Michigan vote machine tampering case heads to trial. Are ‘fake electors’ next?
- Oakland County judge sets spring trial date in 2020 tabulator tampering case
- Lansing judge rejects motion to dismiss charges against fake electors are preliminary exam gets underway
- Both cases are related to former President Donald Trump’s failed attempt to overturn his election loss
LANSING — Loyalists to former President Donald Trump facing charges alleging they tampered with Michigan voting machines after the 2020 election are headed to trial in the spring, and so-called “fake electors" may not be far behind.
An Oakland County judge on Wednesday ordered a March 4 trial for three suspects facing felonies on claims they illegally seized election equipment in a fruitless effort to prove voter fraud: attorneys Matthew DePerno and Stefanie Lambert, along with former state Rep. Diare Rendon, R-Lake City.
Separately, a Lansing judge on Wednesday rejected motions to dismiss felony conspiracy and forgery charges against two of the 15 Republicans accused in the false elector scheme.
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The tabulator tampering hearing in Oakland County lasted less than an hour, with Circuit Judge Jeffrey Matis urging attorneys to file motions in the case prior to a final pre-trial hearing on Feb. 21.
"I want to move this case forward," Matis said repeatedly after rejecting a motion from Lambert to reconsider one of earlier decisions.
Meanwhile, a preliminary exam in the fake electors case stretched for hours and is scheduled to continue Thursday in Lansing, with up to eight additional witnesses expected to testify.
Defendants — including Republican National Committeewoman Kathy Berden and former Michigan GOP Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock — are accused of conspiring to forge a “certificate of votes” that falsely claimed Trump had won Michigan, which would have made them official electors for the state.
They have each pleaded not guilty to eight felony charges, punishable by between five and 14 years in prison if convicted.
‘Brainwashed’ or a ‘witch hunt’?
Judge Kristen Simmons of 54-A District Court on Wednesday rejected attempts by attorneys for Berden and Maddock to immediately dismiss their fake elector cases, questioning the timing of their request and legal basis.
Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel has said she thinks fake electors were “brainwashed” into believing Trump won the 2020 election, which means they could not have intended to commit a crime, argued Maddock attorney Nick Somberg.
But Somberg failed to cite any legal authority that would merit dismissal, Simmons said, asking him: “Do you regularly practice criminal law?”
Maddock declined to discuss specifics of the case but left the courtroom on Wednesday saying prosecutors “look ridiculous” and are conducting “a witch hunt.”
“That’s what it is," Maddock told Bridge Michigan. "I want to stand up and scream it in there.”
Nessel charged the 16 Republicans in July, but her office in October dismissed charges against one of the defendants who had agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
At issue now is whether the other 15 defendants should stand trial. Wednesday's preliminary exam was specific to six defendants: Berden, Maddock, Michele Lundgren, John Haggard, Mari-Ann Henry and Amy Facchinello.
Nessel’s office appears to have a significant ally in the case: attorney Kenneth Chesebro, who authored a November 2020 memo that propelled the Trump campaign’s alternative elector scheme.
Chesebro is reportedly cooperating with Michigan prosecutors and last week provided Nessel's investigators with “extraordinary details” about the failed effort to overturn the 2020 election, according to CNN.
‘Body of the crime’
Prosecutors began Wednesday’s preliminary exam by playing a Dec. 14, 2020, video that showed Capitol police denying entrance to Republican defendants on the day of Michigan’s Electoral College vote.
Also present was attorney Ian Northon, who identified himself in the video as an attorney for the Amistad Project nonprofit but was identified by prosecutors on Wednesday as an “uncharged member of the conspiracy.”
Michigan State Police Capt. Darren Green testified that Northon attempted to hand him an envelope at the Capitol door, but the officer refused it and said he did not know whether there was a forged document inside.
The video showed Northon asking Green to “deliver” the envelope to officials inside, claiming “the GOP electors are also on the governor’s certificate of ascertainment.” He referred to an “official, sealed document.”
Michigan Bureau of Election Director Jonathan Brater testified that he first saw the fake elector certificate through an early January email from the National Archives, which he forwarded to Nessel’s office.
The document appeared to bear the signature of all 15 defendants and falsely claimed they had “convened and organized in the state Capitol” for the Electoral College vote.
The email prompted the state investigation and “shows the attempted forgery and publication of this document” that was sent to the National Archives, said Logan, the state prosecutor. “It’s the body of the crime.”
Defense attorneys suggested their clients may not have known what they signed, or the significance of doing so, noting their names were affixed to a second page but claims about the election outcome were on the first page.
“Would it surprise you that some people might sign a document and not read it?” Mary Chartier, an attorney for defendant John Haggard, asked Brater during cross-examination.
“You have no idea of what Mr. Haggard thought might happen to that document.”
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