by Jon King, Michigan Advance
August 2, 2023
As it has since his election in 2016, Michigan has again played a prominent role with the ongoing saga of former President Donald Trump.
In the 45-page indictment handed down Tuesday by a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., Michigan is mentioned often among the charges leveled against Trump for his alleged role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
According to the indictment filed by Jack Smith, special counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice, the former president faces four charges stemming from his actions, including conspiracy to defraud the United States; conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding; obstruction of, and attempt to obstruct, an official proceeding; and conspiracy against rights.
“From on or about November 14, 2020, through on or about January 20, 2021, in the District of Columbia and elsewhere, the Defendant, DONALD J. TRUMP, did knowingly combine, conspire, confederate, and agree with co-conspirators, known and unknown to the Grand Jury, to defraud the United States by using dishonesty, fraud, and deceit to impair, obstruct, and defeat the lawful federal government function by which the results of the presidential election are collected, counted, and certified by the federal government,” reads the indictment.
Trump, who is now seeking to be the Republican nominee for the White House in 2024, “was determined to remain in power,” despite having lost the 2020 election, reads the indictment. “So for more than two months following election day on November 3, 2020, the Defendant spread lies that there had been outcome-determinative fraud in the election and that he had actually won.”
“These claims were false, and the Defendant knew that they were false,” it continues.gov.uscourts.dcd.258149.1.0_2
In laying out the charges against Trump, the indictment indicates Michigan was considered central to the conspiracy to overturn the election, starting two days after ballots had been cast, when Trump falsely alleged that there had been a suspicious dump of votes at Detroit’s former TCF Center where absentee ballots were being counted.
That sparked a vociferous protest from GOP activists who tried to stop the vote counting.
“In Detroit, there were hours of unexplained delay in delivering many of the votes for counting,” Trump was quoted as saying. “The final batch did not arrive until 4 in the morning and even though the polls closed at 8 o’clock. So they brought it in, and the batches came in, and nobody knew where they came from.”
With 43 jurisdictions, Wayne is the state’s most populous county and includes Detroit, Michigan’s largest city, which also is 80% Black and heavily Democratic. Tallies showed that President Joe Biden secured about 68% of the votes cast for president in Wayne County and Trump received about 31% of votes in the county.
But when the Wayne County Board of Canvassers met on November 17, 2020 to certify the election results, the false claim of illegal votes in Detroit led the two Republican members, William Hartmann and Monica Palmer, to initially vote against certification, although they eventually relented and fulfilled their legal obligations to certify the results.
However, Tuesday’s indictment noted that Trump would repeat the false claim of thousands of illegal votes in Detroit multiple times, including on December 1, 2020, when he raised it with then-Attorney General Bill Barr.
“[Barr] responded that what had occurred in Michigan had been the normal vote-counting process and that there was no indication of fraud in Detroit. Despite this, the next day, the Defendant made a knowingly false statement that in Michigan, ‘[a]t 6:31 in the morning, a vote dump of 149,772 votes came in unexpectedly. We were winning by a lot. That batch was received in horror. Nobody knows anything about it. … It’s corrupt. Detroit is corrupt. I have a lot of friends in Detroit. They know it. But Detroit is totally corrupt,’ states the indictment.
Trump would again make the false claim on January 6, 2021, when he “repeated his knowingly false claim regarding an illicit dump of more than a hundred thousand ballots in Detroit.”
November 2020 meeting with Michigan GOP leaders
The indictment also alleges that the vote-dump claim was central to the Trump-led “conspiracy to impair, obstruct, and defeat the federal government function through dishonesty, fraud, and deceit” that included he and his co-conspirators organizing fraudulent slates of electors in Michigan and six other targeted states, including Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
“This included causing the fraudulent electors to meet on the day appointed by federal law on which legitimate electors were to gather and cast their votes; cast fraudulent votes for the Defendant; and sign certificates falsely representing that they were legitimate electors,” it states.
Biden won Michigan by more than 154,000 votes and thus all 16 of the state’s presidential electors.
Last month, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel charged all 16 of the GOP’s false electors in the state with eight felonies each, including election law forgery and conspiracy to commit election law forgery.
The indictment against Trump then lays out a timeline of events for the alleged conspiracy involving Michigan, starting in the White House itself.
