LANSING, Mich. (AP) — All 16 Michigan Republicans accused in a fake elector scheme to keep former President Donald Trump in power are challenging the charges, after the final nine either pleaded not guilty or had a judge enter the pleas on their behalf Thursday in state court.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced criminal charges last month against the 16 Republicans who investigators say met following the 2020 election and signed a document falsely stating they were Michigan’s “duly elected and qualified electors” for president and vice president. Seven entered not guilty pleas in previous court appearances.
The nine defendants who appeared virtually in Ingham County District Court on Thursday were arraigned on eight criminal charges, including forgery and conspiracy to commit election forgery. The top charges carry a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.
The court appearances in Michigan come one week after Trump pleaded not guilty in federal court to charges related to his effort to overturn the results of his 2020 election loss. Prosecutors say the former president, along with six unnamed co-conspirators, orchestrated a scheme to enlist fake electors in seven battleground states won by Democrat Joe Biden to submit false certificates to the federal government.
Kathy Berden, a Michigan committeewoman for the Republican National Committee, and Amy Facchinello, a Grand Blanc school board member who is facing a recall effort, were among those arraigned on Thursday.
Two of the others accused of being involved in the scheme, Mari-Ann Henry and Meshawn Maddock, a former co-chair of the Michigan Republican Party, appeared in court last week and have also pleaded not guilty.
The court appearances mark the beginning of what’s expected to be a lengthly legal battle. Many of those charged in the scheme have maintained that they did nothing wrong and accused Nessel, who is a Democrat, of being politically motivated.
Kurt Krause, a lawyer representing one of the fake electors, John Haggard, said in court Thursday that “the probability of conviction is low, given the dubiousness of the factual basis asserted by the government.”
Investigators allege that the group of Republican electors met at party headquarters on Dec. 14, 2020, and falsely signed the fake electors document. The fake electors falsely asserted that they met in the state Capitol, which they were denied entry to by Michigan State Police.
Investigations are underway in some other states that submitted fake electors, but not all.
A Georgia prosecutor investigating possible illegal meddling in the 2020 election has agreed to immunity deals with at least eight fake electors. And Arizona’s Democratic attorney general is in the very early stages of a probe. Nevada’s attorney general, also a Democrat, has said he won’t bring charges, while Wisconsin has no active investigation and the attorney general has deferred to the U.S. Justice Department.