Attorney General Nessel: 'Absolutely' enough evidence to charge GOP electors

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said she believes there's "absolutely" enough evidence to bring criminal charges against 16 Republicans who signed a certificate falsely claiming to be the state's presidential electors in December 2020.

Nessel, a Democrat and the state's top law enforcement official, made the comment during a Tuesday press briefing. For now, she said, she decided to refer the investigation to federal prosecutors because of jurisdictional reasons. But she didn't rule out bringing charges at the state level in the future.

"I can't comment on the investigation at this point," Nessel said when asked if any of the GOP electors were cooperating with her probe. "I will say that, again, I feel confident that we have enough evidence to charge should we decide to pursue that."

A group of Republican electors walks toward the Michigan State Capitol to try to  gain entry to cast their ballots in Lansing, Mich., on Dec. 14, 2020.

Democrat Joe Biden won Michigan's 2020 presidential election over Republican Donald Trump by 154,000 votes or 3 percentage points. The outcome was certified by the Board of State Canvassers on Nov. 23, 2020, meaning the 16 electoral votes went to Biden under state law.

However, on Dec. 14, 2020, as the 16 Democratic presidential electors met inside the state Capitol to officially cast their votes, 16 Republicans met at state GOP headquarters to sign a certificate, claiming to cast votes for Trump.

The Republicans who signed the document, including Michigan Republican Party Co-Chairwoman Meshawn Maddock and the state's Republican national committeewoman, Kathy Berden, inaccurately claimed they were the "duly elected and qualified electors," according to their certificate.

They sent the certificate to the National Archives as part of an attempt in multiple states to impede Biden's victory before the country's electoral votes were counted and certified during a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, 2021.

Nessel has said charges related to forgery of a public record and election law forgery could be brought against the GOP electors. She described the situation as a "crime" and "election fraud" on Tuesday.

Michigan Republicans have accused her of playing politics.

“This is nothing more than political prosecution of convenience led by Dana Nessel," said Gustavo Portela, the state GOP's communications director. "Dana Nessel is playing political games with people’s lives and livelihoods for the sake of scoring political points ahead of an election."

Nessel announced last week that she referred the investigation to the U.S. attorney's office for the Western District of Michigan. Federal authorities will be better able to examine if there was a multi-state conspiracy involving the electors' certificates, Nessel said.

"The jurisdictional issues create a lot of problems," she said of her office's ability to investigate individuals residing outside of Michigan.

The attorney general also suggested that she could be a witness in the probe because she attended the true Electoral College ceremony inside the state Capitol.

As part of their inaccurate certificate, the GOP electors claimed to have "convened and organized in the state Capitol, in the city of Lansing, Michigan" at 2 p.m. on Dec. 14, 2020, which they didn't. A group of them attempted to enter the building on Dec. 14, 2020, but Michigan State Police troopers refused to allow them inside.

Despite the referral, Nessel repeated that her office could still bring charges against the GOP electors.

"Not bringing charges immediately does not mean that charges will never be brought if we're talking about the state," Nessel said. "But for all of the reasons I have stated, I think it's so important to get some better understanding of how all of this came about."

Some of the GOP electors have previously defended their actions on Dec. 14, 2020, arguing there were doubts about the accuracy of the election's results.

"Sending more than one slate of electors is not unheard of," Maddock said on Facebook in December 2020. "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."

cmauger@detroitnews.com