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Chatfield calls out Whitmer for not informing lawmakers of alleged plot

The Detroit News

Michigan's House speaker on Saturday expressed frustrations with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer over what he called a failure to communicate with lawmakers about the alleged plot to overthrow the government and kidnap her. 

Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, issued a series of tweets Saturday, saying those in the Capitol were not warned of the plot to take hostages and there needs to be better cooperation going forward across the aisle. 

"Why weren’t we in the Legislature warned of the plot to take hostages at the Capitol? The plot by these terrorists was against us too. Why weren’t House sergeants warned?" Chatfield said. "You knew, and we weren’t even given a warning. We had people working in the building every day doing essential work, and their lives matter too."

Zack Pohl, communications director for Whitmer, said in an emailed response that the governor "won't be distracted by the Speaker’s partisan attacks."

"She remains focused on bringing Michiganders together to keep people safe and save lives. We are not going to comment on an ongoing criminal investigation," Pohl said in the email. "If the Speaker has concerns with this successful law enforcement operation, he should direct them to the FBI and President Trump’s Department of Justice, which was in command.

Federal agents said Thursday they thwarted a plot to violently overthrow the government as well as kidnap and harm  Whitmer — a conspiracy that included visits to her home in northern Michigan and training with firearms and explosive devices.

The alleged plot mainly involved six conspirators unhappy in part about Whitmer's coronavirus restrictions, calling her a "tyrant." They wanted to create a "self-sufficient" society free from what they called unconstitutional state governments and discussed plans to storm the Capitol and take hostages, according to FBI documents filed in court. 

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel separately announced 19 state charges against seven other individuals pursuant to the state's anti-terrorism act, "all of whom are in custody and linked to the militia group Wolverine Watchmen."

On Saturday, Nessel tweeted a response calling Chatfield's comments disingenuous and saying the Legislature had a chance to ban weapons in the Capitol building back in September and never did. 

"Remember this gem all the way back in September? Legislators claiming they had no knowledge of the possibility of a tragic event at the Capitol are disingenuous at best," Nessel tweeted Saturday. "Want to protect those who work at the Capitol building? Pass legislation to ban weapons from Capitol grounds."

Chatfield also noted comments by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist blaming "Michigan Republicans for the evil plans of these mentally unstable men."

Chatfield

Gilchrist told CNN's Don Lemon on Thursday night that the suspects in the kidnapping plot were "emboldened" by President Donald Trump and the "complicity and the encouragement of the Michigan Republican Party, who created the rhetorical space for them to plan these deadly actions."

Gilchrist noted some of those arrested had participated in protests at which GOP lawmakers also were present and had stood in the Senate gallery during session.

"For Republicans to be so flippant as to fraternize with these people while they were armed in the Capitol shows you where their priorities are at," Gilchrist said on the show.

"That accusation is inflammatory and untrue and does nothing to solve this problem. You chose to blame President Trump instead," Chatfield said Saturday. "The truth is, I started getting death threats to my family at my home the day you said my legislative actions would kill people. Realize that as well."

Pohl said that the same day the news of the alleged plot was revealed, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Republican from Clarklake, spoke at a protest against the governor that was organized by Speaker Chatfield’s father, Rusty Chatfield.

"It’s time for Republicans, from the White House on down, to forcefully condemn violent domestic terrorists," Pohl said.

Placing blame

Earlier on Thursday, Whitmer laid some blame for the plot to kidnap her on Trump, whom she said didn't do enough to condemn white supremacists. She specifically mentioned the president's comments at the first presidential debate on Sept. 29 when Trump told the Proud Boys group to "stand back and stand by."

"Hate groups heard the president's words not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry, a call to action," said the Democratic governor, who is also a co-chair of Joe Biden's presidential campaign. "When our leaders speak, their words matter. They carry weight.”

Trump slammed Whitmer on social media late Thursday night, saying Whitmer had called him a white supremacist instead of thanking him for federal authorities who filed the kidnapping plot against her. 

"I do not tolerate any extreme violence," Trump tweeted. "Defending ALL Americans, even those who oppose and attack me, is what I will always do as your President!"

Earlier, Trump administration and campaign officials fired back, arguing it is Whitmer who is trying to create divisions by saying the Republican president inspired the plot.

On Saturday, Chatfield said others in the Legislature have been threatened, too, but don't have the same resources to protect themselves. 

"They’ve received threats, letters and calls to their homes. These threats have been to both Republicans and Democrats, but they aren’t given security. They don’t have the state resources to build million-dollar fences at their homes. And we were targeted in these evil plots too. That’s why to overcome this, it will take a unified message and not political talking points or partisan finger-pointing. It will take leadership," he said. 

 Chatfield ended his message with a call for more unity.

"Now, I’ve been critical of many of your decisions this year during COVID. I’ll admit that. I’ve agreed with some decisions too. It’s important we have these debates. It makes us stronger. It ensures all voices of our state are heard. It’s how our process was designed to work. But we need to do it the right way. Blanket, partisan blame is wrong. It simply further divides us and causes more political strife," he said. 

"Hatred and violence are wrong, and that’s why I’ve continually denounced it. And I agree, it’s time to tone the partisan rhetoric and “the heat down” as you’ve said," Chatfield continued. "Will you do the same for President Trump? You’ve arguably been his biggest critic this year in the country. You even fundraised this week off this plot, now making it political, which is sad. Will the Lieutenant Governor do it to the entire Republican Party, of whom are millions of his constituents? This wasn’t standing tall. It was cheap. We can do this, but we have to make this decision together. Let’s back up our words with actions."