Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has requested that a special prosecutor be appointed to bring charges against several people she says conspired to tamper with the state’s 2020 election results, and they include her likely opponent in this year’s election.
Nessel, a lesbian, was Michigan’s first statewide elected official from the LGBTQ+ community, and one of the first out statewide officials anywhere in the nation. A Democrat, she was first elected in 2018 and is running for reelection this year.
Matthew DePerno, a lawyer from Kalamazoo, is one of the people Nessel says engaged in a conspiracy to change the Michigan vote count in the last presidential election. Joe Biden won Michigan’s 16 electoral votes, having received 50.6 percent of the popular vote to Donald Trump’s 47.8 percent. Trump and his allies have repeatedly made false claims that there was widespread voter fraud in Michigan and some other swing states that went for Biden. Trump has endorsed DePerno as the Republican nominee for attorney general, and the party is expected to nominate DePerno at its convention August 27.
Nessel’s office says DePerno and eight other people were involved in a conspiracy to change the results, The Detroit News reports. Her staff conducted an investigation along with the Michigan State Police.
“Ultimately, our investigation uncovered that, after the 2020 election, a group of individuals gained unauthorized access and compromised tabulators from the following clerk’s offices: the Roscommon County Clerk, the Richfield Township Clerk, the Lake City Township Clerk, and the Irving Township Clerk,” says a letter, dated Friday, from Nessel to Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who had referred a complaint to the AG and the state police.
“The group’s efforts involved convincing local clerks to hand over tabulators, taking the tabulators to hotels or rental properties in Oakland County, breaking into the machines, printing ‘fake ballots’ and performing ‘tests’ on the equipment,” the News reports. The machines were taken from clerks for several weeks, and there was “extensive physical tampering” with at least one, according to the investigation.
Because of a potential conflict of interest due to the upcoming election, Nessel has asked the Michigan Prosecuting Attorneys Coordinating Council to appoint a special prosecutor to bring charges against DePerno and the others.
“When this investigation began, there was not a conflict of interest,” Danielle Hagaman-Clark, chief of the criminal trials and appeals division in the AG’s office, wrote in seeking the special prosecutor, according to the News. “However, during the course of the investigation, facts were developed that DePerno was one of the prime instigators of the conspiracy.”
DePerno’s campaign manager, Tyson Shepard, claimed Nessel is targeting DePerson for political reasons. “Dana Nessel knows she is losing this race,” Shepard told the News. “She is desperate to win this election at all costs and is now targeting DePerno, her political opponent. Her actions are unethical and will further demonstrate to the voters that she is unfit for office.”
Nessel said in a press release that because of the ongoing case, neither she nor her staff can comment further on the matter.
Before she was attorney general, Nessel was a prosecutor in Wayne County, Mich., and an attorney in private practice. In the latter role, she was the original lawyer in DeBoer v. Snyder, a case in which a Michigan lesbian couple challenged the state’s ban on same-sex marriage; it was eventually consolidated with Ohio’s Obergefell v. Hodges and cases from Kentucky and Tennessee and heard before the U.S. Supreme Court, resulting in the 2015 marriage equality ruling.