Giuliani pushes Michigan lawmakers to intervene in election

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing Rudy Giuliani, the personal attorney of President Donald Trump, browbeat Michigan lawmakers Wednesday and urged them to intervene in the results of the Nov. 3 election while relying on fraud claims that remain unproven or have been rejected by experts.

Giuliani and Jenna Ellis, legal adviser to the president, pushed to discredit the state's certified election during an unusual Michigan House Oversight Committee hearing that went on for longer than four hours. It came as Republican pressure mounts on the GOP-controlled Legislature to somehow try to overturn Democratic President-elect Joe Biden's 154,000-vote win.

"You are the final arbiter of how honest or not your election is in your state," Giuliani told lawmakers. "And it’s your responsibility to stand up to that.

"All I can tell you is (if) we let them get away with this, I don’t know what happens after this.”

The U.S. Constitution provides legislatures with a tool to intervene in elections where there is corruption and foreign influence, Ellis contended. But under Michigan law, the state's 16 electoral votes go to the certified winner of the popular vote.

Trump lost Michigan 51%-48% to Biden. The results have been certified by bipartisan canvassing boards in all 83 counties and the Board of State Canvassers.

During Wednesday night's hearing, House Oversight Chairman Matt Hall, R-Marshall, allowed Giuliani to question witnesses, including a former Detroit city employee named Jessy Jacob — an extremely unusual move. Normally, House lawmakers ask the questions of those appearing before their committees.

Rudy Giuliani testifies before the House Oversight Committee in Lansing on Wednesday, December 02, 2020 about alleged fraud in the recent election.

The purpose of the meeting was to hear from people who witnessed things at TCF Center, where Detroit's absentee ballots were counted, Hall said. But Rep. Cynthia Johnson, D-Detroit, said they should have been sworn in before giving their accounts. She said "the world" was watching.

"You’re allowing people to come in here and lie. And I know they’re lying," Johnson told Hall.

Giuliani responded at one point that all the witnesses had signed sworn affidavits.

State Rep. Aaron Miller, R-Sturgis, who wasn't on the oversight committee, blasted Giuliani's closing comments, in which the former New York City mayor called on lawmakers to overturn the results.

"I’m happy to thoughtfully listen to evidence and claims and that was what today was supposed to be about, but Mr. Giuliani’s final statement waded into the realm of insanity," Miller said. "He made wild and broad partisan insults for several minutes that had nothing to do with the election, and it was frankly unacceptable, shameful, and pathetic and distracts from any evidence that we might hear. I’m utterly embarrassed."

Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain, pressed Giuliani at the end of the meeting about what he was specifically asking Republican lawmakers to do about his claims of fraud.

Giuliani denied that he was asking them to hand the state's 16 electoral votes to Trump but indicated he wanted them to intervene in the process.

"I ask that you take back your power," Giuliani said. 

"Don’t let it just get taken from us," he added moments later, referring to the election.

The committee meeting began at 6 p.m. and ended after 10 p.m. Supporters of the president waited in line outside the House office building to get a seat in the meeting room and heckled TV news crews as they entered.

Supporters of President Donald Trump and his attorney Rudy Giuliani wait outside the House Office Building before the former New York City mayor's appearance before the House Oversight Committee in Lansing on Wednesday, Dec. 02, 2020.

"Maybe if you guys did actual journalism, we'd let you in," a Trump backer with a megaphone who didn't work for the House told reporters outside the office building. 

Hall repeatedly hit his gavel during the hearing as members of the crowd interjected with yelling and applause. When Democratic committee members attempted to interrupt those speaking before the committee Wednesday, Hall also gaveled them down.

Jacob, the Detroit election worker, claimed that ballots were counted without proper verification at the TCF Center. Then Mellissa Carone, who was a contractor for Dominion Voting Systems at the TCF Center, said she saw thousands of instances of ballots being run through tabulators multiple times.

Election officials have said in signed affidavits that both Jacob and Carone didn't understand what they were seeing at TCF Center. A Wayne County judge labeled Carone's claims "not credible" in a November court ruling.

Similarly, Chris Thomas, Michigan's longtime former elections director who helped run the Nov. 3 election in Detroit, said the verification Jacob was looking for didn't take place at the TCF Center because it had already happened before ballots were delivered there.

