Trump says meeting with Michigan GOP leaders ‘much different than reported by the media’

RNC, Michigan GOP chairs tell state canvassers not to certify election

By: - November 21, 2020 1:21 pm

House Speaker Lee Chatfield and other Republicans had a drink at the Trump International Hotel D.C. after their White House meeting

After Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) and other GOP lawmakers visited the White House Friday, President Donald Trump said their meeting went differently than how it was reported by the media. 

That reporting was largely based on a press release issued from the Republican leaders’ offices that emphasized they asked for more COVID-19 relief in the meeting.

The meeting came while the Trump campaign is still pushing for the election to be overturned in key states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Georgia, which Democratic President-elect Joe Biden won. Trump reportedly has invited Pennsylvania GOP lawmakers to visit the White House next.

On Saturday morning, the president responded to Shirkey’s tweet where he shared he and Chatfield’s joint statement, and added: “This is true, but much different than reported by the media. We will show massive and unprecedented fraud!”

Shirkey spokesperson Amber McCann said the Senate majority leader has no comment on the president’s tweets. 

Trump also responded to Chatfield’s tweet, adding, “massive voter fraud will be shown!”

Chatfield has not yet publicly responded yet to the president’s tweets and his spokesperson did not respond to a request to comment. 

The statement was shared just minutes after the Friday meeting concluded. There has been no formal readout of the meeting, so it’s unclear what was discussed. But the two Michigan Republican leaders said the meeting focused on their letter to the president asking for more federal relief funding for COVID-19 in Michigan. 

They vaguely mentioned the election process in the statement, writing:

“The Senate and House Oversight Committees are actively engaged in a thorough review of Michigan’s elections process and we have faith in the committee process to provide greater transparency and accountability to our citizens.  We have not yet been made aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election in Michigan and as legislative leaders, we will follow the law and follow the normal process regarding Michigan’s electors, just as we have said throughout this election.

“Michigan’s certification process should be a deliberate process free from threats and intimidation. Allegations of fraudulent behavior should be taken seriously, thoroughly investigated, and if proven, prosecuted to the full extent of the law. And the candidates who win the most votes win elections and Michigan’s electoral votes. These are simple truths that should provide confidence in our elections.”

The statement did not state that Biden won, although he did win Michigan by more than 150,000 votes.

The Detroit News reported that Sens. Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton), Tom Barrett (R-Charlotte), Shirkey and Chatfield were spotted leaving the Trump International Hotel Saturday morning. 

Other Michigan lawmakers that were reported to be in D.C. Friday along with the Republican leaders were House Speaker-elect Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell), Sen. Dan Lauwers (R-Brockway Twp.) and Rep. Jim Lilly (R-Park Twp.).

Photos of Chatfield and lawmakers drinking in the Trump Hotel Friday night were shared with the Advance, Politico and others. Large photos of the lawmakers’ faces also were projected on the side of the hotel, as well as “voters decided” and “the world is watching.” Chatfield has made the image of him his Twitter cover photo.

House Speaker Lee Chatfield’s new Twitter cover photo

It is unclear who is paying for the Republicans’ plane travel, hotels, drinks and meals during the Washington trip. Republican spokespeople have not returned requests for comment. The Advance asked Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office about possible legal issues with that.

“We can’t comment on any pending investigations,” said Nessel spokesperson Kelly Rossman-McKinney, adding: “That is our official statement on all things election-related right now.”

Progress Michigan Executive Director Lonnie Scott bashed Chatfield after photos circulated of him drinking in the Trump Hotel following the White House meeting. 

“After pretending his and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey’s White House meeting was focused on COVID relief, House Speaker Lee Chatfield was photographed maskless, drinking with colleagues at Trump hotel in clear violation of the D.C. mask ordinance,” Scott said. “Chatfield and Shirkey want Michiganders to believe that they met with President Trump to discuss combating the COVID crisis. Clearly, Chatfield isn’t concerned enough to take actual precautions to protect the servers and staff around him.”

“Chatfield should get out of the bar and back to work to pass much-needed public health policies, like the mask mandate Gov. Whitmer has repeatedly asked the legislature for,” Scott added.

Biden is to be awarded the state’s 16 electoral votes under Michigan’s winner-take-all system. The Legislature, according to the law, doesn’t have a role in the post-election process, like certifying election results or appointing electors. Some Democrats remain concerned about interventions, although Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer can veto laws passed by the Legislature.

The Board of State Canvassers, which is split evenly between two Democrats and two Republicans, is scheduled to meet on Monday and is supposed to certify statewide results, which have been certified by all 83 counties.

In a sign that Republicans are not yet giving up on pro-Trump maneuvers, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel and Michigan Republican Party Chair Laura Cox on Saturday wrote a joint letter to the Board of State Canvassers asking them to adjourn for two weeks without certifying the state’s election. 

“On behalf of the Republican National Committee (“RNC”) and Michigan Republican Party (“MRP”) , we encourage the Board to grant the request made by John James for Senate, Inc. (“James Campaign”) and adjourn for fourteen days to allow for a full, transparent audit of Wayne County’s 2020 General Election results,” McDaniel and Cox wrote. 

Notably, bipartisan election lawyers, who on Friday were part of a League of Women Voters of Michigan conference, agreed that the board legally must certify the election results on Monday.

“Their duties are to receive and certify. That’s it,” said John Pirich, a Michigan State University law professor and longtime GOP election lawyer. “There is no reason to delay.” 

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson plans a post-election audit, but that can only begin after the state board certifies the results.

The Republicans’ letter comes after the Wayne County Board of Canvassers on Tuesday certified the Nov. 3 presidential election results, but only after they first deadlocked along partisan lines when the two Republicans on the board, William Hartmann and Monica Palmer, refused to certify. Wayne County includes Detroit, a Democratic stronghold that’s 80% Black.

After they were bashed during public comment, the two Republicans reversed their decision and agreed to certify the results. However, they were called by Trump and then signed affidavits that they wanted to “rescind” their votes, which the Wayne County Commission attorney said was illegal.

Several Michigan Republicans are holding strong to the unproven claims that there was widespread fraud in the Wayne County election, although court cases alleging problems have been thrown out, conspiracy theories have been debunked and problems have proven to be small, clerical issues.

McDaniel and Cox are echoing James, the GOP U.S. Senate nominee who also has refused to concede to U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.) and asked the board not to certify the statewide election results without an audit.

Peters won the election by 92,000 votes. 

“It would be a grievous dereliction of this Board’s duty to the people of Michigan not to ensure that the irregularities identified by the James Campaign are thoroughly investigated by a full audit before certifying Wayne County’s results,” the two Republican party chairs wrote. 

The four-member body has two Democratic appointees and two Republican appointees. Jeannette Bradshaw, a Democrat who is recording secretary of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 58, chairs the body. Aaron Van Langevelde, a Republican attorney who works for the House GOP caucus, is vice chair. The other two members are Norman Shinkle, chair of the Michigan Republican Party’s 8th Congressional District committee, and Julie Matuzak, a Democrat who was elected to the Macomb County Board of Commissioners. 

Shinkle has told media he’s leaning against certification. The other Republican, Aaron Van Langevelde, is a policy advisor and staff attorney for the House Republican caucus run by Chatfield, who took the meeting with Trump on Friday.

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue is a former Michigan Advance reporter who covered education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8.