Michigan elections director testifies as prosecutors outline case against false Trump electors

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Michigan Elections Director Jonathan Brater is called as a witness Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023, in Lansing, Mich., during a preliminary examination for six of the 15 Michigan Republicans who face forgery and other charges for serving as false electors for then-President Donald Trump in 2020. Brater was questioned for over three hours, with many of the questions centered on the 2020 presidential election in the state. (AP Photo/Joey Cappelletti)

LANSING, Mich. – Prosecutors began outlining their case Wednesday against 15 Michigan Republicans who face forgery and other charges for serving as false electors for then-President Donald Trump in 2020.

Former state Republican Party co-Chair Meshawn Maddock and Kathy Berden, a Michigan committeewoman for the Republican National Committee, were among the six defendants who appeared for preliminary examinations, which don't involve a jury and are for the judge to determine if there's sufficient evidence to substantiate the charges.

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Attorney General Dana Nessel announced the charges against Michigan's 16 false electors in July. All defendants have pleaded not guilty, but one, James Renner, had all criminal charges dropped in October after he reached a cooperation deal with the state.

Seven defendants were supposed to appear in court Wednesday, but one of them, Kenneth Thompson, had his case postponed because his attorney didn't show up. The other eight defendants will have preliminary examinations at later dates.

Investigators say the group met at the Michigan GOP headquarters on Dec. 14, 2020, and signed a document falsely stating they were the state’s “duly elected and qualified electors.” Each of the defendants faces eight criminal charges, including multiple counts of forgery.

President Joe Biden won Michigan by nearly 155,000 votes, a result confirmed by a GOP-led state Senate investigation in 2021.

Michigan's false electors have remained steadfast in their defiance, insisting that their actions were not illegal.

Fake electors in seven battleground states sent certificates to Congress falsely declaring Trump the winner of the 2020 presidential election in their state, despite confirmed results showing he had lost. Last week, Nevada became the third state to charge electors, following Michigan and Georgia. Republicans who served as false electors in Wisconsin, meanwhile, agreed to a legal settlement last week in which they conceded that Biden won the election and that their efforts were part of an attempt to improperly overturn the 2020 results.

Michigan’s false electors include former and current party officials, party activists and officeholders, including a mayor and township clerk.

The six defendants who appeared in court Wednesday had their cases heard together. The first witness prosecutors called was State Police Capt. Darren Green, who was in charge of physical security at the state Capitol on Dec. 14, 2020.

Michigan Elections Director Jonathan Brater, the second witness called, was questioned for nearly three hours as defense attorneys attempted to establish that the results of the 2020 presidential election were facing legal challenges when the fake electors sent their certificate to Congress.

The first day of the preliminary exams wrapped at close to 4 p.m. Wednesday. The proceedings will resume Thursday, with prosecutors saying they had at least seven more witnesses to call. At the conclusion, the judge will decide whether prosecutors met the burden of proof for the cases to be bound over for trial.

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