Did AG candidate Matt DePerno fund tabulator-testing operation? Here's his answer – Detroit News

Lansing — Republican attorney general candidate Matt DePerno said a group of “expert witnesses” led the push to obtain and analyze voting tabulators in Michigan, but he refused to say whether he funded their effort.
“I can’t answer that question,” the lawyer from Kalamazoo said Monday. “That would be a privileged question.”
DePerno cited attorney-client privilege in refusing to answer questions about the finances behind the alleged scheme during a wide-ranging interview with The Detroit News, two days after Republican delegates officially nominated him as the party’s candidate for Michigan’s top enforcement position.
The nomination came nearly three weeks after Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office sought a special prosecutor to consider potential charges against DePerno and eight others because of an alleged “conspiracy” to gain improper access to voting machines in Michigan.
DePerno, who’s challenging Nessel in November, was one of the “prime instigators of the conspiracy,” wrote Danielle Hagaman-Clark, chief of the Attorney General Office’s criminal trials and appeals division, in the petition for a special prosecutor.
But on Monday, DePerno detailed his response to the high-profile claims and argued the allegation against him “doesn’t matter” because access to tabulators was given freely by local clerks.
“I don’t have any first-hand knowledge of that,” he said. “But that’s my understanding. And if that’s true, because we’re a home rule state, where local municipalities have autonomy, they can give permission or access to their equipment.”
DePerno’s statement conflicts with past comments made by Nessel and Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who have said the so-called “experts” improperly accessed and damaged tabulators. They’ve cited laws against willfully damaging “any ballot box or voting machine” and against fraudulent access to a computer system.
“Michigan law is clear about the security threats that emerge when anyone gains unauthorized access to our election machines or technology, and I will have no tolerance for those who seek to illegally tamper with our voting equipment,” Benson said in February.
The News previously reported a months-long Michigan State Police investigation into potential tampering of vote-counting tabulators examined an “unpermitted individual” getting access to a tabulator in Barry County, where the county clerk has alleged Sheriff Dar Leaf’s investigators used “scare tactics” in their efforts to gain access to voting equipment.
Leaf and his attorney, Stefanie Lambert, are part of the group of nine, including DePerno, who the Attorney General’s Office alleges were involved in a conspiracy to gain access to voting equipment in pursuit of unproven claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election.
DePerno maintained Monday that the claims from Nessel’s office are “political” and she’s using her office to try to create a story to hurt her political opponents.
“Because I believe she knows she’ll never get an indictment under these facts,” DePerno said. “She has no probable cause, which is why she has tried to push this off to a special prosecutor.”
DePerno said “expert witnesses” were doing analysis and providing him information as part of a lawsuit DePerno was leading to challenge the November 2020 election in northern Michigan’s Antrim County, where initial results incorrectly showed Democrat Joe Biden beating Republican Donald Trump.
“I was not in charge of the investigation,” DePerno said.
Asked who was, the lawyer responded, “the expert witnesses.”
Four individuals — Ben Cotton, Jeff Lenberg, Douglas Logan and James Penrose — “broke into” five tabulators and performed “tests” on the equipment, the Attorney General Office’s petition for a special prosecutor says.
All four created reports that were included in DePerno’s Antrim County litigation. But DePerno, who publicly raised money for the lawsuit, refused to say Monday whether he paid the experts for the efforts in Michigan.
“I don’t want to answer any questions about those aspects because that would be attorney-client privilege,” DePerno said.
As of July 26, 2021, a web page for an “Election Fraud Defense Fund,” which asked donors to make checks payable to DePerno, reported having collected $389,050 in donations. DePerno solicited donations for months on his law firm’s website.
William Bailey, DePerno’s client in the Antrim County case, would have to provide permission to release information protected by attorney-client privilege, DePerno said.
Bailey declined to comment Monday.
“It’s none of your business to begin with. Don’t contact me again,” Bailey said in an email.
Monday’s interview involved other topics. DePerno said he opposes abortion in all instances except in situations where the life of the mother is directly in jeopardy.
Asked if he believes abortion should be banned in cases of rape and incest, DePerno confirmed that he does.
“Because we have to consider the life of the child,” he said.
Nessel, who supports abortion rights, has said she won’t defend Michigan’s 1931 abortion ban law that only allows for abortion when the health of the mother is threatened.
DePerno called for increased funding to promote adoption and counseling.
Candidates’ stances on abortion have gained the spotlight in recent months after the U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which had provided access to abortion nationally for the past half-century.
Michigan’s abortion ban law dates back to the 1840s and bars any attempt to “procure the miscarriage” of a woman, unless “necessary to preserve” her life. Enforcement of that law is currently on hold as a court battle plays out.
In a July poll by The Detroit News and WDIV, a majority of likely voters in Michigan’s Republican primary said they supported allowing abortion in cases of rape or incest.
DePerno said the polling didn’t matter “when we’re talking about the lives of all of these babies that are being killed every year.”
He accused Nessel of supporting partial-birth abortion up until the date of delivery.
In a statement, the Democratic attorney general said she trusts women “to make one of the most personal and consequential decisions they’ll ever make.”
“In 2021, there were exactly two abortions in Michigan that happened after 28 weeks of gestation, and both cases involved a life-threatening medical emergency,” Nessel said. “This notion that women wait until late in pregnancy to seek abortions or use them as a method of birth control is simply not factual. When these late-term abortions happen, it’s because something has gone terribly wrong in the pregnancy, and that’s not a position anyone ever wants to be in.”
DePerno, a first-time candidate for state office, gained resounding applause from delegates at Saturday’s Michigan GOP convention, where he successfully brokered a deal to delay feuding between factions of the party.
The agreement required a paper ballot vote on whether former state Rep. Shane Hernandez would be the lieutenant governor nominee, the type of vote grassroots members of the party wanted, while preventing individuals from continuing to battle over the rules of the convention.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years,” DePerno said of his legal background. “Someone had to step up and take charge of what was happening.”
DePerno nominated Hernandez for lieutenant governor at the convention, helping the former lawmaker to win support from 77% of delegates and officially become Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon’s running mate.
“The power of the delegate is what we saw Saturday,” DePerno said of the convention. “They didn’t like something that the state party was doing. We can debate whether or not their perception was reality. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is they had a perception of what was happening, and they stood up and voiced their opposition and took control of a convention. And I thought that was great because they’re starting to learn that it’s the delegates that actually run (the) state party.
“It’s the delegates that should be setting policy across the state.”
cmauger@detroitnews.com

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