Michigan Republicans charged with election interference

Matt DePerno and Daire Rendon

Attorney Matt DePerno, left, and former Michigan state Rep. Daire Rendon. (Scott Hasse/Zuma Press Wire, gophouse.org)

While the fact that former President Donald Trump was charged with four federal counts tied to the investigation into the events of Jan. 6, 2021, drew most of the attention on Tuesday, he wasn’t the only Republican politician whose legal troubles tied to the 2020 election escalated.

Hours before the Department of Justice notified Trump of his indictment, two Michigan Republicans were arraigned following an investigation into alleged tampering with voting machines. Matt DePerno, who ran for state attorney general in 2022, and former state Rep. Daire Rendon are close Trump allies, and each faces multiple charges.

The allegations

Matt DePerno

DePerno at a rally in Lansing, Mich., in October 2021. (Scott Hasse/Zuma Press Wire)

Last year, an inquiry began into individuals who allegedly tampered with voting machines from two counties in Michigan in the aftermath of the 2020 election, in an effort to prove that Joe Biden had not actually won the state by 154,000 votes. DePerno earned an early endorsement from Trump by being one of the most outspoken supporters of the baseless conspiracy theory that the race had been stolen.

Multiple clerks told Reuters last year that Rendon approached them about accessing voter machines. She wore a button supporting the QAnon conspiracy theory to a 2021 rally in favor of a “forensic audit” of the prior election.

Special prosecutor D.J. Hilson has been investigating for nearly a year whether DePerno, Rendon and others should be charged. In a statement Tuesday, Hilson said, “Although our office made no recommendations to the grand jury as to whether an indictment should be issued or not, we support the grand jury’s decision and we will prosecute each of the cases as they have directed in the sole interests of justice.”

According to records first reviewed by the Detroit News, DePerno faces four counts, including undue possession of a voting machine and willfully damaging a voting machine, while Rendon has been charged with conspiracy to commit undue possession of a voting machine and false pretenses.

DePerno, who has denied any wrongdoing with regard to the voting machines, lost the 2022 attorney general race to incumbent Democrat Dana Nessel by 9%. He ran to be chairman of the Michigan Republicans earlier this year but lost in a close race to Kristina Karamo, who is also an election denier.

Previous charges for Republicans in Michigan

Ryan Kelley, a Republican candidate for Michigan governor

Ryan Kelley, a Republican candidate for Michigan governor and a Trump loyalist who participated in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol. (Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images)

Last June, GOP gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley was arrested for his participation in the Jan. 6 riot. The real estate broker had been caught on video on the steps of the Capitol shouting, “Come on, let’s go! This is it! This is — this is war, baby!” to rally the crowd. Following his arrest, Kelley finished fourth in voting during the August primary, earning 15%, or 165,687.

Kelley had called the investigation a “witch hunt,” and his campaign referred to him as a “political prisoner.” He was set to go to trial on July 31 but pleaded guilty last week to a misdemeanor charge of illegally entering a restricted area. His sentencing is scheduled for October.

Additionally, last month the state attorney general’s office charged 16 Republican officials for their role in an attempt to overturn Biden’s victory. Each faces eight charges tied to forgery and conspiracy for acting as a fake elector for Trump. Among those charged were the former Michigan Republican Party co-chairwoman, the head of the Republican National Committee’s chapter in Michigan and a township clerk.

“The false electors’ actions undermined the public’s faith in the integrity of our elections and, we believe, also plainly violated the laws by which we administer our elections in Michigan,” Nessel said in a statement.

The accumulation of charges has undercut the Michigan Republican Party, which has dealt with numerous disputes over leadership between far-right and more moderate members at the county level. This was highlighted last month when a brawl broke out at a meeting of the state GOP committee, with Clare County Republican Party Chair Mark DeYoung telling the Detroit News in an emergency room interview that a fellow Republican “kicked me in my balls as soon as I opened the door.”

“We’re so divided,” he added. “I just wish we could come together.”

Since Trump won Michigan in 2016 and Republicans nearly flipped a U.S. Senate seat two years later, the GOP has unraveled in the state. During the 2022 midterms, it lost what was initially seen as a winnable governor’s race by double digits and ceded control of the state Senate for the first time in decades.

Leave a Comment