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Charging documents reveal how Michigan attorney general built case against fake 2020 electors

CBS News Detroit Digital Brief for July 21, 2023
CBS News Detroit Digital Brief for July 21, 2023 02:49

(CNN) - Newly released charging documents provide fresh insights into how the Michigan attorney general built a criminal case against the fake GOP electors who tried to subvert the Electoral College process after the 2020 election.

The group of 16 Republicans were charged this week with state felonies for signing certificates falsely proclaiming that former President Donald Trump won the election in Michigan, and claiming they were the rightful presidential electors. None of defendants have entered a plea, but several have said they don't think they did anything wrong. Arraignments in the case are scheduled for August 10 in Lansing.

Investigators interviewed several Michigan Republican Party officials who were present when the group met at GOP's state headquarters in Lansing to sign the certificates on December 14, 2020, according to an affidavit filed by an investigator from the Michigan attorney general's office.

"False electors were told no recording equipment was permitted inside. They asked the candidates to surrender their cell phones to prevent recording of the incident," the investigator wrote in the filings, describing what he learned from interviews with Michigan GOP officials.

Prosecutors also got a search warrant for the phone of Republican National Committee member Kathy Berden, who served as a fake elector. The filings cite Berden's text messages from 2020 with another fake elector, complaining about the social media postings of a third fake elector.

A forensic scientist with the Michigan State Police also scrutinized the signatures on a fake election certificate, comparing them to the "known signatures" for the fake electors. The forensic specialist "confirmed" that the signatures were accurate, investigators said in court filings.

Investigators tried to demonstrate in the charging documents that the fake electors allegedly knew they were breaking the law - which might be critical for prosecutors to win convictions.

"The candidates for elector and the MIGOP leadership knew prior to their meeting on December 14 2020, there was no legal reason to create an alternate slate of electors," the affidavit said.

Fake electors were likely "following media coverage" of the election, investigators wrote.

At the time, the GOP leaders of the Michigan state legislature publicly announced "there was no evidence of voter fraud sufficient to affect the results," the filing points out. Also, the charging documents mention that three fake electors were plaintiffs in a frivolous election lawsuit that was rejected by a federal judge, who blasted their attempt "to ignore the will of millions of voters."

The filings indicate that investigators reviewed evidence from the House select committee that investigated the January 6, 2021, insurrection. They cite a House deposition from fake elector Mayra Rodriguez, who said a Trump campaign aide spoke to the group during their signing ceremony.

CNN has reached out to the 16 individuals for comment about the case.

Arraignments next month
The arraignments will take place on August 10 at the Ingham County District Court, located in Lansing.

Ingham County District Judge Kristen Simmons has been assigned to preside over the cases, court records indicate. She was appointed in 2019 by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, according to her biography. She previously worked in various roles in state law enforcement, as well as a prosecutor and public defender in Lansing.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, the Democrat who brought the charges, said the fake electors "undermined the public's faith in the integrity of our elections" and were an attempt "to upend our Constitution and our nation's traditions of representative government."

After the charges were announced, several of the defendants have accused Nessel of weaponizing the justice system to go after political opponents. Other have said they didn't realize what they were doing in 2020 was possibly illegal.

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