Craig says he wants 'to be defined as James Craig, not Donald Trump'

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Birmingham — Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, who is exploring a Republican campaign for Michigan governor, says he would accept Donald Trump's endorsement if offered but he wants to be defined as himself, not the former president.

Craig, who is expected to pursue the GOP nomination for governor, made his first extended remarks on Trump Monday during a press conference in Birmingham that focused on law enforcement policy.

“If the president gives me his endorsement, I’ll accept it," Craig told reporters. "But I want to be defined as James Craig, not Donald Trump. I am looking ahead to 2022.”

Craig is one of nine Michigan Republicans who have formed fundraising committees to run for governor next year. The winner of the August 2022 primary will take on Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in her reelection bid.

Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig answers questions from the media after his meeting with (from left) Mike Bouchard, Oakland County sheriff, Mike Murphy, Livingston County sheriff, Mike Shea, Gladwin County sheriff, Jason Wentworth, speaker of the House, Lena Epstein, supporter, Kim Cole, Mason County sheriff and former House Speaker, Tom Leonard, top members of his Law Enforcement Action Team (LEAT) on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021.

Trump, who remains popular within the Michigan GOP, is expected to be a potentially influential figure in the battleground state's primary race. The former president has maintained that he lost his 2020 campaign to Democrat Joe Biden because of election fraud, claims that remain unproven.

Asked if he believed the election was stolen from Trump, Craig said he didn't have information on whether there was evidence to back up the assertions.

“I am a cop. … If there was evidence, if there was a proper investigation that the election was stolen … I don’t have that information," the former police chief said.

“But what I do certainly support is election integrity," he continued.

Craig said he supports a requirement that people show identification in order to vote. Currently, under Michigan law, in-person voters can sign an affidavit saying they don't have their ID with them and still cast a ballot.

He made the comments Monday afternoon after a meeting with law enforcement officials and GOP lawmakers in downtown Birmingham. The group had a policy discussion in private for about an hour inside a room with glass walls.

Reporters sat outside the meeting room and could watch but weren't able to hear the discussion. The Michigan Democratic Party said in a statement that Craig had shown a "brazen disregard for local press."

Asked about the closed-off talks, Craig said he's for transparency.

"There's no secrets in that room," he said.

After the meeting, Craig addressed the media and took questions for about 25 minutes, his first formal question-and-answer session with a group of reporters since retiring as Detroit police chief on June 1 to pursue his potential campaign.

Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, (second from right), holds a meeting with top members of his Law Enforcement Action Team (LEAT) on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021.

Participants in Craig's law enforcement meeting Monday included House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard and state Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte.

Craig said the group talked about the idea that defendants are being treated more like victims now. The voice of "real victims" is not being heard, the former chief said.

Former House Speaker Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt, who many expect to run for attorney general in 2022, and former U.S. House candidate Lena Epstein, who has been floated as a potential GOP secretary of state nominee, were also present at the event.

"Today is about standing with our law enforcement, standing with Chief Craig and this task force," Leonard said when asked about his potential campaign.

Leonard lost to Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel in 2018 by 3 percentage points.

cmauger@detroitnews.com