Michigan attorney general charges 16 Trump-backing fake electors in scheme to overturn 2020 election

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has announced criminal charges against 16 people who signed certificates falsely declaring that Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election, part of a nationwide scheme to upend the results in states that the former president lost to Joe Biden.

The outcomes of presidential elections rest on slates of electors who decide their votes based on the outcome of their states’ popular vote. As then-President Trump sought a spurious legal effort to reject the outcome, his allies arranged slates of “alternate” electors in several states to cast their votes for him, despite his loss.

Ms Nessel’s announcement arrived the same day that the former president said he has received a target letter from federal prosecutors indicating that he is the subject of an investigation into his efforts to overturn election results, suggesting that he could imminently be facing charges.

The criminal charges in Michigan against the so-called “fake” electors appear to be the first. They each face eight felony counts, including election law forgery and conspiracy. Her office also has not ruled out charges against other potential defendants, she said.

Those 16 people met in the basement of the state’s Republican Party headquarters and signed certificates falsely claiming that they were “the duly elected and qualified electors for president and vice president of the United States of America for the state of Michigan,” Ms Nessel said in prepared remarks on 18 July.

“That was a lie,” she said. “They weren’t the duly elected and qualified electors, and each of the defendants knew it.”

Those electors then attempted to deliver those documents to the state Senate and to the US Senate, where Vice President Mike Pence presided over the congressional certification of Electoral College votes, and where Mr Trump and his allies allegedly pressured him to use those false slates of electors to overturn the election’s outcome and keep Mr Trump in office.

“This plan – to reject the will of the voters and undermine democracy – was fraudulent and legally baseless,” Ms Nessel said. “The false electors’ actions undermine the public’s faith in the integrity of our election, and not only violate the spirit of the laws enshrining and defending our democracy, but, we believe, also plainly violated the laws by which we administer our elections in Michigan and peaceably transfer power in America.”

Ms Nessel, an elected Democratic official, dismissed arguments that the prosecutions are politically motivated.

“But where there is overwhelming evidence of guilt, in respect to multiple crimes, the most political act I can engage in as a prosecutor is to take no action at all,” she said.

Ms Nessel’s office had previously referred the cases to the US Department of Justice but indicated earlier this year that she was reopening the “parallel investigation” into election crimes in the state, citing “clear evidence” for a prosecution.

Prosecutors in Georgia have also indicated that fake electors from that state may also face criminal charges, as Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis pursues a separate investigation into the former president’s efforts to reject election results in that state.

A protester outside the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing waves a ‘Trump Won’ flag on 12 October, 2021. (AP)
A protester outside the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing waves a ‘Trump Won’ flag on 12 October, 2021. (AP)

“Every serious challenge to the election had been denied, dismissed, or otherwise rejected by the time the false electors convened. There was no legitimate legal avenue or plausible use of such a document or an alternative slate of electors,” Ms Nessel said in a statement accompanying the announcement of charges.

“There was only the desperate effort of these defendants, who we have charged with deliberately attempting to interfere with and overturn our free and fair election process, and along with it, the will of millions of Michigan voters,” she added. “That the effort failed and democracy prevailed does not erase the crimes of those who enacted the false electors plot.”

Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith has focused his office’s attention in several states, including interviews with the office of Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who provided a tranche of documents that included communications between the state’s election officials and Mr Trump’s former lawyers and members of his campaign as the former president’s allies targeted the critical battleground state.

Mr Smith is investigating an array of schemes pursued by Mr Trump and his allies to reject 2020 results, including the fake electors plot.

That investigation is separate from the special counsel probe into Mr Trump’s illegal retention of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago property, resulting in the first-ever federal indictment against a former president.