GOP nominee for Michigan AG named in election security breach probe

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Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) is seeking the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the Republican candidate for his post after a state police investigation found evidence he helped orchestrating an effort last year to gain unauthorized access to voting materials in an effort to prove fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

In a petition filed Friday with a Michigan agency that coordinates prosecutors and posted online Sunday by Politico, a representative for Nessel wrote that her office had a conflict of interest because a preliminary investigation by state police has determined that his opponent – ​​attorney Matthew DePerno – was “a key instigator” of a conspiracy to convince Michigan employees to allow unauthorized access to voting machines.

She called for an independent prosecutor to be appointed to review the investigation and determine whether to bring criminal charges against DePerno and eight others. They include a Michigan state representative and a county sheriff, as well as other key figures in the election denier movement.

Tyson Shepard, DePerno’s campaign manager, told the Detroit News that Nessel had “a history of targeting and persecuting his political enemies.”

“Dana Nessel knows she’s losing this race,” Shepard told the News, which also reported the petition. “She is desperate to win this election at all costs and is now targeting DePerno, her political opponent. Her actions are unethical and will further demonstrate to voters that she is unfit for office.

State police have been investigating since February efforts by supporters of former President Donald Trump to convince Michigan employees to give them access to voting software and tabulating machines, so they can review to prove fraud took place in 2020. According to Nessel’s petition, DePerno and two others, including a Michigan state representative, “orchestrated a coordinated plan to access” the equipment in four communities from Michigan.

According to the petition, tabulators were taken to hotel rooms and Airbnb rentals in Oakland County, where a group of four men “broke” into tabulators and performed “tests” on them. The petition states that DePerno was present in a hotel room during some of the tests.

DePerno has been a leading election denier in Michigan since shortly after the 2020 election, filing a lawsuit challenging the results in County Antrim over an error quickly corrected by the county clerk which led the heavily Republican county to report a victory for Joe Biden. .

During this trial, DePerno persuaded a judge to allow an examination of the Dominion of Antrim’s voting machines in early December 2020. This examination produced a so-called “medico-legal report” claiming that the machines of the Dominion had been rigged to reverse votes from Trump to Biden. And although the central demands of the report was immediately debunked by the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, Trump presented it as evidence of fraud in the run-up to the attack on the Capitol on January 6.

Former Attorney General William P. Barr recalled that Trump called the report “absolute proof that the Dominion machines were rigged,” according to an excerpt from Barr’s deposition released during a House committee hearing on Tuesday. January 6. in June. Barr recalled that Trump said the report “means I’m going to get a second term.”

Barr said the report was “amateur” and that Trump would have to be “detached from reality” to believe it.

According to the petition filed on Nessel’s behalf, the state police investigation found that DePerno was aided in his efforts by Michigan State Rep. Daire Rendon (R), who told a clerk local that the Michigan House of Representatives was investigating voter fraud. . Others named in Nessel’s petition are Sheriff Dar Leaf — the sheriff of Barry County, Michigan — as well as two people who played key roles in a GOP-commissioned effort to review the Arizona election results l ‘last year. Rendon and Leaf did not respond to requests for comment Sunday night.

Mark Brewer, a Michigan election lawyer who previously served as the state’s Democratic Party chairman, called the action “unprecedented and historic.” I don’t recall a previous candidate for Attorney General being investigated.

Election experts have been sounding the alarm for months over a series of efforts across the country by Trump allies to review or copy closely guarded voting materials to look for evidence of fraud during polls. 2020 elections. They fear that outsiders have compromised sensitive tabulators or are releasing details about the workings of voting machines and software that would facilitate fraud in the future.

In some episodes that became public, third parties persuaded sympathetic election officials to help. Tina Peters, a local Colorado clerk, was indicted in March for her part in a successful effort to allow outsiders to copy hard drives from voting machines in her county. She denied wrongdoing.

An election supervisor embraced conspiracy theories. Officials say she has become an insider threat.

In Georgia, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to help investigate allegations that Trump allies working with local election officials illegally copied voting materials in Coffee County. in 2021, his lawyers revealed in a document filed in court last week.

Nessel’s chief deputy on Friday wrote a letter to Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D), urging Benson to remind election clerks of their legal obligation to carefully guard voting materials. It is a crime under state law to have “undue possession” of a voting machine, she wrote in the letter, obtained by The Washington Post.

In a statement, Benson said, “There must be consequences for those who broke the law to undermine our elections in order to advance their own political agendas.” She said her office would work to ensure that local clerks are “equipped with a full understanding of the legal protections in place to prevent bad actors from pressuring them to access secure election systems.”

The letter to the secretary of state included an account of state police findings on a concerted effort to persuade clerks to turn over carefully guarded voting materials to unauthorized strangers — and botched efforts to return the materials once that the clerks were becoming suspicious. According to the letter, the Michigan State Police investigation has now determined that “a group of individuals gained unauthorized and compromised access to tabulators” in four communities between March and June of last year. .

In each case, the clerks were contacted by a person identified in the letter only as “Person 1”, who said he was investigating suspected fraud and requested access to the machines. In some cases, clerks were also contacted by a state official who is not named in the letter but, according to the petition, appears to be Rendon.

The representative told Michelle Stevenson, County Roscommon’s clerk, that state officials were “investigating voter fraud and needed his voting machine”. Stevenson then handed a tabulator and several thumb drives to “Person 1” on a Sunday in March 2021, according to the letter. She refused to hand over a computer containing the hard drive of the electoral system, but allowed several people to make a copy.

Chief Deputy Attorney General Christina M. Grossi wrote that in Irving Township, “Person 1” told City Clerk Sharon Olson that he was acting on behalf of the Barry County Sheriff’s Office. According to the letter, Olson gave ‘Person 1’ a tabulator that was used in the 2020 presidential election in March 2021. Reuters reported that the sheriff’s office asked Olson to give the equipment to an investigator private, within the framework of an election. probe this sheet, the sheriff, claimed that his law enforcement role allowed him to undertake.

According to the letter, the clerks were told that their equipment would be returned within days and “got scared” when that was not the case. Stevenson began lobbying the state representative for several weeks to find out where the County Roscommon tabulator was. “The rep told her not to worry about tabulators because she was doing the right thing and they had her back. She further informed the clerk that her name would never be mentioned,” Grossi wrote.

The County Roscommon voting equipment was eventually returned to Stevenson in April 2021, Grossi wrote, a transfer that took place in the carpool lot of an interstate outing. A tabulator that had been taken from another community, Lake City Township, was returned to the city clerk in September 2021 at a local mall.

In his letter, Grossi noted that the tabulators in question had already been decommissioned and were not being used for Michigan’s primary elections, which took place this month. Technicians employed by ES&S, the company that makes the equipment, examined the tabulators as part of the state police investigation, she wrote. They discovered that one of the five tabulators had been subjected to “significant physical alteration”, but they did not believe that any software had been tampered with.

“We view the actions of these individuals as very serious, but we do not believe that these actions undermine the integrity of the recent primary elections on August 2,” she wrote.

Patrick Marley contributed to this report.

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