Williams is “extremely active in the culture war, including his legislation against critical race theory, which is also evident on his Twitter feed,” Holsworth added, referring to the Republican’s social media statements about transgender swimmer Lia Thomas, who has dominated women’s college swimming this season (“I’m calling for @Penn University and Lia Thomas to surrender their stolen title and together with @UVA, stand up for women and girls everywhere”) and his jabs at President Joe Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Kentanji Brown Jackson (“Liberals who can’t even define what a ‘woman’ is should not be trusted to interpret the Constitution”).
“A lot of Virginia delegates don’t spend much time even considering national issues, but this is a person who links his work in Virginia to his overall ideology of where this nation should be going,” Holsworth said. “And that probably helps him where he is, Trump did very well in his district.”
But unlike Chase, who remains to be a persona non grata in her own party, Williams’s Trumpism doesn’t seem to hurt him because he seems to be much more aligned with the conservative Republican establishment in Virginia, Holsworth said. “I see him as more conservative than most but someone who is actually interested in accomplishing something.”
For Williams, his views and his unwavering support of Trump are simply part of his ideological DNA as a staunch conservative who last summer managed to defeat Del. Charles Poindexter in the Republican primary by running to the seven-term incumbent’s right.
And his work during the Wisconsin election challenge in 2020 on Trump’s behalf helped him get recognition as an up-and-coming Republican leader. In his interview with Cardinal News, Williams said that he found his way to becoming a member of Trump’s legal team through the Republican National Lawyers Association.
“I’ve been a member for several years, and some of the work that I have been doing for them is vet Supreme Court candidates, and share the opposition research that we had,” Williams said. “It’s sort of like a group that we can pull on when we need help legally as the Republican Party. So when those phone calls started going out about rounding up lawyers for those six or seven or eight different recounts, there were a lot of us getting these phone calls, and I was just lucky to be flexible enough to get up there and work in Wisconsin. So with all the pieces falling together I was at the right place at the right time when I was able to take advantage of the opportunity and make a pretty good name for myself in the Republican national party.”
Williams said that he got the call for help a little over one week after the election on the morning of Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. “I got on a plane out of Charlotte that night, the recount started the next morning,” he said, adding that in the coming weeks, he worked with a team of nine additional lawyers out of an office in Madison, Wis., under the leadership of James Troupis, the chief counsel and a former circuit court judge. While Williams said that his own title was that of deputy counsel, he was a volunteer and worked pro bono (Troupis did not respond to several emails asking for comment about his work with Williams).
Wisconsin finished its recount of the presidential results on Sunday, Nov. 29, confirming Biden’s victory over Trump in the key battleground state. Trump, who paid $3 million for the recount, vowed to challenge the outcome in court even before the recount concluded – and Williams decided to stick around and keep fighting.
“I was asked to stay on after the recount in a volunteering capacity because of my institutional knowledge of the recount and what happened on the floor. I was happy to volunteer without pay, and they kindly covered my hotel,” he said, adding that his work on the Wisconsin lawsuits continues to this day, but now “I am being paid for this work.”
Williams said that he did not go back home for Thanksgiving and stayed put in Wisconsin until after the state’s conservative-led Supreme Court on Dec. 14, 2020, rejected the Trump campaign’s bid to throw out more than 220,000 ballots from two Democratic county strongholds. The move, which came just shortly before Electoral College voters were due to cast their ballots later that day, ensured Biden’s victory.
“We were not going to file in the Supreme Court, so we went home after the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision and then there was one other constitutional scholar who worked on our team who worked on the Supreme Court appeal, and that was not taken up in January,” Williams said, adding that during his time in Wisconsin, he mostly helped with legal research, memos and writings. “We litigated with all the paper filings that you would expect. There was a lot of good information in all of our filings,” he said.
But some observers have doubted his claims about his role in this effort. Roanoke Times columnist Dan Casey recently wrote that Williams’s name does not appear on a list compiled by the 65 Project identifying 111 attorneys that have aided Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, that includes Virginia Reps. Ben Cline, R-Botetourt County, and Morgan Griffith, R-Salem. The 65 Project is an organization of seasoned legal experts seeking to have the law licenses of these attorneys revoked.
Williams said that he can’t explain his absence on the list. “I’m not sure why,” he said. “I’m just a member of the Virginia House of Delegates that has a law practice and the opportunity to litigate, so if they want to come for me, go for it. Maybe it’s a big show to go after congressmen versus me, I don’t know.”
Questions also remain about how Williams joined Trump’s legal team in Wisconsin in the first place. Williams claims he was tapped for the job by the Republican National Lawyers Association, but RNLA spokesman Michael Thielen said in an email that the association does not select attorneys for such tasks, but that they would forward to their members emails with potential opportunities from individual campaigns.
“You could respond directly to that campaign saying you were interested. That campaign then would decide if they wanted to select you, when and where they needed you, etc. Then you would decide if you wanted to do it,” he said.
Thielen added that he had no knowledge of how Williams got the job. “A lot of people help on campaigns. We likely passed on the request for volunteers to him. For what he did specifically, you’d need to reach out to him,” he said.
While the extent of Williams’s work for Trump remains unclear, there’s no doubt that he appreciates his access to the former president. The meeting in Florida, he said, was the first time he got to speak with Trump in person.
“We were on phone calls with him during the state recount (in Wisconsin), so I knew him a little bit from that and I was aware of how he spoke when he was not in front of a camera. But when it came to visiting with him it actually was very cool because he is very normal and not as vibrant when he’s in person, he’s much more your family man and he puts his pants on the same way we do it in the morning, so I’ve enjoyed that. ” Williams said.
Whether Trump will run for president again in 2024, he can’t say for sure. “I know that he is exploring it, I know that he is having conversations about vice presidential nominees, and figuring out who might be his running mate,” Williams said. I’m sure we will have a Republican primary nationwide, and I think that a lot of people will be supporting Trump’s run again as the Republican nominee, and I certainly will. I thought he did a good job, and compared to where we are right now, I think that people are missing those Republican policies that were in place back when Trump was president.”
While Williams’s outspoken support for Trump could potentially hurt him with potential statewide ambitions, at the moment he remains focused on his district, where he will face a primary challenge in 2023 or earlier, if an election is set for the new legislative maps approved by the Virginia Supreme Court that has drawn him in the same district as his collegue Marie March, the delegate from Floyd County.
It’s this uncertainty that has Williams carefully weighing his loyalties to his district with higher ambitions – and the 33-year old Republican is aware of the risks of looking like he is too eager to move up the ladder. “I have a lot of work to do here in the House of Delegates, that’s why I ran initially to make sure that our commonwealth is protected and my community thrives,” Williams said. “Ultimately I am a conservative proven leader in this area, I am from Patrick County and I know the people here and I am going to continue to represent them with the strong conservative leadership that I brought to the table with my proven record.”
Holsworth, the political analyst, said that it is reasonable to think that Williams has bigger goals, but that he also knows that won’t get to fulfill those in the near future. “You can’t run in a primary against a sitting delegate and say you have higher aspirations, so it is wise that he won’t say that, because the only way he can be beaten is in a primary, not in an election, so it’s important,” Holsworth said. “But he seems to believe that affiliation with Trump and national Republicans will help him now and in the future.