Michigan Sheriff Alarms Small-Town Clerks With Shady, Mike Lindell-Inspired Elections Probe

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July 21, 2021 11:32 a.m.

A far-right sheriff in rural Michigan has sent a private investigator and a deputy sheriff on a tedious journey from township to township, grilling clerks about their election processes in an apparent attempt to dig up non-existent evidence of election crimes.

The whole thing, the sheriff said, was inspired by conspiracy theories about the election, including those peddled by MyPillow Guy Mike Lindell. 

And the clerks are none too happy about it. 

“It seemed like they were looking to accuse people or places of fraud, or potential fraud, is what it felt like,” said Cindy Willshire, clerk of Thornapple Township. 

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“They say they’re not questioning our integrity, but you almost kind of feel like they are,” said Anita Mennell, clerk of Hastings Charter Township. 

“I’ve been a clerk for 18 years and I’ve had a spot-on election every time,” said Robin Hawthorne, clerk of Rutland Township. “We’re all a little upset about this.” 

The investigative duo ended some of their interviews — in which they’ve asked about the procedures in place on Election Day and the programming of Dominion voting machines — by saying they could return with even more questions about the election, several clerks told TPM. 

“I told them, I’m done talking,” Hawthorne recalled. “If you want to talk to me again, come back with a subpoena or a warrant.” 

‘The MyPillow Guy’ 

The probe is being overseen by Sheriff Dar Leaf, one of a huddle of law enforcement officials around the country who self-describe as “constitutional sheriffs.” They assert that sheriffs’ legal authority trumps that of the state and federal government. Leaf made a name for himself last year by offering a hedged public defense of the men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan’s governor. 

Leaf has been tight-lipped to media outlets about the probe. He didn’t return an email from TPM, nor a message left with his assistant, and his investigators have told clerks not to tell others they’ve been interviewed.

But he opened up about the investigation at an “Arise USA” rally on Friday, as Kalamazoo CBS affiliate WWMT first reported. The sheriff took the stage a few minutes after an organizer of the event, Robert David Steele, spoke about a “satanic masonic attempt to take over the world” and defined Zionism as “a criminal state run by Russian criminals who pretended to be Jews.” 

Leaf, following Steele and Richard Mack, founder of the Constitutional Sheriffs & Peace Officers Association, said the election probe was “my biggest task I’ve got going on.” He went on to describe a complaint from a retired sergeant from his office that inspired the effort.

“She brought in some documentation from the MyPillow guy, what’s his name? Mike Lindell. And brought some documentation in from some attorneys from Michigan, and Barry County’s listed in there,” Leaf said. (Lindell has wasted millions pitching election lies.)

What’s more, he said, an unnamed attorney friend called him up shortly after the election — now eight months ago — “and said ‘Hey, they’ve gone through your computers mathematically and they said there’s about 900 — or 2,300 somewhere in that ballpark — votes that are in question.” 

‘No Indicators Of Any Fraud Whatsoever’

For what it’s worth: Even if Barry County’s entire population of 62,000 voted illegally for Biden — which it didn’t! — it wouldn’t come close to Biden’s 154,000-vote margin in Michigan. 

What’s more, Donald Trump did well in the county in 2020, winning 65.4% of the vote — up from 63.4% four years earlier. 

The election also went off without a hitch, despite added pressure from COVID-19 and both presidential campaigns’ relentless focus on Michigan’s battleground electorate. 

“We found no indicators of any fraud whatsoever. My clerks did an exemplary job for that election,” said County Clerk Pam Palmer, who collects each township’s results every election season and tallies up the county’s winners and losers at her office.

Palmer, just like county prosecutor Julie A. Nakfoor Pratt — and just like the individual township clerks — was kept in the dark about the sheriff’s investigation, until she heard about it second-hand when a township clerk called her up in mid-June saying they’d received a voicemail informing them that they would soon be interviewed as part of the probe.

As for the Mike Lindell tie-in, Palmer was stumped.

“I have no idea what Michael Lindell’s got to do with this other than selling pillows,” she told TPM. 

‘Speculative Leaps Toward A Hazy And Nebulous Inference’

The involvement of a private investigator — Michael Lynch, former chief security officer at DTE Energy — adds another odd wrinkle to the situation. 

Lynch did all of the talking, Mennell recalled, while the sheriff’s deputy accompanying him took notes. Willshire remembered the PI wearing an “expensive suit.” The deputy, she said, was not wearing a uniform. None of the clerks TPM spoke to remembered the pair presenting a warrant or subpoena. 

Leaf told The Hastings Banner that Lynch came recommended by Stefanie Lambert Junttila, a bit player in the legal effort to steal Trump a second term, and one of several attorneys facing sanctions for the (allegedly) frivolous lawsuit she filed seeking to overturn Michigan’s election results. 

Junttila also represented Sheriff Leaf in a December lawsuit he filed against Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and the Board of State Canvassers, alleging massive election fraud. A federal judge tossed that suit just a day after it was filed, saying that the sheriff had asked the court to make “speculative leaps toward a hazy and nebulous inference that there has been numerous instances of election fraud and that defendants are destroying the evidence.” 

Junttila did not respond to TPM’s request for comment. But she and Lynch acknowledged Lynch’s involvement in the probe to the nonprofit outlet Bridge Michigan. Junttila told Bridge: “Michael Lynch has not been paid to investigate election fraud in Barry County,” but did not explain further.

The clerks TPM spoke with emphasized, over and over, that the election came and went without a hitch. They were confused by the sheriff’s probe, eight months after the fact, and curious about the cost he would incur for taxpayers. 

“I just want it to be over with,” Mennell said. “I’m tired of hearing about it.”

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