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Trump campaign pushes to overturn Michigan's election

Lansing — The top Republicans in Michigan's GOP-controlled Legislature are expected to visit the White House on Friday as supporters of President Donald Trump take new steps to undermine Democrat Joe Biden's victory in the state.

This development comes after Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, said the campaign would defeat Biden in Michigan on Thursday if votes from Wayne County weren't considered.

Giuliani also contended the Republican members of the county's board of canvassers have decided to "de-certify" the results after voting Tuesday night to certify them. That vote was a key step in the process of making Michigan's results official.

President Donald Trump at a campaign rally at Gerald R. Ford International Airport earlier this month.

"These ballots were all cast basically in Detroit that Biden won 80-20," said Giuliani on Thursday as he discussed unproven claims of 300,000 "illegitimate ballots" in Michigan 16 days after the Nov. 3 election. "So you see it changes the result of the election in Michigan if you take out Wayne County."

As the former New York City mayor made his statements at a press conference in Washington, D.C., Democrats and one key Republican blasted House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, and Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, over their planned White House meeting. The Detroit News first reported the get-together.

Trump is bringing the two legislative leaders to Washington to pressure them to appoint pro-Trump electors in a bid to circumvent the state's popular vote in which Biden won 51-48% or by 154,000 votes, said U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden.

"For them to do anything other than to respect the popular vote is a violation of their oath of office," Mitchell said. "They took an oath like I took an oath to the Constitution, but in their case to the state Constitution, and the laws of the state don’t say you get to appoint anyone you want."

The expected meeting with Trump comes three days before the Board of State Canvassers, which features two Republicans and two Democrats, is scheduled to meet Monday to consider whether to certify Michigan's statewide election results. The board has until Dec. 8, known as "safe harbor" day, to certify the results or it risks potential congressional intervention.

If the board does certify the results, which is traditionally seen as a procedural vote, 16 Democratic electors who support Biden would be tapped for the Electoral College meeting on Dec. 14. But some officials fear that if the board doesn't certify the results, it could lead to a legal fight over how the electors are chosen.

In Pennsylvania, Trump’s campaign has already revised a pivotal lawsuit seeking to block certification of the state’s election results by adding a proposal that the Republican-controlled state Legislature choose the winner instead of voters, according to the Associated Press.

If the Trump strategy were followed in Michigan, it would require the two Republican state canvassers to vote against certification and deadlock the process. Some Republicans believe Chatfield and Shirkey then could hold votes to choose the state's 16 electors, presumably for Trump. But experts have said the deadlock would throw the certification issue into court. 

The Detroit News obtained a draft resolution circulated among some Republicans in Michigan's 14th Congressional District that asks the Legislature to intervene and "appoint a full slate of electors who are fully supportive" of Trump's reelection. The 14th District Republican Committee hasn't voted on the resolution yet, Vice Chairman Don Perry said Wednesday.

“I am not sure it will be voted on,” Perry said.

Michigan leaders' visit with Trump

Shirkey and Chatflied have previously said the winner of Michigan's popular vote will receive the state's 16 votes in the Electoral College next month.

Biden won Michigan by 154,000 votes — more than 14 times Trump's 10,704-vote  margin in 2016 — according to the current unofficial results received from all 83 counties.

Biden is in the lead, Chatfield acknowledged during a Wednesday interview. 

Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield addresses the crowd before President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Muskegon County Airport in Muskegon on Oct.17, 2020.

"But President Trump is still the president of the United States, and he's not conceded this election. And my job is to investigate reports of fraud and reports of irregularities," Chatfield said. "That's what we are going to do. When the time comes for there to be a concession, then I am sure that will happen. ... But we're not there right now." 

Among the two Republicans on the Board of State Canvassers is Aaron Van Langevelde of Charlotte, who works for the Michigan House Republican Policy Office. The other GOP member is Norm Shinkle, a longtime Republican activist who sang the national anthem at Trump’s Lansing rally last month.

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, criticized plans by Shirkey and Chatfield to visit the White House three days before the state is set to certify Michigan’s election results. She said the pair should not take part in Trump’s “scheme” to undermine democracy.

