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Pro-Trump elector didn't suspect false election docs were illegal

Meshawn Maddock in courtroom
Meshawn Maddock, right, and co-defendant Michele Lundgren talk briefly during a December 2023 hearing in Lansing’s 54-A District Court. Both face felony charges alleging they forged documents in a failed effort to keep former President Donald Trump in the White House. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)
  • Pro-Trump elector James Renner says he was told false certificate declaring Trump the winner of Michigan in 2020 was an ‘appropriate process’
  • Renner agreed to cooperate with Attorney General’s Office, felony charges against him were dropped 
  • Testimony came in preliminary examination to determine whether six of 15 fake electors will go to trial on felony charges

The 16 people who signed documents falsely claiming Donald Trump won Michigan’s 2020 electoral votes were informed they were approving an “alternate slate” of Republican electors — but one of them told a Lansing courtroom Wednesday he wasn’t aware he might be committing a crime. 

Pro-Trump elector James Renner offered details Wednesday about what transpired during a Dec. 14, 2020 meeting at the center of a criminal complaint alleging the group forged official election documents with the “intent to defraud” the certification process.


Renner, who has served as a state GOP precinct delegate and volunteer, was asked to step in that day for another person who didn’t show. So far, he is the only false elector who agreed to cooperate with the Attorney General’s Office in exchange for dropping felony charges. 

He said the group met at the Michigan Republican Party headquarters in Lansing to sign documents. They posed for a photo before meeting at the Radisson hotel in downtown Lansing and then walked to the state Capitol in an attempt to deliver the documents to the Senate. The group was blocked from entering the building. 


Under questioning, Renner said he and others in the group were told “this was an appropriate process” that could result in lawmakers considering an alternate Republican slate of candidates alongside the Democratic slate, despite official election results showing President Joe Biden won the state by 154,188 votes. 

If he’d suspected what they were doing wasn’t above board, Renner said he “would have challenged it.” 

"My background was enforcing the law, not breaking the law," said Renner, who worked for the Michigan State Police in the 1970s. 

Renner’s testimony came as part of an ongoing preliminary examination that will determine whether six of the 15 false electors still facing charges — including former Michigan Republican Party Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock and Republican National Committeewoman Kathy Berden — will proceed to trial. 

Additional hearing dates, as well as preliminary examinations for others charged in the case, will take place later this spring. 

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, announced felony charges against the GOP defendants in July 2023. They are accused of forging an official election document with the "intent to defraud" before the 2020 contest was certified on Jan. 6, 2021, and face forgery-related charges punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

False electors in Georgia and Nevada are also facing charges.

Defendants in the Michigan case contend they did not intend to commit any crime and thought they were offering a backup in case disputes over the election results were successful. 

In previous testimony, former Michigan Republican Party Chair Laura Cox said she tried to “put the brakes" on the plot to keep Trump in office and proposed an alternative ceremony to honor the GOP elector nominees, as well as a pledge to cast Electoral College votes for Donald Trump "if the election was overturned."

On Tuesday, Troy Hudson, then-political director of the state Republican Party, confirmed that gathering happened and that a handful of Trump campaign operatives were in the building, but said he wasn’t present for the entire meeting and left before the document at issue in the case was signed.  

In addition to Renner, District Court Judge Kristen Simmons has heard from former GOP officials, law enforcement and representatives of the Office of the Federal Register and the U.S. Senate who acknowledged receipt of false documents.


Prosecutors have also offered social media posts and other public comments made by the false electors as evidence. 

Dan Schwager, who previously served as general counsel for the Secretary of the U.S. Senate, told the courtroom earlier this week that a fake certificate was delivered to the U.S. Senate — but never formally recognized — before the election was certified on Jan. 6, 2021.

That document was received by the Senate, Schwager said, but had obvious discrepancies from the official Certificate of Votes signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and stamped with the state seal. Schwager acknowledged that lawmakers or Vice President Mike Pence could have asked for the false certificate to be considered, but none did so.    

The pro-Trump certificate “was not an authorized Certificate of Votes,” Schwager said. “It was a fake.”

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