On Nov. 20, 2020, the indictment notes that Trump held a meeting in the Oval Office with Michigan legislative leaders, including then-state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and then-House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering).
“In the meeting, the Defendant raised his false claim, among others, of an illegitimate vote dump in Detroit. In response, the Michigan Senate Majority Leader [Shirkey] told the Defendant that he had lost Michigan not because of fraud, but because the Defendant had underperformed with certain voter populations in the state.”
Upon leaving their meeting, Shirkey and Chatfield issued a statement, quoted by the indictment, that reiterated fraud was not a factor in Trump’s loss in Michigan.
“The Senate and House Oversight Committees are actively engaged in a thorough review of Michigan’s elections process and we have faith in the committee process to provide greater transparency and accountability to our citizens,” said the statement. “We have not yet been made aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election in Michigan and as legislative leaders, we will follow the law and follow the normal process regarding Michigan’s electors, just as we have said throughout this election.”
However, Trump tried to paint a different picture of the Oval Office meeting with Shirkey and Chatfield, tweeting afterwards, “massive voter fraud will be shown!”
In fact, in its report about the attempts to overturn the 2020 election, the bipartisan Jan. 6 House select committee said Trump “or his team” were so frustrated that he couldn’t convince Shirkey and Chatfield to illegally alter the outcome of Michigan’s election results, they maliciously tweeted out Shirkey’s personal cell phone number and a number for Chatfield that turned out to be wrong.”
Following that since-deleted tweet, Shirkey received nearly 4,000 text messages while a former Petoskey resident reported being “inundated” with calls and texts intended for Chatfield.
Then on Dec. 4, 2020, the indictment alleges that one of the six unnamed Trump co-conspirators sent a text message to Chatfield reiterating the unsupported claim of election fraud and attempting to get him to assist in reversing the ascertainment of Biden’s electors in Michigan as the legitimate electors.
“Looks like Georgia may well hold some factual hearings and change the certification under ArtIl sec 1 cl 2 of the Constitution. As [Co-Conspirator 2] explained they don’t just have the right to do it but the obligation. … Help me get this done in Michigan,” said the text.
Co-Conspirator 1 is identified in the indictment only as “an attorney who was willing to spread knowingly false claims and pursue strategies that the Defendant’s 2020 re-election campaign attorneys would not.” However, based on various statements in the indictment and other details, CNN has identified that person as Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
On Dec. 3, 2020, the Michigan House Oversight Committee, chaired by now-Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Twp.) held a hearing where Giuliani testified about GOP claims of fraud in the 2020 presidential election. In an unusual move, Giuliani took over the seven-hour meeting. He urged lawmakers to “take back your power under Article Two, Section One clause” of the U.S. Constitution.
Then on Dec. 7, 2020, the indictment claims Co-Conspirator 1 sent a text intended for Shirkey that tried to again further the fake electors conspiracy.
“So I need you to pass a joint resolution from the Michigan legislature that states that, *the election is in dispute,* there’s an ongoing investigation by the Legislature, and *the [Biden] Electors sent by Governor [Gretchen] Whitmer are not the official Electors of the State of Michigan and do not fall within the Safe Harbor deadline of Dec 8 under Michigan law,” read the text.
But no such resolution was forthcoming.
On Dec. 14, 2020, the day that electors in states across the country were required to vote and submit their votes to Congress, the indictment notes that Shirkey and Chatfield announced they would not decertify the legitimate election results or electors in Michigan.
“[W]e have not received evidence of fraud on a scale that would change the outcome of the election in Michigan,” it quotes Shirkey.
Chatfield’s statement went even further in disputing Trump’s attempt to delegitimize Michigan’s election results.
“We’ve diligently examined these reports of fraud to the best of our ability. I fought hard for President Trump. Nobody wanted him to win more than me. I think he’s done an incredible job,” Chatfield said. “But I love our republic, too. I can’t fathom risking our norms, traditions and institutions to pass a resolution retroactively changing the electors for Trump, simply because some think there may have been enough widespread fraud to give him the win. That’s unprecedented for good reason.
“And that’s why there is not enough support in the House to cast a new slate of electors. I fear we’d lose our country forever. This truly would bring mutually assured destruction for every future election in regards to the Electoral College. And I can’t stand for that. I won’t.”