"The ballots delivered to the TCF Center had been verified by the City Clerk’s staff prior to delivery in a process prescribed by Michigan law," Thomas said in an affidavit dated Nov. 11.

At another point, Rep. Steven Johnson, R-Wayland, pressed Carone about why there weren't major differences between poll book totals, which track voters, and ballot count totals.

"What did you guys do, take it and do something crazy to it?” Carone then asked Johnson, referring to the Detroit poll books.

Carone also referenced a turnout rate of 120%. The turnout in Detroit was 51%.

Giuliani repeated unproven claims of election fraud during a Michigan-focused briefing earlier Wednesday and leaned on the state Legislature to intervene.

During a Zoom event with Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Laura Cox, Giuliani urged residents to tell their lawmakers to "stand up for a free and fair election."

"Nobody's asking any Republican to commit a crime. I wouldn't do it, and the president would fire me if I did it," Giuliani said at one point. "But I am asking you not to be a coward."

Giuliani's comments came about two hours ahead of his appearance before the Michigan House Oversight Committee in Lansing.

Trump's campaign has been waging an effort to throw the results of the Nov. 3 election into question in multiple states in a push to delay or overturn Biden's victory.

On Wednesday, Giuliani claimed that state legislatures are primarily responsible for selecting the U.S. president because they are the government "closest to the people." He argued that the "attempted" certification of Michigan's election was a criminal act because it contained a false statement in the form of "false" votes.

So far, no proof has been presented of individual false votes. Many of the fraud claims that have been voiced by Trump supporters have focused on speculation about situations that could have potentially allowed for fraud. Other claims have already been rejected in court or by election officials.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, on Tuesday night spoke of reports of calls coming from the Trump campaign regarding Michigan’s electors and again repeated the Legislature would not overturn the state's popular vote for Biden.

"We do not know if these calls are legitimate, but we do know for certain that we will follow the law and follow the normal process regarding Michigan’s electors," Shirkey tweeted. "Assertions that Michigan legislators have authority different from what is expressly found in state law are inaccurate. Any change would require intervention by our courts."

But Giuliani described Michigan's election as "crooked" on Wednesday, doubling down on claims that there was a mysterious "dump" of ballots in Detroit in the morning hours after Election Day.

“You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out what that is," Giuliani said.

But Thomas, the former Michigan elections director, has said the claims refer to a van delivery in the early morning hours of Nov. 4, which brought approximately 16,000 ballots that had been verified by the Detroit clerk's staff.

Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump's attorney, speaks during a Michigan legal briefing on Dec. 2, 2020.

Giuliani also claimed that GOP poll observers weren't able to view what happened with absentee vote counting in Detroit. However, more than 50 challengers, most of them Republicans, appeared before a Senate committee on Tuesday, speaking about their experiences monitoring the counting in the city.

Giuliani has already appeared in recent days before lawmakers in Pennsylvania and Arizona, two other states that voted for Biden. In both of those cases, he took questions from only GOP legislators. On Wednesday night, he appeared before Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

State Rep. Darrin Camilleri of Brownstown Township is one of three Democratic House members who are part of the House Oversight Committee. Camilleri vowed to "debunk" conspiracy theories voiced by the former mayor.

“At the end of the day, the main issue is this committee is trying to legitimize the conspiracy theories that we’re hearing from Giuliani and the Trump campaign that have been disproven time and time again," Camilleri said of the Republican-controlled panel.

Camilleri attempted to swear-in Giuliani before his committee appearance. But Republicans overruled his attempt. Committee Chairman Hall labeled the move "shenanigans."

In a statement after the meeting, Hall said the testimony included "abuses of the duplicate ballot and ballot tabulating processes" and "Republican challengers being harassed" at TCF Center.

"I want to stress that today was not about partisan politics, it was a piece of the puzzle as we try to figure out what happened and we will continue to gather more," Hall added.

Camilleri said there remains "no evidence of what Mr. Giuliani and the president claim."

"You can and should have faith in our elections and in your local clerk," the Democrat said. "You can and should have faith that your vote counted and mattered. We can and will rise above this dark moment for our democracy."

Staff Writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed.