Michigan state House Speaker Lee Chatfield and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, both Republicans, are supposed to be headed to the White House Friday for a chat with President Donald Trump, who’s been eager to overturn the results of the Nov. 3 election won by Democrat Joe Biden.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appeared Thursday night on both CNN and MSNBC, with the GOP leaders’ meeting as the primary topic of discussion.
CNN host Erin Burnett asked Whitmer about Trump’s contention that he should win Michigan, despite losing by about 155,000 votes, and what she can do about it.
“The president can say all he wants; he can summon people to the White House all he wants. He can try to interfere — which raises serious legal and ethical questions, by the way. But the fact of the matter is, Joe Biden won this state and won big — by 14 times the margin that Donald Trump won Michigan in 2016,” said Whitmer, a former Ingham County prosecutor.
“The will of the people will be done. And these efforts to disenfranchise Wayne County, where the majority of our African American voters live is just a blatant attempt to steal the election result and disenfranchise Michigan voters, and it will not stand.”
That echoes arguments made by University of Michigan law professor Richard Primus in a Thursday Politico column. He argues taking the meeting is a threat to democracy, but he also lays out a case that it “threatens the two Michigan legislators, personally, with the risk of criminal investigation.” Neither Shirkey nor Chatfield are attorneys.
“The president is a dealmaker, and it’s far more likely that his agenda is transactional. When considering a course of action, he doesn’t think about principles; he thinks about what’s in it for whom. So it makes sense to think that he is inviting Shirkey and Chatfield for a private meeting to offer them something,” Primus writes.
“… The danger for Shirkey and Chatfield, then, is that they are being visibly invited to a meeting where the likely agenda involves the felony of attempting to bribe a public official.”
Primus notes that if Trump is successful in staying in office for a second term, he could stymie a Department of Justice investigation, but he would have no ability to stop a state probe by Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel, whose spokesperson retweeted the story.
Whitmer was asked about Shirkey’s previous comments that seemed to suggest the Legislature would not intervene in the post-election process and if she was concerned that he would now change his mind.
She responded, “of course … I don’t know why they’d be going to the White House.”
Earlier on Thursday, Whitmer noted that she and Democratic legislative leaders sent a letter to congressional leaders asking for a COVID-19 relief bill, but Shirkey and Chatfield declined to sign on.
“Maybe they’re going to lobby for COVID funding, which would be welcome here in Michigan and across the country. It’s one of the things that our nation’s governors — I was one of them — met with the incoming Biden administration about today [said] is desperately needed. And if that’s what they’re doing wonderful, but if they’re going there to undermine the results of this election and disenfranchise Michigan voters and to embarrass the state of Michigan, what they are doing runs against our law and they should be very careful because it’s dangerous.”
Burnett noted reports that Trump called the GOP members of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers, who initially refused to certify election results and then signed on Tuesday night. But by Wednesday night, the Republicans signed affidavits that they wanted to rescind their votes, which doesn’t appear to be a legal option. Whitmer was asked if the president’s call broke any laws.
“I think that there’s a legitimate question there. I do, and I think that continuous efforts to interfere could be legally unsound. And I think they should all be very careful,” she said. “They have a job to do and the job is to certify this election. The [Board of State Canvassers] needs to do that. And if they don’t, there will be ramifications from that. And I really believe and hope that they follow the law, they do their jobs, they respect the will of the people of this state, and don’t embarrass the state of Michigan any more than it already has been. And that we certify this election and be done with it, because the people of this state spoke and they spoke loudly on Election Day.”
On MSNBC, Chris Hayes noted the new court filings in the case of the right-wing extremist plot to kidnap and assassinate her. Whitmer talked about the growing number of threats against elected officials, like Dr. Anthony Fauci, a White House COVID-19 adviser, and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who has said there’s no widespread voter fraud in another state Biden won.
“It is undermining our democracy and these latest attempts around this election are just an extension of that. It is dangerous and we really do need people of goodwill on both sides of the aisle, who care more about our democracy than their parties to stand up and to say, ‘This is unacceptable. We’ve had a free, fair and secure election. We need to respect the will of the people and we need to certify these results,’” Whitmer said.
Hayes then noted Trump inviting Shirkey and Chatfield to the White House and said, “It’s very clear what the president wants them to do, is to just say to the Michiganders who voted for Biden by 143,000-vote margin, ‘Too bad, tough. We’re taking that away and giving it to Donald Trump.’ Aside from how offensive that is on a democratic level, there’s no provision in your state law that allows them to do that is there?”
Whitmer responded, “No, and I’m glad that you’re on the show by telling people this isn’t going to happen. I mean, the vote margin in Michigan is now 157,000. It is 14 times the margin that Trump won Michigan in 2016 [10,704 votes].”
She noted the State Board of Canvassers are meeting next week and they “have one legal duty and that is certify this election so that we can send our electors. And it will be Joe Biden electors and he will be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on Jan. 20.”
The board is split 2-2 and there are doubts that the two GOP members will vote to certify. Norm Shinkle has told media he’s leaning toward delaying certification and doing an audit — something Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson already is doing.
His wife, Mary Shinkle, recruited Republicans to the TCF Center to challenge the vote count after the election and signed an affidavit alleging problems. That lawsuit has since been withdrawn. Norm Shinkle also reportedly has cited the debunked conspiracy theory about Dominion Voting Systems deleting Trump votes.
The other Republican member is Aaron Van Langevelde, a policy advisor and staff attorney for the House Republican caucus run by Chatfield.
Hayes asked Whitmer, “How big of an issue is it if you get Republican. officials at these various levels essentially buying into these completely insane conspiracy theories?”
Whitmer said, “I think it’s really dangerous, to be honest, the fact that our two highest ranking Republicans in the legislature are going to the White House. They’re being summoned there by a president who’s lost the state. I wasn’t invited to the meeting; I’ve not been briefed on what they’re going to cover, but we’re all assuming he’s going to try to implore them the way he did these county canvassers to to do whatever they can to that certified by the will of the people in Michigan.
“And I think it’s incredibly dangerous that they’re even entertaining the conversation, because we all know what the law is in Michigan. This is an embarrassment to the state.”
Susan Demas is the editor of the Michigan Advance, which first published this story