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Tag: michigan governor

Massive Petition Fraud Roils GOP’s Michigan Governor Primary

The primary race for governor in Michigan proves once again that if there’s going to be election fraud happening, Republicans are going to be doing it. In this case, it’s five—five—Republicans who have been found to have turned in enough fraudulent signatures for the primary ballot to be disqualified. Among them is presumed frontrunner and former Detroit Police Chief James Craig. When conducting a review of qualifying petitions, the state Bureau of Elections staff “identified 36 petition circulators who submitted fraudulent petition sheets consisting entirely of invalid signatures.”

That leaves five candidates—half of the current field—without sufficient signatures to qualify for the Aug. 2 primary ballot, elections staff wrote. This is not a normal thing. At all. “[T]he Bureau is unaware of another election cycle in which this many circulators submitted such a substantial volume of fraudulent petition sheets consisting of invalid signatures, nor an instance in which it affected as many candidate petitions as at present.” That includes, again, petition sheets made up entirely of fraudulent signatures.

The five candidates the board found don’t have enough qualifying signatures, along with Craig, are Perry Johnson—a millionaire who has already spent millions of his own money in the primary so far—Michael Brown, Michael Markey Jr., and Donna Brandenburg. The board doesn’t make the final decision; the bipartisan Board of State Canvassers will meet on Thursday to consider the recommendation that the candidates are disqualified. If they end up tossed from the ballot, expect lawsuits.

The elections bureau “does not have reason to believe that any specific candidates or campaigns were aware of the activities of fraudulent-petition circulators,” staff wrote. They identified 30 individuals who submitted the fraudulent petitions for at least 10 campaigns, and six others who are accused of forging signatures for just one campaign. They are all apparently associated with the firm First Choice Contracting LLC, which is headed up by Michigan resident Shawn Wilmoth. According to a link to a news story included in a footnote in the report, Wilmoth was convicted on two counts of election fraud in 2011.

Michigan Democrats and one other Republican gubernatorial candidate, conservative Tudor Dixon, had filed complaints challenging the signatures. Dixon has a major endorsement in his race, by the way: the DeVos family. Dixon also had enough qualifying signatures: 29,041 valid signatures, 199 invalid signatures. However, the fraud was discovered by the elections bureau in their usual verification processes, not as a result of those complaints.

Johnson, the self-funder, is attacking Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and the signature gatherers both. Campaign consultant John Yob released a statement saying the “staff of the Democrat secretary of state does not have the right to unilaterally void every signature obtained by the alleged forgers who victimized five campaigns.” Which isn’t how this works anyway; the four-person bipartisan canvassers board decides that. “We strongly believe they are refusing to count thousands of signatures from legitimate voters who signed the petitions and look forward to winning this fight before the board, and if necessary, in the courts.”

Candidates for governor need at least 15,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot, with 100 from each congressional district. Johnson submitted 13,800 valid signatures, with 9,393 invalid. Craig had 10,192 valid signatures, and 11,113 invalid ones. All in all, the 36 petition circulators submitted 68,000 invalid signatures.

The petition circulators apparently used outdated voter lists to find names, meaning that there were lots of dead voters on the petitions, as well as outdated addresses for voters. The elections board also noted that many of the sheets were too pristine, showing no signs of being exposed to weather, folded, scuffed, or passed among hundreds of hands. Some sheets looked like they had been “round-tabled,” or passed around a group of individuals with every person signing one line on the sheet “in an attempt to make the handwriting and signatures appear authentic and received from actual voters.”

The staff of the elections bureau checked petitions for all the races and found two identical sheets submitted for two different judicial candidates. So Wilmoth’s people didn’t even try particularly hard to obfuscate the fact that they were committing fraud.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.

‘Entrapment’ Defense In Whitmer Kidnap Case May Hinder Prosecution Of Extremists

The trial of the four Michigan militiamen facing federal charges for allegedly plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer got under way with jury selection this week. It’s happening in an environment in which prosecutors appear to have established firm control over both evidence and witnesses, with the judge overseeing the case consistently ruling in their favor.

The defendants—Adam Fox, 37, of Grand Rapids; Barry Croft, 44, of Bear, Delaware; Daniel Harris, 23, of Lake Orion; and Brandon Caserta, 32, of Canton, Michigan, all members of the so-called “Wolverine Watchmen” militia—are leaning heavily on claims that the government entrapped them into the plot to abduct Whitmer from her summer home and put her on “trial,” for which they now face federal kidnapping-conspiracy charges. Its outcome could have broad ramifications for how federal authorities tackle the rising tide of right-wing domestic terrorism, as well as ongoing prosecution of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrectionists.

The Justice Department originally charged six men in the case, but two of them entered guilty pleas as part of their agreement to serve as prosecution witnesses at the trial. Seven other men face state charges from Michigan authorities for their participation in the plot.

The defense’s entrapment claims suffered a major blow last month when one of the original six co-defendants in the federal case, Kaleb Franks, entered a guilty plea to the charges as part of an agreement to cooperate with prosecutors as a state’s witness. As part of the bargain, Franks confirmed that neither he nor his co-defendants were set up by the government.

"The defendant agrees to plead guilty to the superseding indictment, which charges him with kidnapping conspiracy," the agreement read, noting that Franks, 27, of Waterford Township, "understands the crime," and that "[the] defendant knowingly and voluntarily joined that agreement." Moreover, the agreement states, so did his alleged cohorts.

