LANSING, Michigan — Supporters of Donald Trump privately discussed ways they could gain access to the Michigan Capitol on Dec. 14, 2020, when the battleground state’s presidential electors met, according to four sources with knowledge of the planning.
The conversations reveal how Trump’s Michigan backers were considering further escalating their unsuccessful effort to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s victory by getting inside the building where the state’s true 16 electors were scheduled to meet to solidify the result. The building was closed that day to the public.
Multiple sources said a group of Trump supporters contemplated working with a Republican lawmaker who had a Capitol office to get the 16 Trump electors inside or finding a way inside before the building was sealed off. The idea was to attempt to comply with a legal requirement that Michigan’s presidential electors meet inside the Capitol at 2 p.m. on Dec. 14.
But state GOP leaders were not on board with the scheme, according to the sources, and it ultimately didn’t happen.
“[W]e convened and organized in the state Capitol, in the city of Lansing, Michigan, and at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on the 14th day of December 2020,” said an inaccurate certificate signed and submitted to the National Archives by the 16 Trump electors in Michigan.
The 16 Republicans who signed the document also inaccurately claimed they were the “duly elected and qualified electors.”
The certificate is gaining new attention after Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced Thursday night she had referred an investigation into the Trump electors’ actions to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Michigan. The Democratic attorney general specifically suggested charges of election law forgery and forgery of a public record could be considered.
“We have seen … various different false slates of electors from seven different states, which seems to be a coordinated effort between the Republican parties in various different states,” Nessel said during an appearance on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.”
The so-called alternate slates of electors were attempts to impede Biden’s victory in the weeks before states’ electoral votes were counted and certified during a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, 2021.
Nessel spokesperson Lynsey Mukomel said Thursday that after “thorough review,” the office determined it would be best to refer the electors matter to federal authorities for further investigation. Nessel said state charges were still possible.
Before the Republicans submitted their certificate to the National Archives and the U.S. Senate, according to a memo, Biden’s victory in Michigan had already been approved by the Board of State Canvassers. State law ties the selection of the officials electors to the results accepted by the state canvassing board and a certification by the governor “under the seal of the state.”
Biden won Michigan’s election by 154,000 votes, or 3 percentage points, an outcome that’s been upheld by a series of court rulings, more than 200 audits and a monthslong investigation by the state Senate Oversight Committee.
Acting outside of the process identified in state law, the GOP electors and a handful of GOP state lawmakers met at Michigan Republican Party headquarters on Dec. 14, 2020. Some of them — but not all of them — traveled to the state Capitol that afternoon to try to enter the Capitol building to cast their electoral votes.
Michigan State Police troopers denied the group entrance, citing orders to keep the building closed to the public.
“Our Republican electors felt that they needed to be seated today, too, due to all the irregularities in the past election,” state Rep. Daire Rendon, R-Lake City, said after the GOP electors were turned away.
Robert Norton, an attorney who acknowledged Friday that he worked on 2020 Michigan election matters in the “background,” said there had been discussions about how to get the Trump electors in “the right place at the right time.”
The Trump electors never weighed doing anything illegal to get inside the Capitol building, said Norton, who is a Hillsdale College official. Asked if they attempted to find a lawmaker to let them inside the building, he responded, “There was talk that it would be great if somebody let them be at the right place at the right time.”
The whole effort was “legally compliant,” Norton said.
Shelby Township Clerk Stan Grot was one of the 16 GOP electors who signed the certificate claiming Trump had won the state. Grot said he was asked to show up in Lansing and sign a document. The clerk said he believed he had gotten a call from an attorney working on behalf of Trump in Washington, D.C.
Grot, who didn’t walk to the Capitol with some of the participants, said there was a possibility the election result was incorrect.
“I was doing my job,” he said.
Grot said he had not heard of plans to somehow sneak inside the Michigan Capitol. There is “no way” he would participate in such a scheme, he said.
Current Michigan Republican Party Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock — wife of state Rep. Matt Maddock, R-Milford — was one of the 16 Trump electors. At the time, she said it was their duty “to send another slate of electors if the election is in controversy or dispute.”
Only a limited number of people, including the Biden electors and some government officials, were allowed inside the Michigan Capitol on Dec. 14, 2020. Some attendees were escorted by Michigan State Police troopers into the building. The Senate gallery was limited to five members of the news media.
House and Senate officials also closed their offices in Lansing that day, citing “safety and security concerns” related to the vote.
The Detroit News first reported last week that the GOP electors’ certificate was part of an ongoing probe by Nessel’s office more than a year after the events of Dec. 14, 2020. The Michigan electors have also drawn the attention of the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol.
Staff for the U.S. House committee asked questions on Nov. 30 of Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and her office’s employees about the 2020 election and “events leading up to Jan. 6,” Benson’s spokesperson Tracy Wimmer confirmed last month.
On Dec. 3, after the session, Michael Brady, chief legal director for Benson, emailed a message about the GOP certificate to Daniel George, senior investigative counsel for the U.S. House committee.
In the email, Brady said it was “the only correspondence we were able to find on the topic of the so-called ‘alternate slate of electors.'”
“The documents sent to the committee were done so following testimony provided by Secretary Benson and staff, as they provided additional context for questions answered during the conversation,” Wimmer said.
In an interview last week, Kathy Berden, Michigan’s Republican national committee member and one of the GOP electors, said she had not been contacted by the U.S. House’s committee. Asked why the group submitted the certificate, she responded, “I can’t comment on anything like that. That was a long time ago.”
Story by Craig Mauger, The Detroit News.