Advance Notice: Briefs

Report: Trump lawyers tried to access 2020 election data in Wayne, Antrim counties 

By: - August 16, 2022 6:33 am

Former President Donald Trump rally in Washington Twp. on April 2, 2022 | Allison R. Donahue

Documents obtained by the Washington Post found a “secretive, multistate effort to access voting equipment that was broader, more organized and more successful than previously reported,” included efforts in Michigan that have already come under scrutiny.

The story, published Monday, concludes that a team of computer experts directed by lawyers allied with former President Donald Trump, requested Atlanta-based forensics data firm SullivanStrickler to access county election systems in at least three battleground states; Michigan, Nevada and Georgia.

In Michigan, the investigation determined that attorney Sidney Powell ordered the team to travel to Michigan and copy election data in rural Antrim County and then later arranged for them to do the same in Wayne County, which have both been the subject of pro-Trump conspiracy theories. 

Sidney Powell | Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

Powell, a QAnon conspiracy adherent, was at the head of an unsuccessful effort to overturn the 2020 election. She was later ordered to pay sanctions for bringing frivolous, misinformation-laden lawsuits into Michigan courts and is also the subject of an effort to disbar her. 

The emails and other records used in the Post investigation were compiled via a subpoena issued to SullivanStrickler by plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit concerning the security of Georgia’s voting systems.

“The documents shed new light on one front in the wide-ranging battle by Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election,” said the story. “The small team of lawyers and security contractors worked quietly to get their hands on the county-level equipment while others around Trump filed legal challenges, deployed protesters to Washington and lobbied Congress and Vice President Mike Pence to reject Joe Biden’s victory.”

SullivanStrickler’s dealings in northern Michigan’s Antrim County came in December 2020 in response to a lawsuit filed by Matthew DePerno, the Trump-backed GOP likely nominee for Michigan attorney general who will face Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel this fall. Antrim County has been the subject of many right-wing conspiracy theories for briefly showing Biden ahead of Trump after the 2020 election, an error that was quickly corrected.

A judge allowed DePerno to take images of county vote tabulators. That lawsuit was later dismissed

DePerno is also now the subject of a petition for a special prosecutor into whether third parties gained unauthorized access to, and then tampered with, election equipment and data after the 2020 election.

Trump-backed Kalamazoo attorney Matthew DePerno speaks at a right-wing rally calling for a so-called “audit” of the 2020 election at the Michigan Capitol, Oct. 12, 2021 | Laina G. Stebbins

A SullivanStrickler team flew into Antrim County on a private jet and while ordered by the judge not to distribute any data without permission, copied the hard drive of an elections server and provided them to Trump’s team upon payment of services, the story reports.

It was also reported that the same data was later publicized during an election fraud symposium held in August 2021 in Sioux Falls, S.D., by MyPillow chief executive Mike Lindell.

Two weeks later, emails indicate that a SullivanStrickler team went to Wayne County at Powell’s direction as part of the Trump campaign’s attempt to challenge precinct tallies there, and ultimately halt certification of the state’s results. 

Wayne, the state’s largest county, is home to Detroit and went for Biden by about 150,000 votes. Republicans led a raucous protest at the former TCF Center where absentee ballots were being counted and activists made numerous false allegations of election fraud. 

The Wayne County Board of Canvassers, which is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, almost didn’t certify the election results in November 2020 following the testimony of several Trump supporters. Trump contacted the Republican canvassers to thank them for their support. 

When asked to comment on the report, Tracy Wimmer, spokesperson for Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, referred the Michigan Advance to a statement Benson issued last week when word of the petition for a special prosecutor was first reported.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson at Ford Field in Detroit, Nov. 3, 2020 | Andrew Roth

“There must be consequences for those who broke the law to undermine our elections in order to advance their own political agendas,” stated Benson. “I’m thankful to Attorney General Nessel for conducting this investigation into the tampering of our secure voting machines and referring the case for prosecution. The republican, democratic and nonpartisan election clerks of this state do their jobs with professionalism and integrity, and we will continue to ensure they are equipped with a full understanding of the legal protections in place to block bad actors from pressuring them to gain access to secure election systems.”

Wimmer did note that “all breached tabulators identified by the investigation were decommissioned prior to this year’s elections.”

In November, Benson is likely facing Republican Kristina Karamo, who was a poll challenger at the TCF Center and has spread election conspiracy theories, in the general election.

A request for comment was also sent to Wayne County Clerk Kathy Garrett, but has yet to be returned.

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Jon King
Jon King

Jon King has been a journalist for more than 35 years. He is the Past President of the Michigan Associated Press Media Editors Association and has been recognized for excellence numerous times, most recently in 2021 with the Best Investigative Story by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Cleary University. Jon and his family live in Howell, where he also serves on the Board of Directors for the Livingston Diversity Council.