Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said at a recent event with liberal activists that the fake Republican electors from 2020 that she charged were “brainwashed” to keep former President Donald Trump in power, and touted that their cases will get juries from a “very Democratic-leaning county,” according to a recording obtained by CNN.
Nessel, an Democrat, made the comments at a virtual event Monday that was hosted and promoted by liberal groups to discuss “messaging” around the 2020 election cases involving Trump and his allies. Back in July, Nessel’s office filed the first-of-their-kind criminal charges against the fake electors in Michigan.
“People talk a lot about, oh, why don’t you start flipping some of those people so that they can become witnesses against the remaining defendants, the worst-acting defendants?” Nessel said. “The problem is, these are people who have been brainwashed.”
She continued, “how do you flip someone who concedes that they did everything that they’re accused of doing, but what they say is, ‘we believe that we were in the right. We think that Donald Trump is the real winner of the election’ … They really legit believe that. They genuinely believe it. Somebody can’t even plead guilty if they wanted to, because they can’t admit that what they did violated the law, because they still think they’re right.”
Defense attorneys for some of the fake electors told CNN they think Nessel crossed a line, and outside legal experts said her comments might make it harder for her to win convictions.
Shan Wu, a former federal prosecutor who supports charging the fake electors, said it was “inappropriate” for Nessel to be “insulting defendants” that her office is prosecuting.
“It undermines the validity of her prosecution theory,” Wu said. “If you think these people are brainwashed, then they didn’t have the right state of mind and couldn’t form the criminal intent to break the law, because they were being brainwashed by others.”
A spokesperson for Nessel did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment. Nessel’s comments at the progressive event were first reported by The Detroit News.
The event featuring Nessel was hosted by a progressive podcaster and promoted by Protectors of Equality in Government, a left-leaning advocacy group based in Michigan.
The 16 fake electors charged in Michigan have pleaded not guilty. They include current and former state GOP officials, a mayor, a school board member, and several elderly local party activists. Some of the fake electors continue to peddle false claims about the 2020 presidential election.
The group met on December 14, 2020, and signed certificates falsely proclaiming that Trump won the state and they were the “duly elected and qualified electors.” The Trump campaign hoped these slates of phony electors would supplant candidate Joe Biden’s legitimate Democratic electors when Congress certified the results on January 6, 2021.
Each fake elector is charged with eight felonies.
Separately, Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith has accused Trump of directing the scheme, which his campaign orchestrated in seven battleground states. The Michigan fake electors were not charged in that proceeding.
Touting the jury pool
The video obtained by CNN shows that Nessel decried the recent acquittals of three men who were charged in connection with the plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat. Nessel contrasted that case, which was tried in a rural conservative county, to the fake electors case, which is in the state capital of Lansing, where she filed the charges.
“Ingham County, where Lansing was located, is a very, very Democratic-leaning county,” Nessel said. “But I worry that there will be people who just won’t care that they clearly violated the law because they believe that the ends justify the means. And that, you know, it’s okay to do as long as the end game is getting this autocrat into office.”
Kevin Kijewski, an attorney for fake elector Clifford Frost, 75, said Nessel’s remarks were “disturbing” and that some of her comments could help him fight the charges.
“This seems to be more of a political calculation by the attorney general, as opposed to trying to seek out the truth and adjudicate this case on the merits,” Kijewski said, adding that he thinks Nessel’s “brainwashed” comment is “not only defamatory but also damaging to the trust that people have in our judicial system, and to the rule of law.”
Kijewski said Frost recognizes that Biden “is the legitimate president.” However, Frost posted an article Tuesday on Facebook with the title, “Trump won Michigan in 2020.” (The post was removed after CNN asked Kijewski about it.)
A hearing is scheduled for early October for Frost’s motion to dismiss the charges, where his attorney is arguing that Nessel is trying to criminalize a “futile political protest,” referring to the fake Electoral College certificates. Additional hearings are set for later in October and November, as the 16 cases move toward potential trials.
“This shows they have no case, and she just admitted it,” said Nick Somberg, a lawyer for Meshawn Maddock, a charged fake elector and former Michigan GOP co-chair.