A recording has surfaced showing how Donald Trump and Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel pressured Michigan officials in an attempt to prevent certification of 2020 election results. The recording, as reported by The Detroit News, includes Trump pushing two members of the Wayne County (Detroit) Board of Canvassers not to sign off on election results. It includes Trump making what appear to be veiled threats and offering to provide attorneys if the officials will go along with his efforts to interfere in the election.
The existence of the call has been known since shortly after the election, when the Republican chair of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers, Monica Palmer, revealed that she had been in contact with Trump. Palmer and another Republican member of the board, William Hartmann, originally voted against certifying the results, then changed their minds within hours. After Trump’s call, Palmer and Hartmann tried to reverse their votes again and signed affidavits claiming they were pressured into certifying the election.
When she mentioned the call in 2020, Palmer insisted that Trump had called “to make sure I was safe” after she and Hartmann were doxxed online. But the full contents of the recording make it clear that Trump’s purpose was much more self-serving—and sinister.
Michigan was a big part of Trump’s extraordinary effort to overturn the 2020 election results, and false claims about election fraud in Detroit were at the center of that venture. Trump’s lies about the election results in the area began within two days of the election and included claims that he had won Michigan by 300,000 votes, that poll workers were duplicating ballots for Biden, that boxes of ballots had been smuggled into Detroit, and that Republican observers were banned from watching the count. None of which is true.
Trump also insisted that there were more votes than voters in Wayne County as Detroit became a focus of his false claims.
That tweet came during a Zoom meeting of the county board on Nov. 17 during which Palmer and Hartmann initially refused to certify the vote, resulting in a 2-2 split among the county board members. Palmer made a motion to certify the results in white suburbs while refusing to certify the results in the predominantly Black city of Detroit. Trump supporters began enthusiastically reporting this as “a huge win” for Trump.
More than 300 onlookers tuned into the call, and there was a public comment period after the initial vote. Some of those watching became frustrated by Palmer and Hartmann’s refusal to certify the results without providing evidence of fraud, and began posting information about them online. After hours of debate and statements, both Republicans changed their minds and agreed to certify the election results.
Within 30 minutes of the ending of the contentious Zoom meeting, Trump and McDaniels were on the phone to Palmer and Hartmann. During the call, Trump told Palmer and Hartmann that they would look “terrible” if they signed the certification.
“We’ve got to fight for our country,” Trump reportedly said on the recording. “We can’t let these people take our country away from us.”
McDaniel urged the two board members to go home without signing the certification. “We will get you attorneys,” she told them.
“We’ll take care of that,” confirmed Trump.
The two left without signing. The next day, Palmer and Hartmann attempted to reverse their votes again and produced affidavits claiming that they had been pressured into approving the results. The vote was certified over their objections.
In light of the Zoom call that Palmer and Hartmann had just gone through, Trump saying that they would look “terrible” if they signed the certification seems a lot less like checking in to see whether the two board members were safe, and a lot more like a threat. By the time of this call, an election worker in Georgia was already in hiding after false claims that he had tampered with ballots generated threats from Trump supporters.
The report of the call doesn’t mention Trump asking how they were feeling or offering to do anything to improve their safety. The focus appears to be entirely on preventing the pair from signing off on the certification.
The false claims about Detroit and Wayne County became a regular part of Trump’s post-election speeches. Two days after Election Day, he blasted Detroit as one of “the most politically corrupt places in our country.” As with similar claims about Atlanta and Philadelphia, Trump’s claims were correctly seen as attempts to disenfranchise Black voters.
In addition to trying to halt the count in Wayne County, Trump summoned Michigan Republican legislators to the White House to persuade them to hand over Michigan’s slate of electors. Those officials later said they found no reason to change the results. On Dec. 14, 2020, a slate of false electors signed a fake certificate claiming that Trump won Michigan. Those false electors are now facing criminal charges.
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