Michigan AG seeks special prosecutor in case now involving its Trump-backed opponent

The petition was formally addressed to the Michigan Prosecutors Coordinating Council, an autonomous state agency. In it, Nessel’s office says DePerno — who has been a central figure in promoting Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen — was present in an Oakland County hotel room at the beginning of 2021, during which tabulators were tampered with. According to those involved in the investigation, this is one of multiple pieces of evidence linking DePerno to the violation of multiple voting machines.

As it became apparent that DePerno was the subject of the investigation, Nessel’s office decided to request a special prosecutor in order to try to avoid the appearance of political motivation, according to the request.

“When this investigation began, there was no conflict of interest. However, during the investigation, facts were developed that DePerno was a primary instigator of the conspiracy,” the petition reads. “A conflict arises when ‘the prosecutor has a personal (financial or emotional) interest in the litigation,'” he says.

POLITICO has reached out to DePerno for comment. Reuters described the charges against DePerno earlier on Sunday evening.

DePerno is expected to formally receive the GOP nomination for attorney general later this month after gain approval party delegates in April. Michigan law makes it a five-year felony for a person to “obtain wrongful possession of a voting machine used in an election,” according to the letter.

Nessel’s request for a special prosecutor is the latest chapter in a political and legal saga that has spawned numerous conspiracy theories, cast doubt on the election and could impact elections in key battleground states. of 2024.

DePerno led a November 2020 trial against County Antrim, in the state, for an election night tabulation error that was quickly corrected, but which Trump and his allies seized on to claim the entire presidential election was fraudulent. Among the evidence Nessel’s office said it uncovered were digital IDs matching the seized voting machines that DePerno used as evidence in that ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit.

From Perno raised hundreds of thousands of dollars as he continued the trial, and his false claims about Antrim ended up in a draft executive order from Trump to the White House ordering the military to seize voting machines nationwide. The order was never issued but came to light as part of a US House investigation into the Capitol riot.

The claims about Antrim have also led to a now debunked report alleging irregularities in voting machines. This report has been included as evidence in several unsuccessful lawsuits challenging elections in Michigan and other swing states. Hundreds of county audits statewide have found no evidence of “technical manipulation” of voting machines, as DePerno had alleged.

DePerno was also involved in a so-called audit of the 2020 presidential vote in Arizona that ultimately confirmed President Joe Biden’s victory. During the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, he encountered with a senior Trump official to the State Department to discuss “how the election was stolen”.

Trump, in return, showered DePerno with his support. He endorsed his campaign for attorney general almost a year ago. In March he hosted a fundraiser for DePerno at his residence in Mar-a-Lago and puzzled for him in Michigan a month later.

“We need him” Trump said in March, alleging “scheming” in Michigan’s election. “He’s someone who can fix it. There aren’t many people around who can do it,” he said. “I convinced him to do it.”

“Internal Threats”

The new allegations against DePerno come as election security experts have raised questions about whether individuals involved in Trump’s campaign plots could pose “insider threats” or abuse their positions of authority in the upcoming election. In addition to DePerno, many other Trump-endorsed candidates have won GOP primaries in key battleground states like Arizona and Nevadapositioning themselves to potentially oversee elections and related law enforcement activities.

So far, there have been at least eight known attempts to gain unauthorized access to voting systems in five states, according to a Reuters survey. This includes Colorado, where Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters faces multiple felony charges for his alleged role in allowing unauthorized individuals to break into his county’s electoral system in search of evidence of conspiracy theories.

In addition to requesting a special prosecutor, Nessel also sent a summary of the initial findings to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

“We have requested the appointment of a Special Prosecutor (“SPA”) to review the case for the issuance of possible criminal charges against several of those involved. We consider the actions of these people to be very serious,” Nessel wrote in the letter, also obtained by POLITICO.

Since last weekend, DePerno always had a link on his law firm’s website to a May 2021 interview he gave to the conservative One America News Network featuring “a systems vulnerability expert” using a red tape-covered tabulator to demonstrate how votes could be reversed. It is unclear from the video if this was one of the compromised machines. The attorney general’s office declined to comment.

Sequence of events

Nessel’s investigation began in February of this year after the Secretary of State asked her office and the Michigan State Police to review reports that tabulation machines and hard drives from data was allegedly unlawfully accessed by an anonymous third party in County Roscommon.

At the time, Trump supporters in the state alleged that state-ordered upgrades to the voting system or maintenance of voting machines could erase potential evidence of alleged fraud in the 2020 election. Access to these machines, they argued, could have helped them prove these claims.

Over time, the Attorney General’s investigation expanded and law enforcement eventually determined that a group of individuals had indeed gained unauthorized access to machines in multiple counties.

In the summary of findings, the Attorney General repeatedly refers to successful overtures made by “Person 1” to county clerks to obtain vote tabulators, software and USB drives, claiming they were necessary for a investigation “on electoral fraud”. It’s not clear from the summary who Person 1 is.

“At the time the tabulators were obtained, Person 1 assured each separate clerk that they would be returned in just a few days,” the summary reads. He goes on to quote at least one clerk, County Roscommon Clerk Michelle Stevenson, who began to question the motive and authority of those who obtained the vote tabulator after weeks passed and the equipment has not been returned.

Days after the tabs were finally returned to Roscommon’s clerk in early April 2021, DePerno issued a subpoena to Verizon seeking more detailed information about the tabs. This subpoena included the modem ID numbers of two tabulators from Richfield Township and one from County Roscommon.

A representative from the company that makes the machines, Election Systems & Software, confirmed to the attorney general’s office that the only way to get those ID numbers would be to “break the security seals and physically remove the exterior panels.” . says the letter.

ES&S also confirmed to the Attorney General that it found no evidence of the resulting manipulation of the software or firmware. All of the tabulators involved were decommissioned ahead of the Aug. 2 primary election and are being held as evidence for a special prosecutor.

Alleged co-conspirators

DePerno wasn’t the only person listed in Nessel’s summary of his office’s findings. She also referred Stefanie Lambert, who was on record as DePerno’s sole shareholderto the special prosecutor.

Others made reference to the special prosecutor, including Michigan State Rep. Daire Rendon, who was also involved in a conspiracy to advance a fake slate Republican presidential voters falsely claiming that Trump won Michigan. It is alleged by Nessel’s office that DePerno, Lambert and Rendon “orchestrated” the effort to obtain and access the tabulator. Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf, who is conducting his own “voter fraud investigation” after reviewing documents from Trump-allied MyPillow CEO Michael Lindell, is also on the list referred to the special prosecutor.

Sheet tried to enlist other “constitutional sheriffs” seize Dominion voting machines. Lambert was part of a legal team that filed court-dismissed lawsuits challenging the 2020 election. Lambert and his co-lawyers, including attorney Sidney Powell, were also sanctioned by a federal judge for a failed legal attempt to overturn Michigan’s election results. Trump had sought to appoint Powell as a special adviser to investigate voter fraud and seize voting machines.

Michigan has been the epicenter of some of the fiercest fights over 2020 election certification, with Trump personally contact a member of the Detroit Canvassing Council and even summoning members of the Michigan GOP State Legislature in the Oval Office.

In his letter to Benson, Nessel urged that more education be provided to all state clerks “outlining their legal obligation to safeguard election materials,” including asking for identification from “anyone claiming being a law enforcement officer and seeking to inspect or seize election materials”. .”

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