But on that very day, 16 Michigan Republicans, including former Michigan GOP Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock and Michigan Republican National Committeewoman Kathy Berden, met in the basement of the Michigan Republican Party’s Lansing headquarters where they signed false electoral certificates claiming that Trump had won the state’s 16 electoral votes.
Those certifications were then sent to the office of former Vice President Mike Pence, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, the national archivist in Washington, D.C., and the chief judge of the western district of Michigan.
Maddock, Berden and the 14 others who signed the false certificates have since been charged by Nessel with felonies.
Since being charged, Maddock said the details of who organized the attempt were “still vague” to her. But in January 2022, she said it was Trump’s campaign who directed the operation.
“We fought to seat the electors. The Trump campaign asked us to do that,” Maddock was heard saying at a public event organized by the right-wing group, Stand Up Michigan, per audio obtained by CNN. “I’m under a lot of scrutiny for that today.”
Michigan reactions to Trump’s latest indictment
Meanwhile, Trump’s campaign almost immediately used the indictment to fundraise for his 2024 White House run, posting a statement on its website asserting: “President Trump is an INNOCENT man. This is nothing but an egregious act of Election Interference and a final act of desperation from Crooked Joe as he crashes in the polls.” It then asked supporters to “Please make a contribution to SAVE AMERICA.”
However, U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Lansing), a former Defense Department official who is running for U.S. Senate next year, said the latest round of felony charges against Trump reiterated the importance of the rule of law.
“We are and must always be a nation of laws and rules that apply to all of us, from the least powerful to the most powerful,” she said. “A former president using the power of his office to lie and attempt to thwart the will of American voters is an American tragedy — one that led to the violence of Jan. 6, as so many of us experienced firsthand — and one that still poisons our politics today. President Trump will have the chance to prove his innocence before a jury of his peers. But for us to function as a country, those who would conspire to undo a lawful election must be held accountable.”
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, reiterated that the 2020 election was “secure, transparent and the results were an accurate reflection of the will of the people.
“Following the election, an unprecedented, nationally coordinated attempt to overturn those results and spread false conspiracies — through meritless lawsuits, sham legislative hearings, illegal access to voting machines, and attempts to intervene with the counting and certification of legal votes — directly led to violent attacks aimed at election officials, members of law enforcement, Congress, and many others,” she said.
“I look forward to seeing the judicial process and other investigations proceed while all of us here in Michigan and nationwide, embrace our collective responsibility to speak the truth, ensure voter confidence in our elections, and work to protect and defend every voice and every vote,” Benson added.
Most Republican officials remained silent on Tuesday after the latest Trump indictments.
But Maddock, a close Trump ally who’s married to state Rep. Matt Maddock (R-Milford), tweeted: “Election Interference! This is a witch hunt. They are not after Trump they are after YOU. #DonaldJTrump.”
Tuesday’s indictment of Trump and six co-conspirators came on the same day that former state Rep. Daire Rendon (R-Lake City) and Matt DePerno, a former Republican Michigan attorney general nominee, were arraigned as part of a separate investigation into potential tampering with election equipment.
Following the 2020 election, DePerno gained prominence after filing a lawsuit claiming election fraud in Antrim County after results briefly showed Biden winning in the predominantly Republican county. The mistake was due to human error, and did not impact election results. The case was appealed until it was ultimately dismissed by the Michigan Supreme Court.
However, the Antrim County case was also amplified by Trump and his supporters to push the falsehood that the 2020 election was rigged, an effort that culminated in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection in Washington, D.C.
And while pro-Trump rioters were breaking into the U.S. Capitol to stop the certification of electoral votes for Biden’s victory, DePerno was across town, meeting with former Assistant Secretary of State Robert Destro.
The Washington Post reported that the meeting came “as Trump’s allies were pressing theories that election machines had been hacked by foreign powers and were angling for Trump to employ the vast powers of the national security establishment to seize voting machines or even rerun the election.”
DePerno ran for attorney general in 2022, winning the GOP nomination thanks to Trump’s endorsement. He was defeated in November by Nessel.
Advance Editor Susan J. Demas contributed to this story.
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