Michigan AG accuses rival of voting machine 'conspiracy,' seeks outside prosecutor

In response, Matt DePerno said he was the target of "political prosecution."

August 8, 2022, 10:49 PM

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is seeking an outside prosecutor to consider charges against a group of prominent individuals for having allegedly engaged in a "conspiracy" to unlawfully gain access to voting machines used in the 2020 presidential election.

Among the accused is Nessel's presumptive Republican challenger, Matt DePerno, whom Nessel claims was "one of the prime instigators" but who adamantly denies wrongdoing.

In February, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson requested the attorney general's office and the state police investigate reports of an "unnamed third party" gaining access to tabulation machines and data drives.

The nine people now under scrutiny include likely Republican attorney general candidate DePerno; Republican state Rep. Daire Rendon of Lake City; and Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf, who had filed -- in a matter unrelated to the attorney general's current request -- multiple lawsuits against state agencies he claimed were investigating his allegations of voter fraud in the 2020 election.

Nessel's petition for a special prosecutor, filed Friday, alleges that the nine individuals, including DePerno, attempted to convince local clerks in the state to turn over five tabulators, which were then taken to hotels or rental residences where they were then broken into and had "tests" performed "on the equipment."

The petition further claims that DePerno was "present at a hotel room during such 'testing.'"

In a statement Sunday night, DePerno's campaign said he "categorically denies the allegations presented. The petition itself is entirely an incoherent liberal fever dream of lies. The claims presented by Nessel show a completely unwarranted and erroneous attack purely based on political prosecution."

DePerno's campaign added that "if Dana Nessel decides to move forward with these claims, she will ultimately find herself on the defendant's side of a malicious prosecution case."

PHOTO: Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel speaks during a news conference in Lansing, Mich. | Republican candidate for Michigan Attorney General Matt DePerno speaks in Washington Township, Mich.
In this March 5, 2020, file photo, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel speaks during a news conference in Lansing, Mich. | In this April 2, 2022, file photo, Republican candidate for Michigan Attorney General Matt DePerno speaks in Washington Township, Mich.
David Eggert/AP, FILE | Junfu Han/USA Today Network, FILE

According to Nessel's petition, State Rep. Rendon also allegedly told Roscommon County Clerk Michelle Stevenson that "representatives were doing an investigation into election fraud and needed her voting machine."

Stevenson eventually handed over a tabulator and several USB drives, the petition states. When asked by another person allegedly affiliated with Rendon to hand over a computer containing the county's election reporting management software, the clerk initially refused the request but later said that she would allow the individual to "copy the software from the stand-alone county computer."

As weeks passed and Stevenson grew "more apprehensive" about where her equipment was, Rendon told her "not to worry about the tabulators, as she was doing the right thing and they had her back," the petition claims. Rendon allegedly said that Stevenson's name "would never come up."

Sharon Olson, the clerk for Irving Township, also said she was asked by Sheriff Dar Leaf "to cooperate with investigators regarding an election fraud investigation," according to the petition. After that conversation, Olson turned over her tabulator to a third party.

In a tweet on Sunday, Secretary of State Benson wrote, "There must be consequences for those who break the law to undermine our elections [and] further political goals."

Benson continued, "The election clerks of this state do their jobs with professionalism and integrity and 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."

DePerno, who is backed by former President Donald Trump, is likely to face Nessel, a Democrat, in the November election.

Leaf and Rendon did not immediately respond to requests for comment from ABC News.

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