“Conspiracies start with these kinds of meetings, and the people are fed up and upset the GOP has continued to down this path to disenfranchise voters and allow these other false conspiracy theories to gain field,” Tlaib said.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also blasted the news of the trip during a Thursday press conference.

"All of the meetings in the world can’t take away from the fact that Joe Biden won Michigan by over 150,000 votes," Whitmer said.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, said Thursday that voters had made their voices heard and selected Biden to be president.

"The margin in Michigan is more than 145,000 and will not be overturned," said Upton, Michigan's senior congressional member. "No one has been able to show credible evidence of voter fraud, and I have not heard of any irregularities from my district. It's time for us to move forward."

Canvassers try to rescind certification

Two Republican Wayne County canvassers signed affidavits saying they regret their votes Tuesday to certify the Nov. 3 election, arguing "intense bullying and coercion" plus bad legal advice forced them to agree to certify the election after they had voted no. 

Canvassers Monica Palmer and William Hartmann have claimed the promises made to them of a "comprehensive audit" of the Nov. 3 election should they certify "will not be fulfilled." Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said Thursday her office would conduct some local performance audits, including one in Wayne County, but indicated they would occur after the statewide certification of votes. 

William Hartmann and Monica Palmer at the Wayne County Board of Canvassers on Tuesday.

"Under state law, our department conducts these audits after the Board of State Canvassers has certified the election," said Benson, a Detroit Democrat. "This is because it is only after statewide certification that election officials have legal access to the documentation needed to conduct such audits."

Benson's stance appeared to prompt the affidavits by the two GOP Wayne County canvassers.

"I rescind my prior vote to certify Wayne County elections," Palmer said in an affidavit signed Wednesday night. "I fully believe the Wayne County vote should not be certified."

It's not clear whether the affidavits have any legal effect on Tuesday's certification, which moved Wayne County's results on to the bipartisan Board of State Canvassers. Even if Palmer and Hartmann were able to rescind their votes, the deadline for Wayne County to certify its results has passed, in which case any uncertified results would pass on to the state board.

State law sets a deadline of 14 days for every county to certify its election votes, and Wayne County's 14-day clock expired Wednesday. 

"There is no legal mechanism for them to rescind their vote," said Tracy Wimmer, a spokeswoman for Benson. "Their job is done, and the next step in the process is for the Board of State Canvassers to meet and certify."

The state's routine audits are important backstops to accuracy and election performance across the state, Kent County Clerk Lisa Posthumus Lyons said during a Thursday legislative hearing. But the Republican clerk noted it was important to conduct them after the certification of results. 

"If you did it before the canvass was complete, you're auditing unofficial results," Posthumus Lyons said. "Additionally, if you audit before a recount has taken place, you're opening up very secure containers and things that are really important to protecting and preserving the security of the election before a potential recount takes place.

"The order in which this all occurs I think is important as well."

Trump campaign withdraws lawsuit

On Thursday, Trump's reelection campaign withdrew its federal lawsuit challenging Michigan's election results, saying it already achieved its goals when the Wayne County Board of Canvassers initially refused to certify the election — even though the board later approved them.  

"This morning we are withdrawing our lawsuit in Michigan as a direct result of achieving the relief we sought: to stop the election in Wayne County from being prematurely certified before residents can be assured that every legal vote has been counted and every illegal vote has not been counted," Giuliani said in a statement.

Former Mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for President Donald Trump, speaks during a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters on Thursday in Washington, D.C.

The affidavits from the Republican canvassers were included in the Trump campaign's filing to withdraw the lawsuit. State election officials also noted the results have already been approved and it's not possible to backtrack.

City of Detroit attorneys asked the U.S. District Court in the Western District of Michigan Thursday to strike the canvassers' affidavits and the Trump attorneys' "immaterial, impertinent and false language" from the filing announcing the withdrawal. 

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, said the Wayne County canvassers' action "underscores the lengths the Rs will go to in undermining our democracy."

"Voters in MI chose Joe Biden to be our next president by 150,000 votes in a fair & transparent election," Stabenow said in a tweet. "It’s time to move on."

cmauger@detroitnews.com

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