Nonetheless, the defendants have a lot of material to work with in constructing an entrapment defense. The FBI deployed 12 undercover informants in its investigations, and at least one of them—a man nicknamed “Big Dan”—played a key role in providing the group with paramilitary training as well as acting as a second-tier leader for the “Watchmen.” Three of the FBI agents involved in the case are no longer part of the prosecution’s witness lineup in large part because they have run afoul of the agency for behavior mostly unrelated to the militia case.

Judge Robert Jonker, as BuzzFeed’s Ken Bensinger reports, has so far ruled in the prosecution’s favor regarding these claims, not only refusing to toss out the charges on entrapment grounds but ruling last week that the defense could not raise the entrapment claims for the trial’s first half. Jonker also has agreed to the prosecutors’ efforts to limit the defendants’ evidence and witnesses, and to exclude hundreds of statements derived from the government’s own secret recordings, which defense attorneys insist establish that no conspiracy existed, from the proceedings.

No doubt prosecutors are intent on not having a repeat of the 2013 case of another Michigan far-right paramilitary group, the Hutaree Militia, against whom all charges were dismissed by a federal judge who found that while the assembled extremists discussed all manner of antigovernment violence, they did not take the concrete steps to accomplish it required in all domestic terrorism cases.

That is not really an issue in the case against the Wolverine Watchmen, however. Not only did the men engage in paramilitary training and surveillance of Whitmer’s home as part of their plot, but they also purchased weapons and bomb-making material in their preparations.

Prosecutors list 19 such concrete acts by the defendants, beginning with Fox’s August 23, 2020 proposal to kidnap Whitmer during a meeting with Harris and Caserta. The men also held field training exercises in September 2020, the indictment says, in which they practiced tactics for combatting Whitmer's security detail. Croft and Harris tested explosives and hung human silhouette targets nearby to gauge the spread and reach of the shrapnel.

If convicted on the kidnapping charge, all four could face the prospect of spending the rest of their lives behind bars. Three of the men—Fox, Croft, and Harris—also face charges of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction related to their efforts to construct a bomb that would take out a bridge near Whitmer’s home, which like the kidnapping charge carries a maximum life sentence.

The men originally connected as a militia unit during the April 2020 protests in Lansing over COVID-19 restrictions placed by Whitmer, and were part of the contingent of armed militiamen who entered the Capitol building during one of the protests. It later emerged that their original plan involved a complete takeover of the building, taking Whitmer and others hostage, and holding televised “trials” followed by executions. However, the men later scaled back their plans to simply kidnapping Whitmer at her home.

Defense attorneys are claiming the federal informants ensnared the militiamen in a plot devised by the FBI that they otherwise wouldn’t have participated in, largely because several of the informants organized and oversaw some of the men’s meetings. However, the circumstances of the case are similar to other previous militia trials—such as the 1996-97 Washington State Militia trial, in which an undercover FBI agent named Michael German had provided the plotters with a meeting place (which happened to be packed with cameras and recording devices) and had overseen some of the gatherings—that have ended with juries handed down guilty verdicts.

“It is a really hard defense. You are saying my client did it, but you should not punish him anyway because it wasn’t fair, somebody manipulated him into it,” Jesse J. Norris, a criminal justice professor at the State University of New York, told The New York Times.

German told the Times that he found the contingent issues about informants and agents around the Wolverines case troubling, mainly for what it suggested in terms of likely sloppiness in the course of the investigation and prosecution. “There is certainly a lot of lumber that this case seems to have given defense attorneys to build a story about what happened,” he said.

As Bensinger has noted in his reportage on the informants, the FBI has long made use of confidential informants in its criminal investigation, and has employed them to infiltrate everything from mafia gangs to leftist dissident groups. Among the program’s previous targets have been Al Capone and the Ku Klux Klan, as well as the Black Panthers and Martin Luther King Jr.:

The tactic has a decidedly mixed record. Informants have helped make cases that averted terrible violence. But informants have also coerced innocent people, falsified evidence, and even committed murder while working for the FBI. The bureau’s reliance on informants, much criticized in the 1970s, received renewed scrutiny in the wake of 9/11, when they were used to probe Muslim groups for alleged involvement in Islamic terrorism.

The rise of far-right political violence, however, poses special challenges for law enforcement. "This is a different type of domestic terrorism phenomenon than we’ve faced in previous decades — completely different from anything I’ve observed," Javed Ali, a University of Michigan professor, told the Associated Press.

"You’ve got all these points on a very diverse threat spectrum — not centralized in any one corner, no single groups, no national leadership, completely disorganized and disaggregated," Ali said. "It’s difficult for law enforcement to spot these threats. The Whitmer plot is a case in point."

Attorney General Merrick Garland stressed in a recent speech that the government is focused “on violence, not ideology” in its approach to domestic terrorism, noting that “in America, espousing a hateful ideology is not unlawful.” But if the Wolverine Watchmen’s legal defense is able to succeed by establishing in court that the methods used to build the Michigan case are unsound, it could have far-reaching consequences for the government’s ability to investigate these groups—as well as to prosecute other related cases, such as the January 6 Capitol insurrection prosecutions. It also could feed the conspiracist claims by Tucker Carlson and others that the FBI manipulated those rioters into performing criminal acts.

Most militia groups have kept a lower profile since the Michigan kidnapping bust in October 2020 and the post-January 6 arrests, according to Rachel Goldwasser, a research analyst with the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The outcome of the Michigan trial, she said, may "indicate whether they stay in their foxholes or come out as a force in public again."

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos