Skip to main content
Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Your source for Michigan news in 2023 and beyond

Bridge Michigan’s year-end fundraising campaign is happening now! We have big plans for 2023, including holding elected officials accountable for promises on the campaign trail, following the latest developments in public health, the Great Lakes, K-12 and post-secondary education, helping you understand and prepare for a turbulent economy and much more. Will you help us achieve these goals? Your tax-deductible support makes it possible!

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Pay with PayPal Donate

Sheriff Dar Leaf: Michigan is trying to thwart my probe into 2020 election

Dar Leaf
Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf is among a handful of self-described "constitutional sheriffs" in Michigan who contend they are the highest level of governmental authority. (Photo courtesy of Chris duMond)

LANSING — A "constitutional sheriff" who has spent nearly two years investigating the 2020 election now finds himself on the other end of an ongoing investigation by Michigan State Police.

In a lawsuit filed late Friday, Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf disclosed that state authorities have tried to subpoena and interview a deputy working on his investigation.

Sponsor

The police questioned the deputy as part of a separate probe into allegations that loyalists of former President Donald Trump tampered with voting machines after the 2020 election, according to the suit.

Related:

Police "have contacted and/or are in the process of contacting other deputies and agents," an attorney for the Republican sheriff wrote, alleging state and possibly federal authorities are trying to interview, "intimidate" and "confiscate protected materials and information in their possession."

Leaf's lawsuit seeks a court order to stop state authorities from "usurping and interfering" with his investigation, and alleges the Michigan State Police is an "unaccountable strong arm" of state government that Attorney General Dana 

Nessel, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and other Democrats have used to "bully” and “harass” his office.

Spokespersons for Nessel and the Michigan State Police declined comment on Leaf's lawsuit and a Detroit News report that the sheriff and his attorney, Stefanie Lambert, are “subjects” of the state probe. 

State Police spokesperson Shannon Banner declined comment, citing an “ongoing investigation involving a voting tabulator that began in Roscommon County.”. 

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

It's not clear if Leaf is linked to that unauthorized access, but his attorney claims in the new lawsuit filed in the Court of Claims that the Irving Township equipment was a "subject" of the sheriff's own probe into the 2020 election. 

"At approximately the same time" state police seized the equipment, authorities contacted Leaf's deputy and tried to force him to disclose details of the county probe, his attorney wrote. 

As Bridge Michigan first reported, Leaf considered seizing voting machines in Barry County following the 2020 presidential election, a plan an attorney working for him discussed with key Trump allies, including attorney Sidney Powell and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

Trump’s own Department of Justice said there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud, but Trump lashed out at Michigan Senate Republicans who spent months investigating the election and came to the same conclusion, assuring voters they can trust the results.

Leaf's new lawsuit was filed by Lambert, another attorney he has worked with before. 

Like Powell, Lambert was sanctioned last year by a federal judge for her role in a "frivolous" lawsuit that sought to overturn Michigan's 2020 election, a punishment now on appeal. 

Leaf could not be reached by phone Monday and did not respond to an email from Bridge Michigan. Lambert did not immediately respond to a request for comment but said in the lawsuit it was Leaf’s “duty” to “investigate and ferret out potential criminal activity, including violations of state and federal election laws.”

Leaf’s lengthy investigation has frustrated local officials in Barry County, a largely rural area that Trump dominated in 2020. Election clerks, including Republicans, contend there were no problems with local elections but have nonetheless been grilled by a private investigator enlisted by Leaf. 

More recently, Leaf's office has issued broad subpoenas to local clerks seeking 2020 election data, including copies of electronic poll books, "cast vote" records and a state database known as the Qualified Voter File. 

In a Hastings Township public records request obtained by Bridge Michigan, Sheriff Deputy Mark Noteboom said the election records were for a "criminal investigation" and should not be redacted. The request also asked officials to waive any processing fees because the records were for his "own personal use."

If it's a personal request, Leaf or his deputy should pay for the processing out of his own pocket rather than use taxpayer funds, said Barry County Clerk Pam Palmer, a Republican.

"This whole thing has been certified and on the shelf for months," Palmer told Bridge, referring to the 2020 election.

While at least one local clerk provided Leaf with information his deputy sought, Hastings officials denied the records request, saying it sought disclosure of exempt software and “should have never been filed.”

Instead, Hastings Supervisor Jim Brown sent Leaf a bill for $1,309, asking him to pay the full costs of the attorney the township hired to review the public records request. 

"We suggest you and your office concentrate on the law enforcement duties that our taxpayers elected you to do," Brown, a fellow Republican, told Leaf in a May 18 letter. 

Leaf is "wasting our taxpayers money" on the election investigation, Brown told Bridge Michigan in a phone interview. 

The sheriff should be "looking after some of the other situations ... in the county, everything from drugs to murders to God knows what," Brown added. 

It’s the latest in a series of complaints from local officials, who questioned Leaf’s motivations last summer when he enlisted a private investigator to question election clerks but would not disclose who was paying for those services.

“I just answered questions (from the investigator),” Hastings Township Clerk Anita Mennell, a Republican, told Bridge Michigan in a recent interview. 

“He came back a couple times, and I answered more questions. But as far as I'm concerned, I'm done talking about that election.”

Sponsor

Leaf is among a handful of self-described "constitutional sheriffs" in Michigan who contend they are the highest level of governmental authority and have the power or duty to defy or disregard laws that they find unconstitutional.

His lawsuit alleges the state is undermining that authority by interfering in his election fraud probe.

“These aforementioned actions, among others to be further revealed, are a direct, unconstitutional usurpation of and encroachment upon Plaintiff’s common-law and statutory powers and duties as a Constitutional Sheriff under Michigan Constitution, statutory law, and jurisprudence,” Lambert wrote.

We're not just a news organization, we're also your neighbors

We’ve been there for you with daily Michigan COVID-19 news; reporting on the emergence of the virus, daily numbers with our tracker and dashboard, exploding unemployment, and we finally were able to report on mass vaccine distribution. We report because the news impacts all of us. Will you please support our nonprofit newsroom?

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Pay with PayPal Donate Now