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Matthew DePerno: Dana Nessel’s election probe worthy of Saddam Hussein

Kristina Karamo and Matthew DePerno on a stage
The presumptive Republican attorney general nominee was endorsed by delegates in April, but still faces a formal nominating convention later this month. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)

Sept. 8: Muskegon prosecutor to consider charges in DePerno tabulator tampering case
Aug. 15: Report: Trump allies sought election data in Antrim, Wayne counties

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s calls for a special prosecutor to review possible criminal charges against rival Matthew DePerno haven’t slowed his campaign — and instead could motivate Republicans to rally around him, observers say.

A petition filed Friday requesting a special prosecutor from the office of Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel claims DePerno, fellow attorney Stefanie Lambert Juntilla and state Rep. Daire Rendon, R-Lake City, “orchestrated a coordinated plan to gain access” to voting machines in multiple jurisdictions following the 2020 presidential election.

DePerno, a Portage lawyer,  is the presumptive Republican nominee for attorney general following a competitive endorsement process in April. His nomination won’t be official until it’s confirmed at the Michigan Republican Party convention on Aug. 27.

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Since Nessel’s request, Macomb County GOP Chair Eric Castiglia said he’s getting “calls like crazy” from people who were previously not involved and now want to help DePerno.

“They just feel it's a ploy to stifle their voice, and they're strongly opposed and want to get to convention,” he said, adding, “People that didn't want to do anything are calling me, ‘Tell me where to go. Tell me what to do.’”

Nessel is a first-term Democrat seeking reelection in November. She cannot comment on the case because it is "still an open investigation," Nessel's office said Monday morning. 

There’s no set timeline for when the special prosecutor request would be fully reviewed, but it could take months, meaning the request could be in limbo until soon before the Nov. 8 election.

According to the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan, the process largely depends on the complexities of the case and available resources, noting complicated cases “have taken upwards of 60 to 90 days, or more.” 

DePerno denied the allegations, and his campaign quickly mobilized to raise money off the  request from Nessel’s office, sending emails to supporters saying her actions “would make Saddam Hussein blush” and her probe is “graver than Pearl Harbor or 9/11.”

During a Monday interview on Michigan’s Big Show, DePerno claimed the timing of the allegations was a strategic effort to influence the outcome of county and statewide GOP conventions coming up this month and accused Nessel of “weaponizing her office.” 

“She’s trying to damage me right now, clearly,” DePerno said on the show. “We have county conventions coming up Thursday. We have the state convention at the end of August. She knows right now that she’s losing.” 

DePerno became a national figure in the "stop the steal" movement and a favorite of former President Donald Trump after filing a lawsuit challenging election results in northern Michigan’s Antrim County.

DePerno’s path to the Republican attorney general endorsement was rocky — he barely prevailed over former state House Speaker Tom Leonard, the party’s 2018 attorney general nominee, and state Rep. Ryan Berman, R-Commerce Township. 

At the time, Leonard conceded the race, but Berman was hesitant to drop out before the August nominating convention, telling reporters “there’s a good chance” DePerno could lose his law license or face criminal charges before then.

In addition to seeking a special prosecutor, Nessel’s office also referred the case to the Attorney Grievance Commission, which investigates allegations of impropriety against lawyers.

On Monday, some critics questioned DePerno’s fitness for office. Former Michigan Chamber of Commerce CEO Rich Studley on Monday called DePerno a “weak and ineffective candidate who shouldn’t have been nominated” and said he should withdraw if the allegations have merit. 

GOP co-chair Meshawn Maddock — who bucked party precedent by endorsing DePerno and Secretary of State candidate Kristina Karamo prior to the endorsement convention — came to DePerno’s defense.

“Instead of going after actual criminals, Dana Nessel is hell bent on going after her political opponents,” Maddock wrote on Twitter. “It’s clear we’ve struck a chord.” 

The vote machine probe from Nessel’s office began in February, before DePerno won the Michigan GOP's endorsement convention with backing from former Trump. 

During the probe, "facts were developed that DePerno was one of the prime instigators of the conspiracy," assistant attorney general Danielle Hagaman-Clark wrote in the Friday petition to the Michigan Prosecuting Attorneys Coordinating Council.

The petition noted that Nessel has a conflict of interest in the case because DePerno is her likely opponent in November.

At issue are voting machines used in the 2020 presidential election, and potentially criminal attempts to access those machines to try and prove Trump's unsubstantiated claims that voter fraud cost him that year's contest.

The investigation concluded that DePerno, Rendon and Juntilla were part of a group that  "gained unauthorized access and compromised tabulators" in Roscommon County, Richfield Township, Lake Township and Irving Township between March and June of 2021, Chief Deputy Attorney General Christina Grossi disclosed in a Friday letter to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. 

Other alleged conspirators include Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf, Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan, Ben Cotton, Jeff Lenberg, Ann Howard and James Penrose, according to the petition for special prosecutor. 

Rendon was not working with House Republicans when she purported to be investigating for the Legislature, GOP spokesperson Gideon D'Assandro told Bridge Michigan on Monday.

House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Clare, does not plan to take any immediate action against Rendon, who chairs the House Insurance Committee, according to D'Assandro: "The speaker will let the legal process play out and review any new developments as the information comes out."

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, in a statement called for consequences for anyone “who broke the law to undermine our elections in order to advance their own political agendas.”

“I’m thankful to Attorney General Nessel for conducting this investigation into the tampering of our secure voting machines and referring the case for prosecution,” she said. 

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