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Trump, allies pushed Michigan election claims privately debunked by DOJ

voting
New material and testimony released by a congressional committee reveal that then-President Trump continued to press false accounts about voting integrity in Antrim County after it was known by his administration that the allegations were without merit. (Bridge Michigan file photo)

LANSING— Then-President Donald Trump and his allies publicly repeated claims about Michigan election fraud even after his Department of Justice had privately concluded they were false, according to internal documents and testimony released Thursday. 

A new report from the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee provides an insider account of how a human error in rural northern Michigan captured the attention of Trump, who convened an Oval Office meeting as he encouraged justice department officials to help him overturn the election before he left office.

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Emails and testimony from top Department of Justice and Homeland Security officials confirm Trump urged them to investigate Antrim County voting machines following a "forensic report" released Dec. 14, 2020, as part of a failed lawsuit there more than a month after Trump lost the November election.

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The dubious forensic report was prepared for and later promoted by attorney Matthew DePerno, who is now seeking the Republican nomination for Michigan Secretary of State. 

Among other things, the forensic report — authored by a Texas GOP businessman named Russell Ramsland, who has a history of pushing election manipulation claims — purported a 68-percent error rate in Antrim County voting machines, a finding Ramsland called a "fatal" blow to election integrity. 

At the time, Michigan election officials blasted the report as misinformation, attributing an initial error in Antrim County results as a candidate list programming mistake by the Republican clerk that was quickly fixed. 

The Department of Homeland Security would come to a similar conclusion three days later after a hand recount of paper ballots confirmed Antrim’s official results, according to new documents.

Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani continued to promote the Ramsland report in the following days, however. And claims about Antrim County would later make it into a draft Supreme Court brief that Trump asked the justice department to file, a step senior justice officials ultimately refused to take. 

On the same day a Michigan judge allowed DePerno to publicly release the “forensic report,” Special Assistant to the President and Oval Office Coordinator Molly Michael forwarded it and a set of "Antrim County talking points" to Jeffrey Rosen, who was poised to become Acting Attorney General because Wiliam Barr had announced his pending resignation the previous day.

The report and talking points were "from POTUS" himself, Michael told Rosen, according to a previously released email.

New testimony released Thursday by the congressional committee shows Trump then quickly summoned Rosen and other officials from the Department of Justice and Homeland Security to the Oval Office to discuss the report.

While Election night results suggested Democrat Joe Biden had won the conservative county, Antrim GOP Clerk Sheryl Guy quickly admitted that a “human error” in her office had skewed the vote tallies, which were corrected.

Trump officially won the county with 61 percent of the vote.

But in the Dec. 15 Oval Office meeting, Trump called the Antrim County election a "disaster" and “unbelievable,” asking officials to investigate findings of the Ramsland report, according to a transcript of an interview with Associate Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue.

Administration officials agreed that if there was actually a 68-percent voting machine error rate in Antrim County, it would reflect a “huge problem” nationally because Dominion equipment and software is used across the country, Donoghue recalled in his testimony.

But both Donoghue and Rosen told Senate Judiciary attorneys they advised Trump to take a wait-and-see approach because Michigan uses paper ballots and Antrim was about to begin a hand recount.

While the forensic report sparked a global conspiracy theory alleging Dominion voting machines were rigged against Trump, a claim that some supporters continue to insist, the report turned out to be “unreliable” and “riddled with errors,” according to Donaghue, the Department of Justice official. 

The error rate in the Ramsland report was “totally wrong,” Rosen said in his own interview with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Three days after Trump's Oval Office meeting, Ken Cuccinelli, then the second ranking member of the Department of Homeland Security, sent a "high level" analysis to the Department of Justice that challenged key claims in the Antrim County forensic report. 

By that time, state and Antrim officials had already completed the hand recount, which confirmed the official results and signaled "consistency" with voting machines, the Trump administration analysis said. 

Homeland Security flagged other errors with the Ramsland report: most notably, several claims appeared to be based on a review of a different version of Dominion voting software than the one actually used in Antrim County. That version was, in fact, "incompatible" with the local voting machine system.

Other inconsistencies flagged by Homeland Security included: 

  • The Ramsland Report alleged adjudication logs that would typically detail how any ballot counting errors were resolved were "missing" from the Antrim voting machine system. And the adjudication process, the report warned, is "the simplest way to manipulate votes." But Antrim County does not actually use the adjudication software addressed in the report "and thus has no forensic logs of such systems," Homeland Security concluded. 
  • The Ramsland report alleged other logs showed "a staggering number of votes required adjudication" and suggested that was caused by "intentional errors" in the Antrim system. But those logs actually detailed "common occurrences" that occur with paper ballots, such as write-in votes, damaged ballots and stray marks, according to Homeland Security, which concluded the machines performed as "intended." 
  • The Ramsland report alleged that a "Ranked Choice Voting Algorithm" was enabled on Antrim County machines, which could have been used to "change the overall results." But the version of software used by Antrim County "does not have Ranked Choice Voting capability," according to Homeland Security, which concluded a screenshot cited in the Ramsland report was actually for a different version of Dominion software.

It's not clear if Giuliani saw the Homeland Security analysis, but three days later, Giuliani, acting as Trump’s personal attorney, continued to claim that a "68% ERROR rate found in votes PROVES intentional fraud!"

And nearly two weeks after Homeland Security debunked the Antrim report, Trump urged the Department of Justice to file a draft Supreme Court brief that repeated the Antrim claims, according to the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Among other things, the draft brief that a Trump assistant sent to Rosen, Donoghue and other officials at the president's request cited the "forensic report" from Antrim County, suggesting Dominion machines were "designed to generate an error rate as high as 81.96 percent."

DePerno, who Trump has endorsed in his bid to be Michigan's next attorney general, did not immediately respond to a voicemail or follow-up text message seeking comment on the Homeland Security analysis of the Antrim report. 

Current Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a first-term Democrat who is seeking re-election, criticized her potential Republican opponents for failing to speak out against Trump’s pressure campaign detailed in the new Senate Judiciary documents.

"Trump was unsuccessful in overturning the election last time," Nessel wrote on Twitter late Thursday. "With the help of Republican AGs, he might have more luck in 2024."

To this day, Trump continues to claim the 2020 election was stolen from him and has encouraged state lawmakers to order additional audits of the contest. 

The former president on Friday issued a statement promoting a "big" rally next week at the Michigan Capitol, where he said "Patriots will demand a Forensic Audit of the 2020 Presidential Election Scam."

Trump is not personally expected at the Tuesday event, organized by the "Election Integrity Fund & Force." Announced speakers include DePerno and state Rep. Steve Carra, who Trump has endorsed for Congress.

“Let’s Go, Michigan," Trump said in the statement, "don’t let us down!”

The Senate Judiciary documents released Thursday show, for the first time, the extent to which a faulty report on the Antrim County election influenced Trump’s attempt to overturn his election loss, which culminated with his supporters rioting at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in an attempt to stop Congress and Vice President Mike Pence from accepting the final results. 

The Antrim review by The Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice was never before made public, but it was spearheaded by outgoing Attorney General William Barr, who had already announced his pending resignation after publicly stating there was no evidence of widespread election fraud that changed the outcome of the 2020 election. 

Barr wanted to look into the Antrim report — and other claims from across the country — in a swift fashion because he wanted to “make sure the American people can trust the outcome of this election,” Donoghue said in his Senate Judiciary interview. 

“We made no public statements about it, to my knowledge anyway,” Donoghue said. But the Antrim review “did inform the AG's comments when he later said that we've looked at a lot of these allegations, including the most significant ones.

“And this definitely was a significant allegation.”

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