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Trump aide shared faulty Antrim claims with Department of Justice: documents

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Members of then-President Donald Trump's administration shared "talking points" and false claims about the election in northern Michigan's Antrim County with federal prosecutors, emails released Tuesday by the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform showed.

The documents revealed the 23,000-person county, where errors by election workers were turned into unsubstantiated theories about software manipulation, was on the minds of top U.S. officials on Dec. 14, the day presidential electors met to cast their votes for Democrat Joe Biden.

Dec. 14 was also the day that Trump announced on social media that U.S. Attorney General William Barr would be stepping down and Deputy Attorney General Jeff Rosen would take over. At 4:57 p.m. Dec. 14, Molly Michael, an aide to the president, emailed two documents on Antrim County's election to Rosen.

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The subject line of the email from Michael said the information was "from POTUS," referring to the president of the United States. The attachments included a report on the Antrim County election from an organization called Allied Security Operations Group and a set of "talking points' about the findings. The "talking points" appeared to be written by the same individuals behind the Allied Security Operation Group report.

The "talking points" document levied unsubstantiated claims about Michigan's election, which Biden won by 154,000 votes or 3 percentage points. Bipartisan boards of canvassers, a series of court rulings and dozens of audits performed by election officials have reinforced the outcome.

"A cover-up is happening regarding the voting machines in Michigan," the document shared by the Trump aide said.

"Michigan cannot certify for Biden," the document added in a section labeled "conclusions." 

Two minutes after the message to Rosen, an official with the Department of Justice sent the documents on Antrim County to Matthew Schneider, U.S. attorney for Michigan's Eastern District, and Andrew Birge, U.S. attorney for the state's Western District.

"See attachments per Rich Donoghue," the message said referring to the man whom Trump tapped to become deputy attorney general when Rosen became acting attorney general.

The Antrim County-related emails were part of a batch of records released Tuesday by the U.S. House committee. The panel's Democratic chairwoman, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, said they showed Trump’s efforts to pressure the Department of Justice to overturn the lawful results of the 2020 presidential election.

"These documents show that President Trump tried to corrupt our nation’s chief law enforcement agency in a brazen attempt to overturn an election that he lost," said Maloney of New York.

The push to undermine the result doesn't change the truth that Michigan's election was the most secure in the state's history, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said in a Tuesday statement.

"The extent of the efforts of current and former elected officials to deceive voters in order to advance partisan and political agendas is appalling and dangerous to our communities, our democracy and our nation," the Democratic official added.

An email from an aide to then-President Donald Trump shares claims about Antrim County's election with Jeff Rosen, then-deputy attorney general. The subject line says, "From POTUS."

Antrim County has been at the center of unsubstantiated claims about the 2020 election after the initial election results in the conservative county had Biden winning there by 3,260 votes with 62% of the overall total. Trump received 36%.

After realizing there were problems with the numbers, Antrim County Clerk Sheryl Guy's office canvassed the election results and reported the official tallies: Trump had won the county by 3,788 votes, 61%-37%, a 7,048-vote swing from the unofficial results.

The incorrect initial tallies were spurred by human errors — the failure to properly prepare equipment after late changes to the ballot designs. Without updates, the numbers were jumbled when they were tallied in unofficial numbers. But Trump supporters have claimed there were problems with Dominion Voting Systems software and votes were flipped.

Dominion's equipment is used in 66 of Michigan's 83 counties, according to the company's website.

The office of Antrim County Clerk Sheryl Guy canvassed the November 2020 election results and corrected the official tallies, which showed President Donald Trump won the county instead of Democrat Joe Biden.

Despite all of the claims, the Michigan Department of State on Dec. 17 released the results of an audit of the presidential results in Antrim County. Trump gained 12 votes, a 0.07% shift from the certified results. The audit was essentially a hand recount of the presidential race for every single ballot in the county.

The shared "talking points" among Trump administration officials repeated a faulty allegation that 68% of the votes in Antrim County had been "switched." That claim was based on a Dec. 13 report from Allied Security Operations Group.

The report gained national attention among conservative media outlets and alleged Dominion software was "intentionally and purposefully designed with inherent errors to create systemic fraud and influence election results."

The opening section of a report from Allied Security Operations Group on Antrim County's election is pictured.

The Allied Security Operations Group report, written by Russell James Ramsland Jr., said the group found an "error rate" of 68% when examining "the tabulation log" of the server for Antrim County.

But University of Michigan expert J. Alex Halderman's analysis said Ramsland arrived at the 68% figure by examining the scanner log of a Nov. 6 rescan of ballots in Central Lake Township, a township in Antrim County. The log included 15,676 lines with Ramsland classifying 10,667 as errors, equaling a 68% "error rate."

But the 68% finding is "meaningless," said Halderman, who is also co-chair of Michigan’s Election Security Advisory Commission and a computer science professor. Scanning a single ballot produces multiple lines in the log, "often including many benign warnings or errors," he said.

On Dec. 14, Michigan election officials publicly blasted the Ramsland report.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel, both Democrats, issued a joint statement calling the report "another in a long stream of misguided, vague and dubious assertions designed to erode public confidence in the November presidential election."

Antrim County Clerk Guy, a Republican, said she was saddened by the efforts to discredit the equipment.

"I did read the report and find that there are many misleading statements that are simply not accurate," Guy said in December.

The "talking points" also repeated claims about a large number of Antrim County ballots being sent to "adjudication."

The adjudication functionality was not enabled at all in Antrim County during the November 2020 election, and Antrim did not purchase the application, Halderman said in his report.

"Far from a 'staggering number' of ballots being adjudicated, the actual number was zero," Halderman said. "Therefore, Mr. Ramsland’s theories are completely inapplicable to the incident in Antrim County."