Trump-backed GOP choose for Michigan AG has been a vocal supporter of election lies. Emails present simply how far he was prepared to go for the trigger

DePerno, who’d filed a lawsuit on behalf of a neighborhood resident claiming voting-machine fraud in Antrim County, greater than 200 miles to the north, despatched the clerk a subpoena demanding entry to her county’s voting gear, election tapes, logs — and ballots, which had been sealed and saved after the election.

“It was completely random,” Pam Palmer, the clerk, advised an lawyer for the county, in a March 17, 2021, electronic mail obtained by CNN by way of a public-records request. In one other electronic mail later the identical day, she added, “He knowledgeable me that I do want to gather the ballots that are underneath seal at this level, and to not be opened for 22 months. He knowledgeable me they are going to be opening the poll baggage & resealing them.”

Palmer is amongst at the least eight county clerks who obtained DePerno’s subpoenas, together with in counties that did not even use the Dominion Voting Programs machines at concern in DePerno’s lawsuit.

DePerno’s subpoenas had been finally rejected by a choose — however his try and get sealed voter ballots helps present how far he is gone to problem the outcomes of the 2020 presidential election.

Former President Donald Trump endorses Matthew DePerno for GOP Michigan attorney general nominee during a rally on April 2, 2022 near Washington, Michigan.
His relentless efforts have landed him on the heart of an investigation by a Michigan particular prosecutor into whether or not DePerno and eight others illegally tampered with voting machines within the state.

And nonetheless, because the Republican nominee to change into Michigan’s lawyer normal, DePerno continues to sow doubts concerning the reliability of voting machines and the election course of amongst voters — and amongst native authorities officers who’ll play a job in certifying this November’s election leads to their cities and counties.

However DePerno’s influence reaches far past Michigan. His authentic false declare — that Dominion machines linked to the web initially flipped conservative Antrim County to Biden in 2020 and that, subsequently, machines equally flipped votes elsewhere — sprouted like a fairy-tale magic bean into calls for for audits and baseless claims of vote fraud throughout the US.

His claims have been repeatedly, completely debunked. However that fairy story continues to stoke calls for that voting machines be scrapped and the vote in November’s midterms be counted by hand. It is cited by MAGA candidates who warn of fraud to return and declare that Democrats can solely win in the event that they cheat.

An attendee holds a sign in support of Matthew DePerno, the Republican nominee for Michigan attorney general, at a GOP convention in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on April 23, 2022.
Ten out of 30 lawyer normal races nationwide — together with DePerno’s bid in Michigan — have an election denier on the poll, based on a latest report by the States United Democracy Middle, a nonpartisan group that works on election points. The group additionally discovered that candidates who deny that Biden received in 2020 might be on this November’s poll in half the races for governor and 44% of the races for secretary of state. In three states — Alabama, Arizona and Michigan — GOP election deniers are operating for all three prime positions.

“What this might result in long run is as a result of that is so divorced from actuality, folks all around the nation believing that any election through which their candidate doesn’t win is stolen,” mentioned David Becker, director of the Middle for Election Innovation and Analysis, a nonpartisan group that works to make sure accessible and safe elections. “And you’ll think about what this does to the material of democracy.”

The ‘fishing expedition’ that had legs

When DePerno despatched the subpoena to Palmer, looking for the voting machines and information, he advised her he was sending a crew to unseal and look at her county’s ballots, based on emails obtained by CNN.

Palmer’s lawyer requested the choose to toss out the subpoena or at the least to require DePerno and his consumer, Invoice Bailey, to “assure that Barry County gear is not going to be altered, broken, or compromised in any method” and “to point out that every particular person on his inspection crew” had correct coaching and credentials to supply the identical assure.

In April 2021, Circuit Court docket Chief Choose Kevin Eisenheimer quashed the subpoenas as a “fishing expedition,” saying that DePerno wanted “greater than mere conjecture, greater than hypothesis,” to help his request. In Might, Eisenheimer dismissed DePerno’s swimsuit.
However that did not finish the trouble. In June, investigators for Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf, a DePerno ally, started questioning township clerks within the county concerning the 2020 election. A name from one nervous clerk led Palmer to confront a deputy and one other investigator on the Carlton Township workplaces — solely to find the investigators had advised clerks to not discuss to at least one one other or to her “as a result of they need the ingredient of shock,” she advised an lawyer for the county, Allan Vander Laan, in a June 14, 2021, electronic mail beforehand reported by The Detroit Information.
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Vander Laan responded, “Are they attempting to get what they may not get by subpoena? Don’t give them information. Don’t permit them entry to ballots.”

“I’m furious!” Palmer wrote. “This can be a fishing try …”

In the meantime, DePerno falsely argued in July 2021 that ElectionSource, an organization doing routine upkeep on Michigan voting gear, deliberate to “destroy election information,” and despatched the corporate a letter threatening a lawsuit, an organization consultant emailed county officers.

