Michigan AG alleges conspiracy by Trump supporters to break into voting materials

Aug 8 (Reuters) – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel alleges his Republican political opponent in the November election orchestrated a conspiracy with a state lawmaker and a lawyer to break into voting materials in a evidence hunt to prove former President Donald Trump’s fake voter. – claims for fraud.

The accusation that Nessel’s Republican challenger Matt DePerno was involved in a potential crime is outlined in a motion filed by Nessel, a Democrat, seeking the appointment of a special prosecutor to continue the investigation. The petition notes that DePerno emerged as “one of the primary instigators of the conspiracy”, creating a conflict of interest for his office to pursue the case.

Reuters exclusively reported on Sunday that DePerno led a team that gained unauthorized access to voting materials in Richfield Township. The news agency linked the Trump-backed Republican candidate to the incident by matching the serial number of the compromised machine to a photograph in a report DePerno submitted in an unsuccessful lawsuit alleging voter fraud.

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The Richfield tabulator is among five such machines that the Attorney General says were accessed without permission, including a separate incident in County Roscommon and other violations in Missaukee County’s Lake Township and the Irving Township of Barry County. The incidents occurred between early March and late June 2021, the attorney general said.

DePerno did not respond to requests for comment, but said on Twitter that Nessel’s investigation was politically motivated. His tweet included a call for fundraising for donations to help him “fight back”.

“My opponent has called for my arrest for the ‘crime’ of investigating voter fraud in 2020,” DePerno said in a tweet. His campaign called Nessel’s actions “unethical” in a statement.

Nessel declined a request for an interview and his director of communications, Amber McCann, did not respond to questions about when DePerno became a suspect in his investigation and why the office did not request a special prosecutor sooner. . McCann said in a statement that the office is “reviewing the facts and following the evidence” during investigations.

It is still unclear when the conflict of interest arose. DePerno announced his candidacy against Nessel in July 2021 and received the Republican Party’s endorsement in April. Nessel announced its investigation into voting violations in February.

The investigation into a Republican attorney general nominee in a violation of the voting system comes amid a nationwide effort by supporters of Trump’s stolen election lies to win state offices that could prove key in deciding future disputed elections.

Nessel’s petition says DePerno conspired to illegally access voting equipment with Republican state Rep. Daire Rendon and Stefanie Lambert, a lawyer who helped high-level Trump allies file an ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit. aimed at nullifying Michigan’s election results. The trio “orchestrated a coordinated plan to access vote tabulators” in three township offices and one county office, the petition says. In one instance, Rendon allegedly told the County Roscommon Clerk, incorrectly, that the state House of Representatives was investigating voter fraud.

The machines were taken to “hotels and/or AIRBNBs” in Oakland County, metro Detroit. There, technical experts “broke into the tabulators and performed ‘tests’ on the equipment,” the petition states. In at least one instance, the petition notes, DePerno “was present in a hotel room during these ‘tests’.”

Rendon and Lambert did not respond to requests for comment.

The attorney general’s motion lists a range of crimes that could be prosecuted, including malicious destruction of property, fraudulent computer access and conspiracy. A conspiracy charge could carry a sentence of up to five years in prison under Michigan state law.

The attorney general’s petition said his office had sought approval of the criminal charges from the state’s Criminal Trial and Appeals Division. The office has requested that a special prosecutor take over the processing of this request and any subsequent prosecution. The Prosecutors Coordinating Council, an autonomous entity within the Attorney General’s office, will decide whether a special prosecutor is warranted.

Nessel’s petition also names Dar Leaf, the sheriff of rural Barry County, as a participant in the scheme, alleging that he asked the Irving Township Clerk to cooperate with “investigators” involved in the plot. In a story last month, Reuters detailed the alleged involvement of Leaf, a far-right supporter of Trump’s stolen election lies and a prominent figure in the extremist “constitutional sheriff” movement. He said in an interview that no one in his department was involved in taking the tabulator, nor did he authorize anyone to do so.

Leaf did not respond to a request for comment on Nessel’s allegations.

The technical team that reviewed voting materials removed from government offices included James Penrose, a former National Security Agency analyst who aided prominent Trump allies in their efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, according to the attorney general’s petition. It also included Doug Logan, head of Cyber ​​Ninjas, the now-defunct firm hired to conduct a widely criticized partisan audit of the 2020 voting results in Maricopa County, Arizona. Computer security consultant Jeff Lenberg and Ben Cotton, founder of digital forensics firm CyFIR LLC, also participated in the examination of the machines.

Penrose, Lenbert and Cotton all worked with DePerno on his lawsuit alleging voter fraud in Michigan’s County Antrim. None responded to requests for comment. Logan also did not respond to a request for comment.

Nessel’s petition names all four members of the technical team as targets of possible charges, as well as DePerno, Rendon, Lambert and Leaf, the sheriff of Barry County. Another person named as a target is Ann Howard, a Michigan lawyer who allegedly coordinated the printing of fake ballots to be run through the tabulators during their review.

Howard declined to comment.

Nessel’s allegations mark a dramatic turn in an investigation the attorney general launched in February at the request of Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, who had received information about at least two of the violations. Benson, a Democrat, said in a statement to Reuters: “There must be consequences for those who broke the law to undermine our elections to advance their own political agendas.”

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Reporting by Peter Eisler and Nathan Layne; edited by Brian Thevenot

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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