Michigan election critic says he's running for attorney general

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Attorney Matthew DePerno, whom Michigan Senate Republicans accused of spreading "demonstrably false" information about the 2020 election, says he's launching a campaign for attorney general.

DePerno announced his bid at about 1 a.m. Thursday morning in a press release. The Kalamazoo lawyer has led litigation over the vote in conservative Antrim County, where human errors by election workers initially and incorrectly showed Democrat Joe Biden as the county's winner.

Matthew DePerno

"DePerno will engage in impartial criminal investigations and will follow and enforce the law," his press release said. "He is committed to being a servant of the people in the role of Michigan state attorney general."

DePerno's press release didn't specify his party affiliation, but conservative radio host Randy Bishop, who interviewed him Thursday morning, said DePerno is seeking the GOP nomination. He hasn't yet formed an official campaign committee, according to state records. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, is expected to run for reelection in 2022.

DePerno's possible candidacy would be welcomed by the wing of the Michigan Republican Party that remains focused on the integrity of the 2020 election, which Donald Trump lost by 154,000 votes in the state to Biden. But other Republicans would see his entry into the race as a problem, forcing the party to continue debating unproven and divisive claims about voter fraud.

In response to DePerno's announcement, Nessel tweeted a clip of a garbage bin floated in flood waters while a fire was ablaze inside the container.

"Current status of @MIGOP," Nessel said.

DePerno described Nessel's response as "juvenile."

"You are the chief law enforcement official in the state who uses her police power to threaten opponents," he said. "Do better."

Last week, DePerno discussed his potential campaign for the state's top law enforcement position during an appearance on the podcast of Steve Bannon, the former political strategist for Trump. The interview came a day after Nessel's office said it would investigate individuals who spread false information about the election for their own financial gain.

DePerno, who has raised money to support legal efforts involving the election and has been criticized by the GOP-controlled Senate Oversight Committee, is speculated to be among Nessel's possible targets.

"The real reason Dana Nessel is doing this is she's heard that I'm talking to other people about running for attorney general," DePerno told Bannon. "This is a political hit."

DePerno has gained notoriety for his involvement in a court case that challenged the election results in northern Michigan's Antrim County, a GOP stronghold, where initial results showed Biden winning the day after the election. The incorrect initial tallies were because of human errors that were quickly identified — the failure to properly update election equipment after the ballot designs were changed.

After the county clerk's office re-examined and retallied the numbers, officials found that Trump had won the county by 3,788 votes, 61%-37%, a 7,048-vote swing from the unofficial results. The changing numbers led to a wave of conspiracy theories about Dominion Voting Systems, the technology used to tabulate votes in the 23,000-person county.

DePerno has repeatedly claimed there was fraud in the election, becoming a frequent guest on conservative news channels. In a filing earlier this year, DePerno wrote there is a "strong presumption of ballot stuffing." That claim, like others in the case, has not been proven. A hand count of the presidential race for every single ballot in Antrim County showed Trump gaining 12 votes, a 0.07% shift from the certified results.

The Michigan lawyer has repeatedly claimed the equipment used to count votes in Antrim County had been compromised. The Republican-controlled Senate Oversight Committee rejected his assertions in its report on the election last month.

"The committee closely followed Mr. DePerno’s efforts and can confidently conclude they are demonstrably false and based on misleading information and illogical conclusions," the panel's report said.

The committee recommended that Nessel investigate individuals who pushed false claims "to raise money or publicity for their own ends."

In 2019, Washtenaw County Circuit Judge Timothy Connors dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed by former state Rep. Todd Courser, R-Lapeer, and DePerno against The Detroit News and ordered Courser and DePerno to pay $79,701.63 in sanctions related to the suit. In May, Courser and DePerno agreed to pay The News $20,000 in a settlement agreement. 

Nessel was first elected in 2018, defeating then-state House Speaker Tom Leonard, a Republican from DeWitt by 3 percentage points. Leonard, Macomb County Prosecutor Pete Lucido and Matthew Schneider, former U.S. attorney for Michigan's Eastern District, are among the potential GOP candidates for attorney general next year.