DePerno’s “misinformation marketing campaign is harmful not solely to my employees however to your clerks as effectively,” wrote Steve Delongchamp, vice chairman of ElectionSource, in a July 14, 2021, electronic mail to a number of clerks. “Now we have obtained many threatening calls from people that haven’t any idea of how elections work.”

Regardless of initially agreeing to talk to CNN, DePerno finally refused to remark for this story.

DePerno’s historical past with ‘frivolous’ litigation

Lengthy earlier than he dove into the 2020 election fraud claims, DePerno had established a troubling monitor file — from purchasers who sued him for overbilling and malpractice to getting concerned within the years-long case of a Michigan lawmaker concerned in a intercourse scandal, who tried to cowl up an alleged affair with one other legislator.

DePerno’s relentless, litigious strategy to those circumstances and others earned him heavy skilled criticism — which he persistently has denied.

DePerno “is litigious in an pointless method,” mentioned former state Circuit Choose William Buhl, who requested the Michigan Legal professional Grievance Fee to research DePerno in 2016 in relation to the malpractice case. “Most of the issues he raises are frivolous, and other people should undergo the difficulty of answering them … DePerno does it simply as a matter after all, even when there isn’t any advantage to it.”

The grievance fee didn’t make its findings public. DePerno has referred to as Buhl’s accusations “complete nonsense” and claimed the matter was “finally dismissed” by the grievance fee, “accurately,” based on Bridge Michigan.

Even so, his popularity as a no-holds-barred litigator made him a key participant in Antrim County — the place he rapidly helped stoke claims of fraud after the 2020 election.

Antrim County claims had been ‘indefensible’

On election night time in 2020, human error led to early, unofficial outcomes being launched that confirmed Joe Biden forward within the conservative rural county in northern Michigan. The error was rapidly caught and corrected; it did not have an effect on poll tabulation or official outcomes, which confirmed Trump simply profitable the county, based on state officers.
However with Trump having claimed for months that solely fraud might forestall his reelection, he and allies had been fast to leverage the error. Three weeks after the election, DePerno filed a swimsuit alleging vote fraud, putting the blame on Dominion voting machines and asking a state choose to permit him to take pictures of Antrim County vote tabulators.
Michigan GOP leaders encourage rule breaking at poll worker training session
The charade fueled Trump ally and former CEO Patrick Byrne to ship a crew of researchers to the county to dig into the fraud allegations. These researchers rapidly produced a report that claimed Dominion voting machines had been “deliberately and purposefully designed with inherent errors to create systemic fraud and affect election outcomes.”
That report was used as purported proof on a number of authorized fronts: DePerno filed it as an exhibit in his lawsuit and Trump lawyer Sidney Powell cited it in a December 13, 2020, petition to the US Supreme Court docket, as a part of an effort to overturn the election outcomes.
It did not work — and the report was roundly discredited. A GOP-led investigation by the Michigan Senate Oversight Committee in June 2021 referred to as the false Antrim claims “indefensible.” Former US Legal professional Common Invoice Barr testified to the January 6 committee that the report was “amateurish” and mentioned that to consider it, Trump must be “indifferent from actuality.”

Even so, the report on Antrim County has change into foundational to the fiction that Dominion machines across the nation secretly flipped votes — bolstering a number of high-profile makes an attempt to problem the 2020 elections outcomes. Amongst them:

  • Members of Byrnes’ crew who labored with DePerno in Antrim County included Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan, who led the widely-ridiculed audit in Maricopa County, Arizona, that didn’t show any vote fraud. Ben Cotton, one in every of DePerno’s cybersecurity consultants and in addition a part of that audit, testified that “he forensically examined Dominion Democracy Suite voting programs” in Maricopa County, Antrim County, Colorado’s Mesa County, and Georgia’s Espresso County, based on courtroom paperwork.
  • Logan and Jeffrey Lenberg, one other analyst who produced a report filed in DePerno’s Antrim lawsuit, had been filmed getting into the Espresso County, Georgia, election workplaces weeks after a breach into voting gear there that’s now underneath felony investigation. Lenberg claimed this month that he and Logan solely helped “direct” the “testing” of voting programs there.
  • One other member of the Antrim crew, Conan Hayes, is being investigated by the FBI in reference to efforts to achieve improper entry to voting gear in Colorado, based on a subpoena for the cellphone of MyPillow founder and outstanding election denier Mike Lindell.

Logan and Hayes did not reply to CNN’s requests for remark.

DePerno’s aggressive hunt for voting machines after the Antrim report additionally led to bother. On the request of Michigan Legal professional Common Dana Nessel, who faces DePerno in her personal run for reelection, a particular prosecutor was appointed this month to research an alleged felony “conspiracy to unlawfully acquire entry to voting machines” in three Michigan counties by DePerno, Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf, Logan, Cotton, Lenberg and others.

