Days after Michigan’s attorney general Dana Nessel argued that Donald Trump loyalists charged in an alleged scheme to upend 2020 election results in the state were “brainwashed” by the former president, two of those defendants said her comments were grounds for charges to be dismissed.
Attorneys for two people embroiled in the fake elector scheme – Mari-Ann Henry and Clifford Frost – argued that Ms Nessel’s statements that they were “brainwashed” and “genuinely” believe Mr Trump won in 2020 effectively conceded that they did not have criminal intent when they allegedly signed fraudulent certificates asserting Mr Trump won the state he lost to Joe Biden.
“Convictions would require proof that [Ms Henry] intended by her actions to defraud,” according to a filing from her attorney, adding that Ms Nessel’s comments show that if Ms Henry truly believed Mr Trump won, her “alleged actions could not have been performed with the intent to cheat or deceive anyone.”
“Given that [Ms Nessel] stated that she knows [Mr Frost] and the other fifteen Republican electors ‘think that Donald Trump is the real winner of the election’ and that ‘they legit believe that,’ then [Mr Frost] did not possess the specific criminal intent to cheat nor deceive as required by the statues,” Mr Frost’s attorney wrote in a recent filing.
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.
The 16 people charged in the Michigan scheme each face eight felony counts, including election law forgery and conspiracy.
Defendants 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 in remarks announcing the charges earlier this year.
“That was a lie,” the state’s Democratic attorney general said in her remarks. “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 him 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.”
Prosecutors in Georgia have also criminally charged several people involved with that state’s attempt to submit so-called “alternate” electors – now co-defendants with Mr Trump and several of his allies in a sprawling indictment linking the former president to a “criminal enterprise” to overturn Georgia’s election results.