Republican Michigan Elector Testifies He Never Intended To Make False Public Record

FILE - A protester waves a Trump flag during rally organized by a group called Election Integrity Fund and Force at the Michigan State Capitol, Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021, in Lansing, Mich. A fake Certificate of Votes was submitted to the U.S. Senate following Michigan’s 2020 presidential election, an official testified Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024, during a preliminary hearing for six people facing forgery and other charges for allegedly serving as false electors. (Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP, File)
FILE - A protester waves a Trump flag during rally organized by a group called Election Integrity Fund and Force at the Michigan State Capitol, Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021, in Lansing, Mich. A fake Certificate of Votes was submitted to the U.S. Senate following Michigan’s 2020 presidential election, an official testified Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024, during a preliminary hearing for six people facing forgery and other charges for allegedly serving as false electors. (Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP, File)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A Michigan Republican accused of participating in a fake elector plot after the 2020 presidential election testified Wednesday that he did not know how the electoral process worked and never intended to make a false public record.

“We were told this was an appropriate process,” James Renner, 77, said during a preliminary hearing for a half-dozen other electors who face forgery and other charges.

If he had known any part of the process was illegal, Renner — who served with the state police during the 1970s — said he “would have challenged it.”

“My background was enforcing the law, not breaking the law,” he testified under cross-examination by a defense attorney for one of the electors.

Attorney General Dana Nessel has said Renner, of Lansing, was one of 16 Republicans who acted as false electors for then-President Donald Trump.

Charges against Renner were dropped last year after he and the state attorney general’s office reached a cooperation deal. He was called to testify Wednesday by the prosecution.

Renner, who has served as a precinct delegate and volunteer with the Michigan Republican Party, said he and other electors attended a Dec. 14, 2020, meeting at the party's headquarters in Lansing. He was asked to replace an elector who canceled. They signed a form that authorized them to be electors. There was a companion sheet that purported that Trump had won the election, Renner testified.

Renner added that his understanding was that the Republican electoral slate votes would be used if it later was deemed that Trump had won.

Fake electors in Michigan and six other battleground states sent certificates to Congress falsely declaring Trump the winner of the election in their state, despite confirmed results showing he had lost. Georgia and Nevada also have charged fake electors. Republicans who served as false electors in Wisconsin agreed to a legal settlement in which they conceded that Joe Biden won the election and that their efforts were part of an attempt to improperly overturn the 2020 results.

In between witness testimony Wednesday, a defense attorney for one of the Republican Michigan electors discussed the 1960 election between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in which Hawaii’s Republican governor certified a Republican slate of electors after the initial count had Nixon winning the state by about 100 votes. But Democratic electors met anyway and insisted that Kennedy would win an ongoing recount.

The Democrats were right, and when it came time for Congress to consider which group of electors to count, it chose the Democratic one. It was Nixon himself, who was presiding over Congress as the outgoing vice president, who made the decision.

Kahla Crino, a Michigan assistant attorney general, said in court Wednesday that the 1960 Hawaii case became inspiration for multiples slates of fake electors in battleground states.

“Somehow, your honor, this became, and the people do not dispute, that this became inspiration for a multistate criminal conspiracy that was absolutely linked to the Trump campaign,” Crino said.

The Associated Press on Wednesday reached out to the Trump campaign for comment.

Trump-allied lawyer Kenneth Chesebro could be called as a defense witness when the Michigan hearing resumes, possibly in April. Chesebro pleaded guilty in October to one felony charge of conspiracy to commit filing false documents in the Georgia election interference case. He was sentenced to probation.

Prosecutors alleged Chesebro unlawfully conspired with Trump and lawyers associated with his campaign to have a group of Georgia Republicans sign a false elector certificate and to submit it to various federal authorities. He also communicated with Trump campaign lawyers and Republican leaders in other swing states won by Biden to get those states to submit false slates of electors as well, prosecutors alleged.

Dan Schwager, who served in 2020-2021 as general counsel to the secretary of the U.S. Senate, testified Tuesday in the Lansing courtroom that a fake Certificate of Votes from Michigan was submitted to the Senate after the 2020 election. But the purported Certificate of Votes didn’t match an official document signed by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and feature the Michigan state seal, Schwager said.

When announcing charges last July, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said the fake electors allegedly met Dec. 14, 2020, in the basement of the state's Republican Party headquarters “and signed their names to multiple certificates stating they were the duly elected and qualified electors for president and vice president.”

Certificates of votes are opened by the vice president, and the votes counted by members of Congress.

The defendants have insisted that their actions were not illegal, even though Biden won Michigan by nearly 155,000 votes over Trump, a result confirmed by a GOP-led state Senate investigation in 2021.

In December, former Michigan GOP Communications Director Anthony Zammit testified that he believed an attorney for Trump’s campaign “took advantage” of some of the 15 Republicans.

Preliminary hearings don’t involve a jury and are for the judge to determine if there is sufficient evidence to substantiate the charges.

A seventh defendant, Kenneth Thompson, had his case postponed because his attorney didn’t show up. The other eight defendants will have preliminary examinations at later dates.