LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A special prosecutor in Michigan has been appointed to investigate whether the Republican candidate for attorney general and others should be criminally charged for their attempts to gain access to voting machines after the 2020 election.
The office of Democratic attorney general Dana Nessel last month asked the Prosecuting Attorneys Coordinating Council, a state agency, to consider charges against nine people, including Republican Matthew DePerno, her opponent in the November election. Nessel’s office cited a potential conflict of interest because of the upcoming election.
The executive director of the council on Thursday said D.J. Hilson, the prosecuting attorney in Muskegon County, would handle the case. Hilson, a Democrat, was first elected to office in 2012.
In a statement, DePerno accused Nessel of “once again weaponizing her office using your tax dollars to harass and persecute her political opponents.” The Kalamazoo attorney has previously said that “90% of the facts that (Nessel) lays out, that she calls facts in her petition, are either false or I have no knowledge of what she’s talking about.”
DePerno and the others named in the Michigan documents are among the people nationwide who are facing legal implications for embracing former President Donald Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen. A Colorado county clerk this week pleaded not guilty to charges she allowed an unauthorized person to break into her county’s election system in search of proof of Trump’s conspiracy theories.
DePerno built his political reputation — and snagged an early endorsement from Trump — by pushing Trump’s unsubstantiated election fraud claims. Trump lost the election in Michigan by some 154,000 votes, an outcome that has been upheld by multiple investigations, including one by the GOP-led state Senate.
DePerno won state party members’ nomination for attorney general over a former Michigan House speaker who narrowly lost to Nessel in 2018.
Allegations made public last month named DePerno as one of the “prime instigators” of a plan to get improper access to voting machines and use them to dispute the 2020 presidential outcome.
According to documents released by Nessel’s office, five vote tabulators were taken from Roscommon and Missaukee counties in northern Michigan, and Barry County in western Michigan. Investigators found others in the group broke into the tabulators and performed “tests” on the equipment.
“It was determined during the investigation that DePerno was present at a hotel room during such ‘testing,’” a petition to the prosecutors’ council said.
Obtaining undue possession of a voting machine used in an election is a felony punishable by five years in prison.
Burnett reported from Chicago. Cappelletti is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.