In her letter requesting the particular prosecutor, Nessel alleged that DePerno was “one of many prime instigators of the conspiracy,” which bought clerks to improperly flip over 5 tabulators that Logan, Cotton and Lenberg broke into in DePerno’s presence. A type of tabulators seemed to be featured in a video posted on DePerno’s web site final 12 months.

Stephanie Lambert, an lawyer who can also be named in Nessel’s request for allegedly serving to coordinate a plan to achieve entry to voting tabulators, responded to CNN on Cotton’s behalf. She referred to as Nessel’s request a “political witch hunt,” and mentioned Cotton and the others named within the letter “haven’t violated the regulation.” Lambert mentioned Cotton “has carried out work on the request of my regulation agency.”

Leaf, the sheriff, allegedly persuaded the Irving Township clerk to show over a tabulator to DePerno’s allies. Leaf advised CNN that state authorities took the tabulator earlier than his crew might assessment it, which he mentioned made him “very offended.” A minimum of one in every of Leaf’s deputies additionally filed public-records requests final spring to numerous townships to examine or copy digital drives and vote information from the 2020 election. That led Lori Bourbonais, director of election administration in Michigan’s Bureau of Elections, to remind clerks that absent a courtroom order or warrant, voting gear was to not be turned over to any third events.

As these efforts performed out, DePerno repeatedly touted his supposed Antrim findings not solely on the marketing campaign path however in quite a lot of far-right venues, together with on Steve Bannon’s “Battle Room” program and in appearances with Mike Lindell.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson mentioned she believes DePerno has been a part of a coordinated effort to undermine the validity of the final election and to sow doubt about future elections — with a selected give attention to Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and, after all, Michigan.

“This can be a nationally coordinated effort to attempt to disrupt a democracy that has been occurring since 2020 and is multifaceted and is continuous,” she mentioned, “and I feel will proceed by way of 2024.”

False narrative about voting machines continues

The relentless focus by DePerno, Trump and others on attacking voting machines has created a reality-defying perception throughout the MAGA world: that voting machines cannot be trusted and ballots ought to be counted by hand.

The concept exhibits up in locations like Leelanau County, in northwest Michigan. In August, echoing the doubts repeatedly raised by DePerno, greater than 100 residents petitioned the county board of commissioners to take away “all laptop managed voting machines” until sure circumstances had been met.
The demand adopted months of public debate there. In April, Leelanau County Sheriff Mike Borkovich lent his ethical help to that effort, emailing one in every of its supporters, “I do suppose that fraud occurred in the course of the 2020 Election … I’ve NO MORE FAITH within the DOMINION VOTING MACHINE SYSTEM, and I by no means will from right here ahead.” The e-mail was first reported by the Leelanau Enterprise. Borkovich was elected sheriff in that very same 2020 vote.

A whistleblower holding an envelope.

When, at this month’s board assembly, county clerk Michelle Crocker insisted that county election gear is “protected and safe” and that ballot-counting machines should not linked to the web, one county commissioner instantly rejected that rationalization. “I feel the issue is with the machines,” mentioned commissioner Debra Rushton. “I do not know the way we are able to depend on these outcomes when they’re hooked as much as the system.”

It is not simply Leelanau County. This month, the Macomb County Republican Occasion and a township clerk in Barry County cited DePerno’s claims in asking a federal courtroom to order Michigan’s governor to rerun the 2020 presidential election.
And it goes past Michigan. After the June major in New Mexico, for instance, the Republican-controlled Otero County Fee refused to certify the outcomes, citing worries about Dominion voting machines. Commissioners solely validated the vote underneath courtroom order.
MAGA-leaning teams or candidates have filed lawsuits in at the least half a dozen states looking for to dam using voting machines this November. And in Nevada, Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske issued a short lived regulation Aug. 26 permitting county recorders to depend ballots by hand as a substitute of utilizing machines, at their discretion.

Specialists say hand counting votes isn’t any panacea. Becker, of the Middle for Election Innovation and Analysis, famous that hand counting ballots “will not be solely rather more costly and takes for much longer, nevertheless it’s additionally a lot much less correct than the system we at the moment have in place.”

Notably, each in Georgia and in Arizona’s Maricopa County, hand recounts of the 2020 presidential outcomes confirmed the machine counts, and Biden’s wins. However that does not appear to matter. DePerno’s legacy of doubting voting machines and rejecting the legitimacy of outcomes has taken on a lifetime of its personal, with election-denying GOP candidates throughout the nation claiming the Democrats can solely win by dishonest.

“Greater than half the nation has an Election Denier operating to supervise their elections,” Joanna Lydgate, chief government of States United advised CNN. “If even one in every of these candidates wins in a single state, that is a five-alarm fireplace for our democracy.”

CNN’s Zachary Cohen contributed to this report.

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