Trump touts ‘violent letter’ endorsing DePerno, notes his vow to ‘lock up’ AG Nessel

Michigan Republicans gather at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort for GOP AG candidate’s fundraiser

By: - March 11, 2022 11:24 am

GOP AG candidate Matt DePerno (left) and former President Donald Trump (right) | Laina G. Stebbins and Andrew Roth photos

Updated, 1:51 p.m. with comments from Nessel

A number of Michigan Republicans gathered at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida this week for a fundraising event for Kalamazoo lawyer and Republican attorney general candidate Matthew DePerno.

Those in attendance included three Republican candidates vying for the Republican gubernatorial nomination: Perry Johnson, Ryan Kelley and Ralph Rebandt. Two candidates running for U.S. House seats were also in attendance: state Rep. Steve Carra (R-Three Rivers) and Josh Bitterman. A GOP candidate for secretary of state, Kristina Karamo, was also in attendance. 

Michigan Republican Party Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock also was there, calling on candidates to join Trump on stage, as can be heard in a video of the event posted to Facebook

The video begins with DePerno praising Trump before the former president made his remarks. DePerno also highlighted that if elected he will help “restore Michigan back to a constitutional republic.”

“We are fighting for our country, we will take it back,” DePerno said. “We are fighting for the nation right now and for the state of Michigan, and we will take it back. So I have this great honor tonight of introducing to you the greatest president in modern history, the 45th president, and I hope the 47. President Donald Trump.” 

Trump opened his remarks by discussing DePerno’s comments that if elected, he would prosecute Attorney General Dana Nessel for referring the fraudulent Michigan Trump electors — which includes Maddock — to the Department of Justice for investigation. Trump said it was “a hell of a statement.” In response, the crowd yelled, “Lock her up.” 

“This office comes with awesome criminal investigative and prosecutorial authority,” Nessel said in a statement to the Advance. “Those who seek to abuse that power by pledging to imprison their political adversaries have no place in our government.”

Trump went on to  call DePerno “an incredible fighter” and that “this is the time we need him.” He then began to echo false claims of election fraud in the 2020 presidential election, saying “we can never let another election happen the way that election happened, that was a disgrace.” 

President Joe Biden defeated Trump in Michigan by more than 154,000 votes. Over 250 state and local election audits have shown no evidence of widespread fraud. 

DePerno filed a case to challenge the Antrim County 2020 general elections results and amplified numerous baseless accusations and false statements regarding the 2020 election, which helped earned him Trump’s endorsement. He’s also been at events pushing a so-called “forensic audit” and has been involved in a right-wing effort in Arizona that failed to prove voter fraud and ended up confirming that Biden won the election.

DePerno is battling against former state House Speaker Tom Leonard and state Rep. Ryan Berman (R-Commerce Township) to receive Republican delegates’ nomination at the state convention on April 23. The winner will face off against Nessel in November. 

Leonard previously lost against Nessel in 2018. Trump nominated Leonard for U.S. attorney in 2019. However, the nomination was basically stopped by Michigan’s U.S. Sens. U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.) and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing).

In his speech Tuesday, Trump touted a “rather violent letter” he sent to Republican delegates in February that advocated for DePerno’s nomination while simultaneously bashing Leonard. 

“I explained who the other guy was,” Trump said. “This guy was a man who did everything he could to stand in the way of election integrity. I mean everything. He could have voted. He could have helped.”

Like the other GOP hopefuls, Leonard has endorsed a variety of voting restrictions and a so-called “forensic audit.”

DePerno’s campaign finance reports showed that $17,213 was spent on Tuesday’s event. Ticket prices for the event also varied from $2,500 per person up to $25,000 per person. If a person or couple donated $25,000, they were eligible to take a photo and receive a “private briefing” with Trump and DePerno at the event. 

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Julia Forrest
Julia Forrest

Julia Forrest is a contributor to the Michigan Advance. She has been covering Michigan and national politics for two years at the Michigan Daily and OpenSecrets. She studies public policy at the University of Michigan.