Chatfield told Trump Antrim 'fraud' conspiracies weren't true: new book

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Then-Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield, a top Republican lawmaker, privately told then-President Donald Trump there was no "mass fraud with the voting machines" in Antrim County, according to a new book on the 2020 election.

The book, "This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden and the Battle for America’s Future," was written by journalists Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns. It debuted May 3.

Then-House speaker Lee Chatfield, left, here with Mike Shirkey in May 2019, privately told then-President Donald Trump there was no "mass fraud with the voting machines" in Antrim County, according to a new book on the 2020 election.

As Trump and his allies attempted to undermine Democrat Joe Biden's victory in Michigan's election, Chatfield, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, and other state lawmakers made a high-profile trip to Washington, D.C., on Nov. 20 to meet with the president.

After the meeting, according to "This Will Not Pass," Chatfield told Ronna McDaniel, a Michigan resident and chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, that he had attempted to persuade Trump that the conspiracy theories about Antrim County were not true.

Shirkey and an attorney for Chatfield didn't immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday about the passage. Chatfield of Levering, who left office because of term limits at the end of 2020, is now facing an investigation into his financial maneuverings and allegations he sexually abused his sister-in-law.

The events of Antrim County's election have become the basis for unproven claims of hacking and doubts about the accuracy of voting machines nationally.

Antrim County's initial election results showed Biden winning the heavily conservative area by more than 3,000 votes with 62% of the overall total.

However, after realizing there were problems with the numbers, Antrim County Clerk Sheryl Guy's office canvassed the election results and reported the official tallies: Trump had actually won the county by more than 3,700 votes, 61%-37%, a 7,000-vote swing from the initial and unofficial numbers.

The incorrect initial tallies were spurred by human errors — the failure to properly update equipment after late changes to the designs of ballots. Without the required updates, the numbers had been jumbled. But Trump supporters have claimed, without proof, there were problems with Dominion Voting Systems software and votes were somehow flipped.

Despite Chatfield's reported statements to Trump, the former president and members of his administration continued to make claims about Antrim County.

On Dec. 14, 2020, Molly Michael, an aide to the president, emailed two documents on Antrim County's election to Deputy Attorney General Jeff Rosen, according to messages previously released by the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform. The subject line of the email from Michael said the information was "from POTUS," referring to the president of the United States.

The attachments included a report on the Antrim County election from an organization called Allied Security Operations Group and a set of "talking points" about the findings.

"A cover-up is happening regarding the voting machines in Michigan," the document shared by the Trump aide said.

Trump went on to endorse Kalamazoo lawyer Matt DePerno, one of the most outspoken critics of the Antrim County election, to become Michigan's next attorney general. DePerno, who represented an Antrim County resident in a lawsuit, had "exposed so much voter fraud in Antrim County," Trump said in a Sept. 16, 2021, statement.

Trump lost Michigan by 154,000 votes or 3 percentage points. A series of court decisions, bipartisan boards of canvassers, more than 200 audits and an investigation by a Republican-led Senate committee have backed up the outcome.

"All compelling theories that sprang forth from the rumors surrounding Antrim County are diminished so significantly as for it to be a complete waste of time to consider them further," the state Senate Oversight Committee wrote in a report in 2021.

In a statement after the November 2020 meeting with Trump in Washington, D.C., Chatfield and Shirkey suggested they used the gathering to focus on COVID-19 relief and not Michigan's election results.

"We have not yet been made aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election in Michigan and, as legislative leaders, we will follow the law and follow the normal process regarding Michigan’s electors, just as we have said throughout this election," Chatfield and Shirkey said at the time.

cmauger@detroitnews.com