Michigan’s Democratic attorney general has called for a special prosecutor to investigate her Donald Trump-backed Republican rival after state police reportedly found evidence that he helped orchestrate attempts to illegally seize and gain access to voting equipment, an effort fuelled by conspiracy theories that the 2020 presidential election was marred by fraud.
Dana Nessel announced the probe following the results of a months-long investigation by the Michigan State Police finding that GOP candidate Matthew DePerno “orchestrated a coordinated plan to gain access to voting tabulators”, according to her petition for a special prosecutor.
Her office issued the request on 5 August to avoid a conflict of interest in the case. She claims that “facts were developed that DePerno was one of the prime instigators of the conspiracy”, according to the petition, first reported by Politico.
“When this investigation began there was not a conflict of interest. However, during the course of the investigation, facts were developed that DePerno was one of the prime instigators of the conspiracy,” she writes in the petition.
Illegally possessing a voting machine used in an election is punishable up to five years in prison, according to the letter.
A statement from Mr DePerno’s campaign says he “categorically denies” the allegations, dismissing the petition as an “incoherent liberal fever dream of lies”.
Mr DePerno emerged as a major figure in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, joining the former president and his allies to amplify baseless fraud-related conspiracy theories and sow doubts about the outcome. He is among several election-denying GOP figures running for key positions that will have significant oversight over election administration in battleground states.
Statement from DePerno for Michigan Campaign on Dana Nessel's Political Witch Hunt pic.twitter.com/XGuOZK7Rlt
— Matthew DePerno for Michigan AG (@deperno4mi) August 8, 2022
He raised tens of thousands of dollars for an unsuccessful lawsuit against Michigan’s Antrim County over a resolved tabulation error that Mr Trump and his allies baselessly claimed as evidence of fraud. The spurious claims, however, were cited in a never-issued executive order from Mr Trump calling on the military to seize voting machines across the US, the draft of which was uncovered by the House select committee investigating the attack on the US Capitol.
Mr DePerno also was involved in the so-called “audit” of election results in Maricopa County, Arizona, which affirmed Joe Biden’s victory in the state, and pushed for Michigan to conduct a similar review of that state’s results.
Mr Trump endorsed Mr DePerno last year, and he stumped for him during a Michigan rally in April.
“He’s going to make sure that you are going to have law and order and fair elections,” the former president told the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, Texas earlier this month. “That’s an important race.”