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Michigan GOP House members push back against state AG's investigation of election skeptics

The lawmakers questioned whether Dana Nessel could charge individuals for self-expression protected by the First Amendment.

Updated: July 12, 2021 - 11:20pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Five Michigan House GOP members sent state Attorney General Dana Nessel a letter threatening to file articles of impeachment against her if she prosecutes anyone profiting from spreading lies about the 2020 presidential election.

The irony is that a Senate GOP report "found no evidence of widespread or systematic fraud in Michigan's prosecution of the 2020 election" and even asked Nessel to investigate Michiganders spreading "misleading and false information about Antrim County to raise money or publicity for their own ends."

For example, a crowdfunding website claims attorney Matthew DePerno, who has led the charge in Antrim County, has raised $384,000 of a $1 million goal for an "Election Fraud Defense Fund."

Similarly, former Sen. Patrick Colbeck has raised $16,550 of a $25,000 goal for his legal defense fund. Bill Bailey has also raised $61,364 from 795 people by claiming fraud in Antrim County.

Besides ensuring these people pay taxes on this money, it's unclear what charges could be brought against people whose occupations don't require state licensing.

Attorneys associated with the "Kracken" lawsuit aiming to overturn the 2020 election joined a sanctions hearing Monday since they are licensed through the state bar.

"A criminal investigation is a serious matter, only to be pursued on the basis of probable cause or at the very least, reasonable suspicion," the letter says. "By attempting to read the mind of an individual to infer criminal intention, you have effectively chilled the free speech of every citizen."

Republican Reps. Steve Carra of Three Rivers, Bob Bezotte of Marion Twp, Daire Rendon of Lake City, Pat Outman of Six Lakes, and Matt Maddock of Milford signed the letter.

It claims the people Nessel could target are airing grievances because "they feel it is in the best interest of the state to investigate issues that have arisen, to prevent further issues in future elections."

The lawmakers questioned whether Nessel could charge individuals for self-expression protected by the First Amendment.

"It is patently absurd to prosecute Americans for having a belief that differs from that of their state's Attorney General and completely unacceptable for a government official to intimidate or suppress anyone's freedom of expression," they wrote. "The choice to produce charges without probable cause or reasonable suspicion would be a willful violation of your Oath of Office."

David Forsmark, founder and political consultant of the Flushing-based Winning Strategies, said this is mostly a First Amendment issue since it protects even lies.

Generally, people raise money for a political action committee or election committee, from which it's fraud to take money to pay personal expenses, said Forsmark. But this is different since many of these donations are given straight to people.

"It is a legitimate question if a guy says he's raising money to fight voter fraud and then he's living off it — what does that mean?" Forsmark asked in a phone interview.

Forsmark advocated for waiting until Nessel's investigation report is complete to see its findings.

He noted the five lawmakers made wide-ranging threats in the letter, quoting the letter addressed to Nessel: "If you choose to prosecute anyone in the state of Michigan for simply demanding truth and transparency in their elections, it will leave no doubt that you are intentionally pursuing charges in bad faith."

Forsmark responded: "Are these five ... saying that no matter what [the people investigated] do, that they can't be investigated by the Attorney General, that they have blanket immunity in advance? If I was a state rep, I wouldn't sign that," he said.

"It's telling you've only got five people willing to sign onto this," Forsmark said.