Exams begin for next group of people charged in fake electors scheme

By Michigan Advance

May 29, 2024

BY JON KING, MICHIGAN ADVANCE

MICHIGAN—Six individuals facing felony charges for submitting false electoral votes for former President Donald Trump in 2020 were back in court Tuesday for a hearing to determine if a crime has occurred.

In all, 15 people are charged with counts including election law forgery and conspiracy to commit election law forgery in a case brought by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. Tuesday’s preliminary exam proceedings focused on defendants William Choate, Clifford Frost, Mayra Rodriguez, Rose Rook, Marian Sheridan, and Kenneth Thompson.

Three others, Stanley Grot, Timothy King, and Kent Vandwerwood, had their cases continued to later dates.

Ingham County Judge Kristen Simmons of Lansing’s 54A District Court heard from prosecution witnesses Miriam Vincent, the senior staff attorney for the Office of the Federal Register, Dan Schwager, an attorney for the secretary of the U.S. Senate, and Howard Shock, a special agent investigator with the Michigan Department of Attorney General.

Both Vincent and Schwager discussed how they came into contact with the document that prosecutors contend was a forgery signed by the defendants, and intended to usurp the lawful certificate of Michigan’s electoral votes from the 2020 election.

Vincent confirmed her office received both the official ascertainment of Electoral College results from the State of Michigan as well as one that she said did not appear to come from an official source.

“We opened the envelope and took out the material and the initial enclosure said ‘Electoral votes of the State of Michigan’, so at that point the classification was not very difficult,” she testified. “The manilla envelope had the statement on it, but it came from a source that was not a state office. It did not have a paired certificate of ascertainment.”

Vincent was asked by defense attorneys on the specific sources election officials relied on to make the decision to begin cataloging material sent to them concerning the Electoral College vote, to which she somewhat struggled at first, but then clarified it was based on a variety of factors including news reports and social media, as well as email correspondence with Office of General Counsel.

Schwager also testified he had received both an official and unofficial certificate of Michigan’s electoral votes.

He said the U.S. Senate needed to receive what are called certificates of vote from every state and they needed to have certain things attached to them, most especially a certificate of ascertainment.

“We received a document that was purporting to be a certificate of vote signed by electors from somebody purporting to be the President of the Electoral College for the State of Michigan,” Schwager testified. “It did not have an accompanying certificate, and it was not signed or sealed or certified by the Secretary of State, and it didn’t have a document signed or sealed or certified by the Governor.”

A legal back and forth then ensued as defense attorneys quizzed Schwager on what made him conclude the document in question was not an official one.

“It did not comport with the Certificate of Ascertainment (which) is also why I did not take it to be legitimate. It also made claims which I did not understand to be consistent with the official results of the State of Michigan.”

Attorney David Kallman, representing Hank Choate, questioned Schwager whether he could positively say the defendants saw the particular page of the document that contained the false statements before they signed a separate signature sheet, which could cast doubt on their intent to commit a felony.

“Do you have any information that Hank Choate submitted a counterfeit document in any way?” asked Kallman.

“If you mean physically submitted, I have no idea who physically mailed the document. No,” replied Schwager.

“And you have no information that Hank Choate ever saw that page prior to his signing of page four, is that correct?” Kallman asked.

“The information that I have is that whoever signed that page signed it under a statement that says ‘in witness whereof, we’re signing’, and so that is a form of information that I would have, but I was not present and have not heard about Mr. Choate personally. So if somebody wants to sign here or if he signed it without actually being able to see anything, I wouldn’t know,” responded Schwager.

Shock testified that the defendants were the same ones who allegedly met at the Michigan Republican Party headquarters on Dec. 14, 2020 and signed a number of documents as the “duly elected and qualified Electors for President and Vice President of the United States of America from the State of Michigan,” including a document submitting 16 electoral votes for former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence.

However, the lawfully designated electors met in the Capitol in Lansing that day, and cast their votes unanimously for President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, who won the state by more than 154,000 votes.

Shock then discussed a video reportedly made that day of several of the defendants approaching the Capitol and trying to deliver documents purporting to be the official tally of electoral votes.

Under cross examination, Shock admitted that he had not investigated the metadata of the video in question, but had simply downloaded it off of YouTube.

“So you don’t know if that video is altered, modified, enhanced, edited, or prompted in any way, do you?,” asked David Gilbert, representing Kenneth Thompson. “So you have no idea what the veracity of that is. That could have been modified, as we see with artificial intelligence, ‘now I’m gonna put my face on you’, correct?”

“I’m not saying that, sir. I’m saying I don’t know,” replied Shock.

While Gilbert objected to the video’s admission as an exhibit, Judge Simmons said its authenticity could be contested at trial and allowed Shock’s testimony to continue. The investigator then said follow-up interviews, including with a State Police lieutenant seen in the video, confirmed the details as to the date and location it was made.

Several of the defense attorneys then objected to the phrase “false slate of electors” being used, saying it prejudiced their clients’ presumption of innocence. Simmons said it had no effect on her, but requested the prosecution try and use “alternate slate” whenever possible. However, she overruled defense requests that she make that an order.

“I’m not going to make an order that she not refer to this as a false slate because the prosecution is believing or asserting that it was a false slate, and your defense is that it was not a false slate. That’s why we’re here. So, it’s not germane for me. We’re not going to continue to disrupt the proceedings for that purpose,” the judge said.

Shock will return to the stand Wednesday when testimony resumes.

Initially, 16 individuals were initially charged with allegedly submitting false electoral votes for Trump to the U.S. Senate and National Archives, but the charges against James Renner were dropped in October as part of a cooperation agreement with the AG’s office.

Simmons decided in January to split up the docket into two groups, with preliminary exams concluding in April for six others, including Michigan GOP National Committeewoman Kathleen Berden, former Michigan GOP Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock, Amy Facchinello, John Haggard, Mari-Ann Henry and Michele Lundgren. Each defendant faces eight counts including charges of forgery, conspiracy to commit forgery, uttering and publishing, conspiracy to commit uttering and publishing, election law forgery and conspiracy to commit election law forgery. The forgery-related charges each carry a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison, while the election law charges carry a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison.

Another 18 people were charged in Arizona in April as part of the fake electors plot, in which groups from seven states submitted false documents claiming Trump won the 2020 election.

READ MORE: Michigan fake elector case points to nationwide effort to keep Trump in office

This coverage was republished from Michigan Advance pursuant to a Creative Commons license.

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