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Democrats denounce Trump's attempts to pressure Michigan officials ahead of election certification

Trump pressures Michigan officials in election fight
Trump pressures Michigan officials in electio... 02:20

Washington — President Trump's attempts this week to subvert the will of voters and undo the results of the election in Michigan have left Democrats sounding the alarm that the president, in an unprecedented move, is using the power of his office to intimidate election officials ahead of the state's certification of its election results.

At the root of their concerns is Mr. Trump's meeting Friday with Republican legislative leaders from Michigan, where he and his campaign have made unfounded allegations of election fraud in an attempt to block certification of its election results. President-elect Joe Biden is leading Mr. Trump in the state by more than 154,000 votes.

The president met with Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey at the White House, at his request. At least two more GOP state lawmakers, Senator Tom Barrett and Representative Jason Wentworth, also attended the meeting, a source confirmed to CBS News.

"No matter the party, when you have an opportunity to meet with the President of the United States, of course you take it. I won't apologize for that. In fact, I'm honored to speak with POTUS and proud to meet with him. And I look forward to our conversation," Chatfield tweeted ahead of the gathering at the White House.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany declined to provide details about Mr. Trump's meeting, telling reporters during a press briefing earlier Friday only that it is "not an advocacy meeting" and no one from the Trump campaign will be present.

Chatfield and Shirkey said in a statement following the meeting they gave Mr. Trump a letter requesting additional federal dollars to combat COVID-19. Regarding the election, the Republican state lawmakers said their Senate and House Oversight Committees are reviewing Michigan's elections process.

"We have not yet been made aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election in Michigan and as legislative leaders, we will follow the law and follow the normal process regarding Michigan's electors, just as we have said throughout this election," they said.

The state's certification process, they added, "should be a deliberate process free from threats and intimidation. Allegations of fraudulent behavior should be taken seriously, thoroughly investigated, and if proven, prosecuted to the full extent of the law. And the candidates who win the most votes win elections and Michigan's electoral votes. These are simple truths that should provide confidence in our elections." 

But the move by the president to summon the state officials to Washington has left Democrats warning that Mr. Trump is attempting to pressure them to defy the will of voters and seat their own electors — his electors — to the Electoral College, which gathers next month.

"It's an abuse of office, it's an open attempt to intimidate election officials, it's absolutely appalling," Bob Bauer, a legal adviser to the Biden campaign, told reporters, adding the action by Mr. Trump is "pathetic" and unlikely to be successful.

Bauer also called the efforts by the president to undermine the election "very harmful to the democratic process."

"There is nothing that I can imagine that is more beneath the president of the United States than to be haranguing officials, local officials in the case of Wayne County in Michigan, state level officials in this case, to try to at least give people the impression that there is a possibility that he will still win the election," he said. "It's beyond him."

Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, a Democrat, warned that if Michigan's Board of State Canvassers does not certify its election results when it meets Monday, it would be violating the law.

"Let me be very clear, this goes beyond partisan politics and it's an attempt to subvert our democracy and undermine the will of Michigan voters," Dingell said of Mr. Trump's efforts. "He is attacking the integrity of our elections and unfortunately shaking the very foundation of the pillars of our democracy and that is unacceptable and must be challenged."

Dingell, who succeeded her late husband, longtime Congressman John Dingell, in Michigan's 12th district, said the Republicans should not have accepted the invitation to meet with Mr. Trump.

Exacerbating Democrats' concerns was the revelation that following a meeting by the Wayne County, Michigan, canvassing board Tuesday, when its four members voted to certify its election results, Mr. Trump called its two Republican members. The GOP members, William Hartmann and Monica Palmer, then submitted affidavits saying they opposed certifying the results and attempted to rescind their votes, even though they cannot do so, according to a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. If the county failed to certify, the Board of State Canvassers would have had an extra 10 days to examine issues in the county.

The affidavits were included in a filing by the Trump campaign to a federal court in Michigan on Thursday, in which the campaign voluntarily dismissed a lawsuit that sought to block certification of the election results in Wayne County and statewide.

Hartmann told CBS News that his conversation with the president had no influence on his decision to submit the affidavit. Palmer echoed that sentiment during a press conference on Friday and said Mr. Trump's call was to thank them for their work and asked how they were doing after hours of public comment where Palmer and Hartmann were repeatedly attacked and accused of being racists.

"He thanked me for my service, asked me how I was doing," Palmer said. "There was a genuine concern for my safety with what he had heard, the threats that were coming in."

Palmer said on Friday her vote against certifying the results was due to Detroit's lack of progress in having absentee poll books that balanced the number of recorded and tabulated votes because out-of-balance precincts can't be recounted. While Palmer said she was told by counsel she had to certify the results, she questioned why the board would even have a role if that were the case.  

"If a board of canvassers doesn't have discretion to vote yes or no, why is there even a board of canvassers?" Palmer said. "My intent with my no vote was to make sure that we got answers so the voters of Detroit can have recountable precincts."

While it's been nearly two weeks since Mr. Biden was projected the winner of the presidential race over Mr. Trump, the president has yet to acknowledge his defeat and instead falsely claims millions of illegal votes were cast in the election.

During a stunning news conference at the Republican National Committee on Thursday, lawyers for the Trump campaign, led by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, amplified baseless theories that Democrats stole the election and that the election was rigged.

"We cannot allow these crooks — because that's what they are — to steal an election from the American people," Giuliani said. "They elected Donald Trump; they didn't elect Joe Biden. Joe Biden is in the lead because of the fraudulent ballots, the illegal ballots that were produced and that were allowed to be used after the election was over. Give us an opportunity to prove it in court and we will."

But the Trump campaign has suffered a string of defeats in nearly every lawsuit it has brought in battleground states where they are contesting the results of the election.

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