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Text Messages Show Top Trump Campaign Fundraiser’s Key Role Planning the Rally That Preceded the Siege

Caroline Wren, a Trump fundraiser, is listed as a “VIP Advisor” in a National Park Service permit for the Jan. 6th rally at the Ellipse. Text messages and a planning memo show the title downplays the active role she played in organizing the event.

Supporters of President Donald Trum​p gather at the Washington Mon​ument to listen to the preside​nt address the crowd on Jan. 6, 2021. Later that day, the group walked to the U.S.​ Capitol and stormed inside. (David Butow/Redux)

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In the week leading up to the Jan. 6 rally in Washington, D.C., that exploded into an attack on the Capitol, a top Trump campaign fundraiser issued a directive to a woman who had been overseeing planning for the event.

“Get the budget and vendors breakdown to me and Justin,” Caroline Wren wrote to Cindy Chafian, a self-described “constitutional conservative,” in a Dec. 28 text message obtained by ProPublica.

Wren was no ordinary event planner. She served as a deputy to Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, at Trump Victory, a joint presidential fundraising committee during the 2020 campaign. The Justin mentioned in her text was Justin Caporale, a former top aide to first lady Melania Trump, whose production company helped put on the event at the Ellipse.

Text messages and an event-planning memo obtained by ProPublica, along with an interview with Chafian, indicate that Wren, a Washington insider with a low public profile, played an extensive role in managing operations for the event. The records show that Wren oversaw logistics, budgeting, funding and messaging for the Jan. 6 rally that featured President Donald Trump.

Chafian told ProPublica that Wren and others had pushed her aside as plans intensified, including as a late effort was made to get Trump to speak at the event.

On Dec. 29, after receiving the budget, Wren instructed Chafian, via text, to hold off on printing event-related slogans “until we decide what the messaging is and we have no clue on timing because it all depends on the votes that day so we won’t know timing for a few more days.” The “timing” appears to be a reference to Congress’ Jan. 6 vote to certify the election results.

Wren’s services were enlisted by a major donor to Trump’s presidential campaign, according to The Wall Street Journal, which reported Saturday that Julie Jenkins Fancelli, the heiress to Publix Super Markets, committed some $300,000 to fund the Jan. 6 rally.

The funding commitment by Fancelli, who Federal Election Commission records show has donated more than $1 million to Trump Victory, the president’s campaign and the Republican National Committee since 2018, was facilitated by the right-wing conspiracy peddler Alex Jones, the Journal reported. Chafian told ProPublica that she herself had been directed by Jones to Wren, who, she was told, had ties to a wealthy donor who wanted to support the January affair. Chafian said the donor is a woman but wouldn’t disclose her name, citing a confidentiality agreement.

Fancelli hasn’t responded to messages left at numbers listed for her.

The Associated Press had previously reported that Wren was listed as a “VIP Advisor” in an attachment to a National Park Service permit for the Jan. 6 event issued to Women for America First, a pro-Trump nonprofit run by the mother-daughter duo Amy and Kylie Jane Kremer. Chafian had worked on and off with Women for America First since October 2019.

But that title gives little indication of the scope of Wren’s role in managing the “March to Save America” event, where the president would tell thousands of supporters to walk to the Capitol and “demand that Congress do the right thing and only count the electors who have been lawfully slated,” the records show.

A guidance memo provided to VIP attendees of the Jan. 6 rally further establishes Wren’s centrality to the event. She is listed, along with three other people, as one of the primary points of contact for the demonstration. The Kremers, whose nonprofit was attached to the event, are not mentioned at all.

Wren hasn’t responded to requests for comment about the role she played in organizing the Jan. 6 rally. In a statement to the Journal, she said her role in the event was to “assist many others in providing and arranging for a professionally produced event at the Ellipse.” She was last paid by the Trump campaign on Nov. 15, a campaign spokesman said, adding that the campaign “did not organize, operate or finance the event” and any former staffers who worked on the event “did not do so at the direction of the Trump campaign.”

Since April 2017, Wren and her Texas-based firm, Bluebonnet Fundraising, have received more than $890,000 from the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and Trump Victory, the joint fundraising committee, FEC records show.

Chafian, a longtime organizer, said that in December she met Jones “by complete happenstance” at the Willard Hotel in Washington. Not long before, Chafian said, Jones had had a falling out with the leadership of Women for America First. Chafian, who is a reiki practitioner, said she was “put in a position, in my opinion based on what I know from the universe, to clear that energy. To clear that negativity.”

Later that month, Jones contacted Chafian to discuss staging a January rally in support of an effort by Trump and his allies to overturn the election results and President Joe Biden’s victory, she said. He subsequently directed her to Wren.

On Dec. 28, Chafian texted Wren that it was her understanding that Wren was now “handling all of the funding from here on out,” and promising to get her the “budget and breakdown.”

By the end of December, after Wren became involved in the organizing efforts, Chafian said that Wren brought in Women for America First and that Chafian was ultimately sidelined. By that point, she had had her own falling out with the Kremers, leading her to start her own group, The Eighty Percent Coalition, which held a rally at Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 5 that was largely sponsored by Jones. The guidance memo provided to VIP attendees of the Jan. 6 event informs attendees of Chafian’s rally, inviting them to attend should they wish and noting that “registration is not required.”

In a video released the day after the Jan. 6 event, Jones claimed an unnamed donor covered 80% of the roughly $500,000 it cost to put on the rally that preceded the Capitol riot.

The Kremers, Caporale and Jones have not responded to requests for comment.

Lydia DePillis contributed to this story.

Do you have access to information about the Jan. 6 rally that should be public? Email [email protected] or [email protected]. Here’s how to send tips and documents to ProPublica securely.

Update, Jan. 30, 2021: Publix posted a statement on Twitter saying, “Mrs. Fancelli is not an employee of Publix Super Markets, and is neither involved in our business operations, nor does she represent the company in any way. We cannot comment on Mrs. Fancelli’s actions."

Correction, Feb. 11, 2021: This story originally misidentified the name of Caroline Wren’s company. It is Bluebonnet Fundraising, not Bluebonnet Consulting.

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Mike Spies

Mike Spies was a reporter based in ProPublica’s New York City newsroom.

Portrait of Jake Pearson

Jake Pearson

Jake Pearson is a reporter in New York currently covering the city’s police department.

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