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Dana Nessel: Lee Chatfield charging decision coming by year’s end

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel with bookshelf in background
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel says her office will wrap up several public integrity investigations in the next seven months. (Courtesy photo)
  • Dana Nessel promises to conclude major public integrity investigations by the end of 2023
  • Cases involved former House speaker, Senate majority leader, gubernatorial candidates and ‘fake electors’
  • Nessel says her office is making ‘good progress’ on each case

MACKINAC ISLAND — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel says her office is making “good progress” on public integrity and government investigations and plans to decide whether to issue charges by the end of the year. 

The second-term Democrat told Bridge Michigan those cases include a probe into sexual assault and campaign finance allegations against former House Speaker Lee Chatfield and spending by a nonprofit tied to former Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, both Republicans.

The attorney general’s office also plans to wrap up probes into “fake electors” accused of aiding former President Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn his 2020 election loss and a petition signature fraud scandal that kept five Republican gubernatorial candidates off the 2022 ballot. 


“I find the matters that we're investigating to be incredibly important — and that's not to say there will be charges issued or there won't be charges issued — but I think there needs to be a sense of conclusion for the public to know what's occurred,” Nessel said in an interview at the annual Mackinac Policy Conference on Mackinac Island.

“If we charge, of course the facts will be heard in court. If we deny charges, then there'll be a full and comprehensive report.”

Chatfield, who led the GOP-House in 2019 and 2020, has been under criminal investigation since December 2021, when his sister-in-law accused him of sexually assaulting her when she was a teen. 

Authorities later expanded the probe to include an examination of spending by Chatfield’s various campaign, political and nonprofit funds

He has denied criminal wrongdoing. 

Another nonprofit tied to Shirkey — who led the GOP-led Senate from 2019 through 2022 — is accused of breaking Michigan campaign finance laws by failing to disclose fundraising to directly support Unlock Michigan, a petition drive that successfully overturned a law Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used to issue orders early in the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Nessel in January said there was "clear evidence" to support criminal charges against 16 Republicans whose signatures appeared on a 2020 document that purported to be an official certificate awarding the state's presidential electors to Trump despite his 154,188-vote loss to Democrat Joe Biden. 

Nearly six months later, Nessel said her office is still working through the investigative process that she had previously referred to the U.S. Department of Justice. 

Completing the investigation, including interviews with relevant individuals and reviewing “chain of custody” issues, is a “lengthy process,” Nessel said. 

Likewise, it's been more than a year since Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson referred to Nessel's office an alleged signature fraud ring that led to the disqualification of five GOP gubernatorial candidates from the 2022 ballot, including former Detroit Police Chief James Craig and businessman Perry Johnson, who is now running for president. 

“We're not sitting on our hands,” Nessel said. “We're not twiddling our thumbs. My department has been working very, very diligently... We can't rush to judgment, and we have to do our homework.”

Regardless of whether the probes result in charges, Nessel said she believes the investigations will reveal strengths and weaknesses of Michigan’s transparency and public integrity laws and could inform future discussions about reforms. 

Increasing donor and spending transparency for nonprofits that politicians from both major political parties have used to obscure fundraising activities is high on Nessel’s list, she said, suggesting the need for tougher rules to more closely mirror existing rules for campaign accounts.

“Dark money can be incredibly corrosive,” Nessel said. “I think for the purposes of people understanding and knowing what their government is doing, we have to do our best. And I plan to work with the Legislature on this.”

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