Michigan‘s attorney general on Tuesday criminally charged 16 so-called “fake electors” for former President Donald Trump, accusing them of a fraudulent effort to reverse President Joe Biden‘s victory in the state’s 2020 election.
The 16 people each face eight charges, including conspiracy, election law forgery, and uttering and publishing, state Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a video announcement.
Nessel called the alleged plan a “desperate effort” to “undermine democracy.” Several of the accused are active in Republican politics.
Nessel has not ruled out potential criminal charges against additional defendants, her office said.
The case is the first time that any members of fake Electoral College slates for Trump have been criminally charged.
Nessel’s announcement also came hours after Trump said that Department of Justice special counsel Jack Smith has designated him a target in a federal criminal probe of attempts to undo the ex-president’s loss in 2020.
Smith’s investigation is focused on, among other things, the attempted use of fake Electoral College slates to thwart Biden’s victory.
The alleged Michigan scheme
On Dec. 14, 2020, weeks after Biden defeated Trump by more than 154,000 votes in Michigan, the defendants met covertly in the basement of the state GOP headquarters and signed documents claiming to be the legally qualified electors for the state in the Electoral College, according to Nessel.
“That was a lie,” Nessel said. “They weren’t the duly elected and qualified electors, and each of the defendants knew it.”
After that meeting, “some of the false electors attempted to enter the state Capitol and deliver their fabricated electoral votes to the Senate floor, but were turned away,” she said.
The bogus electoral documents were then sent to the U.S. Senate and the National Archives “with the intent that Vice President Mike Pence would overturn the results of the election using the false electoral slate,” Nessel said.
Nessel said the defendants are: Kathy Berden, Rose Rook, Mayra Rodriguez, William “Hank” Choate, Meshawn Maddock, Mari-Ann Henry, John Haggard, Clifford Frost, Kent Vanderwood, Stanley Grot, Marian Sheridan, Timothy King, James Renner, Michel Lundgren, Amy Facchinello and Ken Thompson.
The charges announced Tuesday have maximum possible prison sentences of up to 14 years. The defendants have been given a week to surrender on the charges, said Nessel, whose office said the investigation is continuing.
CNN reported in early 2021 that Maddock, the co-chair of the Michigan Republican Party was heard on an audio recording at a public event as saying, “We fought to seat the electors. The Trump campaign asked us to do that.”
Nessel on Tuesday noted that three days before the fake electors met and signed the fraudulent documents, the U.S. Supreme Court had dismissed a lawsuit by the state of Texas challenging the election results in Michigan, as well as in Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
Other states under scrutiny
Michigan’s 16 Electoral College votes helped provide Biden with his margin of victory against Trump.
The Electoral College, not the popular vote, determines the winners of presidential elections.
Allies of Trump in Michigan and several other states, arguing falsely that he was the victim of widespread ballot fraud, assembled would-be slates of Electoral College members with an eye toward asking then-Vice President Pence to accept the slates as valid.
In addition to Michigan, the so-called alternate electors’ slates came from Arizona, Georgia, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Pence, as part of his constitutional duties, presided over a joint session of Congress that began meeting Jan. 6, 2021, to certify Biden’s victory in the Electoral College.
Pence rejected a push by Trump, and Trump’s lawyer John Eastman, to accept the then-president’s electors in states Biden won. The proceeding was disrupted by the invasion of the U.S. Capitol by a violent mob of Trump supporters, causing Pence and members of Congress to flee and hide.
“The evidence will demonstrate there was no legal authority for the false electors to purport to act as ‘duly elected presidential electors’ and execute the false electoral documents,” Nessel said Tuesday.
“Every serious challenge to the election had been denied, dismissed, or otherwise rejected by the time the false electors convened,” Nessel said. “There was no legitimate legal avenue or plausible use of such a document or an alternative slate of electors.”
Last summer, an Atlanta prosecutor told all 16 people who acted as fake electors in Georgia were targets of her criminal probe of Trump and his allies for their attempt to undo Biden’s victory in that state.
At least half of those Georgia fake electors since have reached immunity deals with the prosecutor, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, according to a court filing in May.