Former President Trump issues letter trying to sway Michigan race for attorney general

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Former President Donald Trump escalated his involvement in Michigan's 2022 election Sunday, releasing a letter that praised Matthew DePerno, his pick to be the state's next attorney general, and blasted DePerno's Republican opponent Tom Leonard.

In the two-page message that was addressed to Michigan Republican delegates, Trump labeled Leonard, a former speaker of the state House, "an absolute embarrassment to the GOP." Trump himself once nominated Leonard to be U.S. attorney for the Western District of Michigan.

Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

The former president has endorsed DePerno to be the GOP nominee for attorney general. DePerno, a Kalamazoo lawyer who's worked to discredit the 2020 election results, is in a three-person race with Leonard and state Rep. Ryan Berman, R-Commerce Township.

On April 23, Republican delegates will meet to endorse a nominee — an event that could be an indicator of the strength of Trump's influence. The winner of the GOP nomination will take on Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel in the fall.

Trump's letter demonstrates his emphasis on the contest to be the battleground state's top law enforcement official and the fight over the future of the Michigan GOP. Trump said he's "fully invested" in Michigan in 2022.

The attorney general race is expected to be close in November. In 2018, Leonard lost to Nessel by less than 3 percentage points.

"Tom Leonard represents the loser mentality of all the RINOs (Republicans in name only) who did nothing about the massive voter fraud and Democrat cheating in 2020," Trump wrote in his letter. "Leonard has been part of the establishment for 20 years."

The "only way to end the left's destruction," Trump wrote, is to ensure DePerno is on the ballot in November. Republicans won't turn out in big numbers for Leonard, the ex-president contended.

In response, Leonard noted that he's been involved in Michigan GOP politics and worked with delegates for years. He was the state party's finance chairman before launching his attorney general campaign.

"They know who who I am, and they know the truth," Leonard said of delegates. "That is why we are so far out in the lead and the DePerno campaign is getting desperate. I'm focused on uniting this party, holding Dana Nessel accountable for her record and winning in November."

Trump criticized Leonard for failing to cut income taxes and pass auto insurance reform while he was speaker in 2017 and 2018. It was Leonard's "failure to secure our elections that allowed so much fraud in the 2020 election," Trump argued.

Former Speaker of the House Tom Leonard answers a question from a reporter about his candidacy for state attorney general in the next election on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021 after meeting with former Detroit police chief James Craig.

Trump lost Michigan's 2020 election by 154,000 votes or 3 percentage points to Democrat Joe Biden. The result has been upheld by a series of court rulings, more than 200 audits and an investigation by the Republican-controlled state Senate Oversight Committee.

DePerno rose to prominence by leading a lawsuit in northern Michigan's Antrim County claiming election fraud occurred there. Biden won the conservative county in preliminary numbers, but Trump was victorious after human errors were identified that jumbled the tallies and the numbers were corrected for the certified results.

DePerno has clashed with some Michigan Republicans who've stressed the need to move on from the 2020 election. The Senate Oversight Committee labeled DePerno's Antrim County claims "demonstrably false and based on misleading information and illogical conclusions" in a June report.

But Trump called himself a "big fan" of DePerno in his letter.

"He is the fighter we all need to take Michigan back from Democrats, having led the charge in calling out the obvious voter fraud in the 2020 election when nobody else would," Trump added.

The letter was dated Monday, Feb. 21, six days before it was released by Trump's team.

Trump previously agreed to host and participate in a fundraiser for DePerno that will take place in Florida on March 8, DePerno's campaign has said.

In 2019, then-President Trump nominated Leonard to be U.S. attorney for the Western District. But the nomination crumbled after opposition from Michigan's Democratic U.S. senators, Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters.