Michigan AG Dana Nessel refers GOP electors review to federal prosecutors
Lansing — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said Thursday she referred to federal prosecutors a probe into Republicans who signed and submitted a certificate falsely claiming Donald Trump won Michigan's electoral votes.
The revelation demonstrated the potential seriousness and ongoing nature of the investigation and could have repercussions throughout state politics, as the 16 Republicans in question, include high-ranking members of the state GOP, like Co-Chairwoman Meshawn Maddock.
During an appearance on MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show," Nessel announced the case's referral to the U.S. attorney's office for the Western District of Michigan. The Democratic attorney general specifically suggested forgery charges could be considered and said the GOP electors in Michigan seemed to be part of a "coordinated effort." Similar certificates were created by Republicans in a handful of other battleground states.
"Under state law, I think clearly you have forgery of a public record, which is a 14-year offense, and election law forgery, which is a five-year offense," Nessel said during the appearance.
Sixteen Michigan Republicans, who supported Donald Trump for president, signed an inaccurate and unofficial "certificate of the votes of the 2020 electors from Michigan."
Democrat Joe Biden won Michigan by 154,000 votes or 3 percentage points, a result that's been upheld by a series of court rulings, more than 200 audits and an investigation by the GOP-controlled state Senate Oversight Committee.
On Dec. 14, 2020, Michigan's 16 presidential electors met inside the state Capitol to officially cast their ballots for Biden. A group of Republicans, including some of the GOP electors, attempted to enter the building, after meeting at party headquarters, but were blocked by the Michigan State Police.
According to a Dec. 14, 2020, memorandum, obtained by The Detroit News, Kathy Berden, a Republican national committeewoman from Michigan, sent the GOP electors certificate to the U.S. Senate, the U.S. archivist, Benson's office and Robert Jonker, the chief judge of U.S. District Court for Michigan's Western District.
The 16 Michigan Republicans who signed the certificate inaccurately claimed they were the "duly elected and qualified electors" for Michigan. They also stated that they "convened and organized" in the state Capitol, which they did not.
Among the Republicans who signed the document were Berden, Maddock, Shelby Township Clerk Stan Grot and the party's grassroots vice chairwoman, Marian Sheridan. Maddock was elected the party's co-chair in February 2021 after signing the claimed certificate.
"Sending more than one slate of electors is not unheard of," Maddock said on Facebook at the time. "It’s our duty to the people of Michigan and to the U.S. Constitution to send another slate of electors if the election is in controversy or dispute — and clearly it is."
Nessel's spokeswoman, Lynsey Mukomel, said Thursday evening that after "thorough review," the office determined it would be best to refer the electors matter to federal authorities for further investigation. Nessel said state charges were still possible.
The Michigan Republican Party blasted Nessel's comments in a Friday statement, saying she had the information for a year.
"This is nothing more than political prosecution of convenience led by Dana Nessel," said Gustavo Portela, communications director for the state GOP. "Dana Nessel is playing political games with people’s lives and livelihoods for the sake of scoring political points ahead of an election."
The Detroit News first reported Monday that the subject was part of an ongoing probe by Nessel's office more than a year after the events of Dec. 14, 2020. The Michigan electors have also drawn the attention of the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th attack on the United States Capitol.
Staff for the U.S. House committee asked questions on Nov. 30 of Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and her office's employees about the 2020 election and "events leading up to Jan. 6," Benson's spokeswoman, Tracy Wimmer, confirmed last month.
On Dec. 3, after the session, Michael Brady, chief legal director for Benson, emailed a message about the GOP certificate to Daniel George, senior investigative counsel for the committee.
In the email, Brady said it was "the only correspondence we were able to find on the topic of the so-called 'alternate slate of electors.'"
"The documents sent to the committee were done so following testimony provided by Secretary Benson and staff, as they provided additional context for questions answered during the conversation," Wimmer added Monday.
In an interview Monday morning, Berden said she had not been contacted by the U.S. House's committee. Asked why the group submitted the certificate, she responded, "I can’t comment on anything like that. That was a long time ago."
One provision of the Michigan Election Law bans "forgery," which it defines as knowingly making or filing "a false document with the intent to defraud.
On Thursday, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee advanced to the full Senate the nomination of Mark Totten to serve as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Michigan.
Biden announced his selection of Totten in November. Totten served as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's chief legal counsel since 2019.
Staff Writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed.