Michigan Republicans’ pick for attorney general, Matthew DePerno, is one of the most prominent politicians involved in pushing the “Big Lie” questioning the 2020 election results. But revelations in recent weeks have brought new details to light about just how involved DePerno may have personally been in efforts to provide grist for the conspiracy theory mill. Here’s what we know.
Michigan’s Attorney General asked for a special prosecutor to investigate a “conspiracy” to breach voting machines
The main reason DePerno’s in the news recently is a filing from Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office: On Friday, Aug. 5, Danielle Hagaman-Clark, a division chief in Nessel’s office, petitioned for a special prosecutor to be appointed to investigate a “conspiracy” to unlawfully gain access to voting machines used in the 2020 election. (Nessel and DePerno are set to face off in the 2022 attorney general’s race, assuming DePerno is formally nominated for the race at the end of this month, after receiving Republican delegates’ endorsement in April.)
TPM has covered right-wing activists’ efforts to gain access to Michigan voting machines for more than a year: Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf — a so-called “constitutional sheriff” who views his own authority as superior to state or federal law enforcement — began sending a deputy and a private investigator from town to town last year, following a tip supposedly based on theories from MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell.
But the attorney general’s petition, based on months of investigation from the Michigan State Police, alleged that DePerno was “one of the prime instigators of this conspiracy” to convince local clerks to allow access to voting machines. The petition claims he worked with Leaf and others to get access to the equipment, and that the scheme was allegedly successful in taking possession of five election machines. The machines were allegedly then taken to hotel rooms and Airbnb rentals and broken into by technicians. The CEO of Cyber Ninjas, the company that spearheaded the politicized “audit” of Maricopa County, Arizona’s election results, was part of the alleged conspiracy, along with other prominent Big Lie activists, Nessel’s office wrote. DePerno and others named in the document have denied wrongdoing, and they have not been charged with a crime.
Matthew DePerno made a name for himself by digging into Antrim County’s machines in 2020
You may remember what happened in Antrim in 2020: Human error initially showed Joe Biden winning the small, conservative county. After the error was corrected, Donald Trump was the clear winner of Antrim, while Biden nonetheless came out on top statewide.
Yet DePerno, representing a local voter, pursued a months-long legal war, during which a state judge allowed him to make digital images of the county’s voting equipment.
This marked a critical juncture in the effort to sow doubt about the election: Election deniers now had access to official voting equipment.
The data from that county was used to create Trumpian misinformation
What happened with the digital copy of Antrim’s machines shows DePerno’s place in a much larger effort: Allied Security Operations Group, by now a nationally-known player in the effort to allege 2020 election fraud, wrote a report based on the digital images that accused Dominion, the voting machine company, of purposefully engineering its machines to facilitate fraud.
The report was swiftly and comprehensively rejected by people who know what they’re talking about, but, obviously, that didn’t prevent it from spreading far and wide: A draft executive order purporting to give Donald Trump grounds to seize voting machines nationwide cited the Antrim County report. Behind the scenes, Trump urged government officials to investigate the allegations.
What’s more, data from Antrim County made its way around election denier circles: As TPM reported last year, the data was among material shared by organizers at Mike Lindell’s “Cyber Symposium.”
DePerno is part of a tight-knit network
Recent and existing reporting has shown that DePerno is part of a larger network of Trump-connected operatives — DePerno is himself endorsed by Trump — seeking to sow doubt about election integrity. The Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan, for example, went from being an “expert” witness cited in DePerno’s lawsuit to the lead contractor of the politicized “audit” of Maricopa County, Arizona’s 2020 election results.
One voting machine in particular has been of interest to reporters and investigators: On a page on his website, DePerno has long shown a video of one of his consultants, Jeffrey Lenberg, feeding mock ballots into an election machine. But the serial number on the machine was blocked with red tape.
It appears DePerno is also linked to a far-right sheriff’s efforts
Now, some news in the case: The Michigan attorney general’s office noted that an election machine in Lake City Township — one of several allegedly taken by the conspiracists — was found by state authorities covered “over with red tape in the same manner as that of the tabulator shown in the video.”
What’s more, The Detroit News reported, geographical context clues in DePerno’s video appear to show that it was recorded at the same address used by alleged co-conspirator Dar Leaf’s private investigator, Michael Lynch.
The presumptive GOP nominee for Michigan’s attorney general said in response to the developments: “I have nothing to do with any hotel rooms or any Airbnbs.”