A newly-surfaced recording of then-President Donald Trump pressuring local election officials in Michigan to halt certification of results following his 2020 defeat has prompted Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to recount how activated citizens played a pivotal role in defending the democratic will of the people during that critical moment in history.
The existence of the recording was reported Thursday by Detroit News journalist Craig Mauger, who detailed how Trump—on Nov. 17, 2020—personally pressured two Republican members of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers not to sign the certification of the 2020 presidential election” during a call that included the former president, RNC chair Ronna McDaniel, and the GOP board members, identified as Monica Palmer and William Hartmann.
“We’ve got to fight for our country,” Trump said to Palmer and Hartmann on the recorded call. “We can’t let these people take our country away from us.”
Both McDaniel and Trump assured the two local officials during the call that if they refused to sign the certification, attorneys would be provided to them. “We’ll take care of that,” Trump said, according to the report.
Trump’s efforts to disrupt the certification in Michigan were just part of his broader scheme to subvert the election results nationwide, a scheme which culminated in the January 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C. for which he is now under federal indictment.
MI Secretary of State @JocelynBenson on Trump's reported call: "If Wayne county did not certify that for Detroit and Michigan, that would delay certification for the entire state. And, that could potentially delay or confuse certification in all of the battle ground states…" pic.twitter.com/QdhBHdsu9E
— Abby D. Phillip (@abbydphillip) December 22, 2023
While Benson said nothing in the new revelations surprised her—telling CNN in a Thursday night interview that she and other state officials “had a gut feeling and lots of other pieces of evidence” about what was going on—it served as a reminder that if Wayne County had refused to certify it could have initiated a cascade in Michigan with reverberations around the country.
“We were prepared to go to court to successfully ensure certification at the local and state level—and we were confident we’d win in court,” said Benson in a post on X, formerly Twitter. “But blocking certification in Wayne County and pushing this to the courts would still delay and create enough doubt and uncertainty to enable the Trump campaign to push Pennsylvania, which was certifying the next week, to delay as well. And we knew other dominos would fall after that.”
Benson said she was not aware of the recording—which she called “quite extraordinary”—until the new reporting materialized.
In her post on X, Benson said the recording made it feel “like a good time to tell” people about how the situation played out in Michigan and why the power of the people standing their ground against anti-democratic efforts by Trump and the RNC turned the night of Nov. 17, 2020 from one of “the lowest moments” into something incredible and unforgettable.
Benson recounted feeling defeated by the outsized pressure Trump and other GOP allies were putting on the Wayne board members, but it was at that very moment, she wrote, when “something I’ll never forget happened.” She wrote:
Hundreds—hundreds (!)—of citizens showed up to the meeting of the Wayne County Canvassing Board to remind them of their duty under the law to ensure their votes counted. Their voices mattered. Their votes mattered. In my view that turned the tide.
Citizens and election officials in Wayne County and statewide didn’t flinch, stood firm, and demanded their votes be certified as required under the law. And in the end, the Wayne County Canvassing board fulfilled their legal duty, followed the law and certified the election.
Potentially lost in the larger battle and chaos that engulfed the nation as Trump refused to concede his election loss, Benson recalled what happened in Wayne County, Michigan as a vital lesson.
“What started as the lowest moment of the post election melee became the most inspiring,” she wrote. “The voters won. Facts and the rule of law carried the day.”
In the end, she concluded, “Democracy prevailed.”
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