Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel on Tuesday brought felony charges against 16 participants in a “fake electors” scheme to illegally deliver the state to Donald Trump in 2020 rather than “the candidate that Michigan voters actually chose”: Joe Biden. “They weren’t duly elected and qualified electors,” Nessel said in announcing the charges against the 16 state Republicans, including a close ally of Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel. “And each of the defendants knew it.”

Nevertheless, “they carried out these actions,” Nessel said, “with the hope and belief that the electoral votes of Michigan’s 2020 election would be awarded to the candidate of their choosing.”

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The defendants — each of whom have been charged with forgery and conspiracy charges — include former Michigan GOP Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock and Kathy Berden, a member of the RNC representing Michigan and McDaniel ally. According to Nessel, the 16 Republicans allegedly held a secret meeting at Michigan’s GOP headquarters December 14, 2020, and “signed their names to multiple certificates stating they were the ‘duly elected and qualified electors for President and Vice President of the United States of America for the State of Michigan.’” They allegedly sent the falsified documents to the Senate and National Archives to “interfere with and overturn our free and fair election process, and along with it, the will of millions of Michigan voters,” Nessel said.

“That the effort failed and democracy prevailed does not erase the crimes of those who enacted the false electors plot,” Nessel said, noting that the investigation is still active and her department “has not ruled out potential charges against additional defendants.”

Two of the alleged participants in the fake electors plot — Michele Lundgren and John Haggard — denied wrongdoing to the Detroit News, and some Republicans claimed the charges were “politically motivated witch hunts.” “This is an egregious abuse of power by a radical progressive,” Oakland County Republican Party Chair Vance Patrick said in a statement, per the Detroit News. But Democrats — including Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who has faced threats from 2020 election deniers — hailed the charges as a step toward “accountability” for those who sought to subvert democracy on behalf of Trump. “We are still in the midst of a nationally coordinated effort to weaken democracy,” Benson wrote on Twitter. “And as we prepare for the 2024 election, these charges are the first in an ongoing effort to not just seek justice for the wrongs of the past but ensure they do not happen again.”

The “fake electors” plot, which was also attempted in other swing states that helped capture the presidency for Biden, including Wisconsin and Arizona, was one of several desperate efforts by Trump and his allies to cling to power following his 2020 election loss. When those gambits failed, Trump sicced a mob of armed supporters on the Capitol, in a last-ditch effort to disrupt the certification of Biden’s win. Trump was impeached a second time following that insurrection and said Tuesday that he received a target letter from the special counsel investigating the January 6 attack, a strong indication Jack Smith may soon bring another indictment against him.

More than a thousand participants have already been charged in that riot. Just as those indictments may have served as a deterrent to getting involved with subsequent attempts by Trump to stir chaos, former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti suggested Tuesday, the Michigan charges could help discourage future attempts to undermine the elections process. “A lot of Trump’s followers stayed home when he urged them to turn out after he was indicted,” as Mariotti pointed out. “The indictments of January 6th insurrectionists had something to do with that. Charges against fake electors could have a similar effect.”

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