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Records: Sheriff aimed to seize local voting machines amid Michigan probe

Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf sought to seize voting machines in three local communities last month (Bridge file photo)
  • Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf sought to seize voting machines in three local communities last month
  • Local prosecutor refused to sign off on the warrants
  • Leaf is a suspect in state probe over vote machine tampering

LANSING — A rural Michigan sheriff sought search warrants to seize local voting equipment last month even as he was under investigation by the state for suspected tabulator tampering in the wake of the 2020 presidential election.

Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf, who failed to win local prosecutor’s approval for the warrants, aimed to search government offices in Woodland Township and Irving Township, along with the county clerk's office, according to July requests obtained by Bridge Michigan through a Freedom of Information Act request. 

Leaf, a Republican and self-described "constitutional sheriff," has frustrated local officials with his ongoing question to prove former President Donald Trump's unsubstantiated claims the 2020 election was rigged in favor of Democratic winner Joe Biden. 

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Leaf is one of nine individuals referred to a special prosecutor by Attorney General Dana Nessel following an investigation into unauthorized voting tabulator tampering in three jurisdictions, including Irving Township. 

The state probe expanded into Barry County in late April, when police raided Irving Township Hall and seized a tabulator after an "unpermitted individual" was allowed to access the machine.

The search warrant requests, released to Bridge by the Barry County prosecutor's office, show Leaf sought court approval to access the Irving Township tabulator in July, months after the alleged breach. 

But they also revealed new attempts by Leaf to access voting equipment in Woodland Township and the office of Barry County Clerk Pam Palmer, a Republican who has criticized Leaf. She  was not immediately available for comment on Wednesday evening. 

In each request, Leaf said he was seeking "evidence of the crime of election law violations." 

The documents show he wanted to seize "components of voting and election equipment," including tabulators, poll books, election reporting modules and paper ballots from the 2020 election, along with keys to unlock the devices and any USB or electronic thumb drives used to download data from the machines.

His goal, Leaf indicated, was to have the voting equipment "forensically examined" by someone "who is certified and trained to conduct data extractions." 

Bridge Michigan requested the search warrants in July and received copies Wednesday. The documents were first released to Reuters on Tuesday.

Barry County Prosecutor Julie Nakfoor Pratt's office declined to release information from accompanying affidavits that would show what evidence Leaf presented to her as he sought her authorization for the search warrants. 

In an interview last month, Pratt said she refused to sign off on the requested warrants because Leaf had not established "probable cause" to conduct the searches. 

"There just wasn't anything in there that amounted to any fraud that I could see," she told Bridge.

Pratt's office said Wednesday it would not release the search warrant affidavits because doing so could compromise Leaf's ongoing investigation.

Information from the affidavits could "allow other witnesses to tailor their testimony to comport with or contradict prior witness interviews" and "thwart police objectives of accurate investigation," Pratt's office said.

Bridge was unable to reach Leaf late Wednesday.

No one answered the "police services" line prominently listed on the Barry County Sheriff's Office website, and Leaf's official departmental voicemail was full. 

While she refused to sign off on the search warrants, Pratt said last month that Leaf technically did not need her blessing and could instead ask a judge to authorize the searches. It does not appear he has done so.

"I go by the four corners of the search warrant," Pratt said, noting her review was limited to the evidence Leaf presented. "It's not my job to investigate. It's his job."

Leaf addressed the denial last month, calling the prosecutor’s decision "ridiculous" in a speech at a Las Vegas conference organized by the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, 

“We think we have enough for search warrants and everything else,” Leaf said during the conference, which also featured speeches from Trump loyalists like My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell. “We're gonna keep moving forward, folks. We’re not done with this.”

As Bridge reported last year, Leaf first considered seizing voting machines just weeks after the 2020 election, a plan an attorney working for him discussed with key Trump allies, including attorney Sidney Powell and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

The sheriff’s nearly two-year investigation has suffered several setbacks, however.

A Michigan Court of Claims judge on Monday dismissed most claims in a lawsuit Leaf had filed alleging state authorities meddled in his probe by interviewing and "intimidating" a deputy as part of their own tabulator tampering investigation. 

Leaf had filed suit in June, urging the court to stop the state from "usurping and interfering" with his investigation into the 2020 election. At the time, he called state police an "unaccountable strong arm" of Nessel, a Democrat who is up for re-election in November.

State police were actually investigating an alleged vote tabulator tampering scheme that Leaf is suspected of participating in.

Leaf never responded to summary motions for disposition filed this month by state attorneys, who had chided his "conspiracy-fueled" investigation as they sought to dismiss the case over procedural errors. 

As a result, Court of Claims Judge Douglas Shapiro dismissed Leaf's claims against Michigan State Police, Nessel and Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

Leaf's lawyer vowed to continue fighting the case, however. 

Attorney Stefanie Lambert, also referred to a special prosecutor as a result of the state’s tabulator tampering probe, said Monday that Leaf would be filing an amended court complaint "in light of newly obtained evidence."

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