Donald Trump recorded pressuring Michigan county canvassers not to certify 2020 vote

By Craig Mauger | The Detroit News

Then-President Donald Trump personally pressured two Republican members of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers not to sign the certification of the 2020 presidential election, according to recordings reviewed by The Detroit News and revealed publicly for the first time.

On a Nov. 17, 2020, phone call, which also involved Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, Trump told Monica Palmer and William Hartmann, the two GOP Wayne County canvassers, they’d look “terrible” if they signed the documents after they first voted in opposition and then later in the same meeting voted to approve certification of the county’s election results, according to the recordings.

“We’ve got to fight for our country,” said Trump on the recordings, made by a person who was present for the call with Palmer and Hartmann. “We can’t let these people take our country away from us.”

McDaniel, a Michigan native and the leader of the Republican Party nationally, said at another point in the call, “If you can go home tonight, do not sign it. … We will get you attorneys.”

To which Trump added: “We’ll take care of that.”

Palmer and Hartmann left the canvassers meeting without signing the official statement of votes for Wayne County, and the following day, they unsuccessfully attempted to rescind their votes in favor of certification, filing legal affidavits claiming they were pressured.

The moves from Palmer, Hartmann and Trump, had they been successful, threatened to throw the statewide certification of Michigan’s 2020 election into doubt.

The revelation of the contents of the call with the former president comes as he faces four counts of criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States and its voters of the rightful outcome of the election. Efforts to prevent certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s 154,000-vote victory in Michigan are an integral part of the indictment.

The call involving Trump, McDaniel, Hartmann and Palmer occurred within 30 minutes of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers meeting ending on Nov. 17, 2020, according to records reviewed by The News.

The recordings further demonstrated the direct involvement of Trump, as an incumbent president, with Republican officials in Michigan in a bid to undermine Biden’s win and how some details of his efforts had remained secret as he launched a campaign to win back the White House in 2024.

Neither Palmer nor McDaniel and Trump, through spokespeople, disputed a summary of the call when contacted by The News. Hartmann died in 2021.

The News listened to audio that was captured in four recordings by someone present for the conversation between Trump and the canvassers. That information came to The News through an intermediary who also heard the recordings but who was not present when they were made. Sources presented the information to The News on the condition that they not be identified publicly for fear of retribution by the former president or his supporters.

The timestamp of the first recording was 9:55 p.m. Nov. 17, 2020. The time was consistent with Verizon phone records obtained by a U.S. House committee that showed Palmer received calls from McDaniel at 9:53 p.m. and 10:04 p.m.

Steven Cheung, a Trump campaign spokesman, said Trump’s actions “were taken in furtherance of his duty as president of the United States to faithfully take care of the laws and ensure election integrity, including investigating the rigged and stolen 2020 presidential election.”

“President Trump and the American people have the constitutional right to free and fair elections,” Cheung said.

Allegations that the 2020 election was “stolen” remain unproven. In Michigan, a Republican-controlled state Senate committee investigated the claims and found no evidence of widespread fraud.

Palmer acknowledged to The News that she and Hartmann took the call from Trump in a vehicle and that other people entered the vehicle and could have heard the conversation. She said she could not, however, identify who entered the vehicle or might have heard the conversation.

Palmer told The News repeatedly that she didn’t remember what was stated on the phone call with McDaniel and Trump.

McDaniel, a Wayne County resident, said she stood by her past push for an audit of the election in Michigan, a request she and then-Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Laura Cox made in a Nov. 21, 2020, letter to the Board of State Canvassers.

“What I said publicly and repeatedly at the time, as referenced in my letter on Nov. 21, 2020, is that there was ample evidence that warranted an audit,” McDaniel said in a statement.

But Jonathan Kinloch, who was a Democratic member of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers in November 2020, said what happened on the call with Trump was “insane.”

“It’s just shocking that the president of the United States was at the most minute level trying to stop the election process from happening,” said Kinloch, a Wayne County commissioner.

Despite the urging from McDaniel to seek an audit or not sign the certification, Michigan law required county canvassers across the state to prepare a statement of the votes in their counties and advance the findings to the Secretary of State’s office.

About 18% of Michigan’s population resides in Wayne County, and there were about 878,000 votes cast there for the November 2020 election.

Palmer previously said she left the Nov. 17, 2020, Wayne County Board of Canvassers meeting prior to physically signing the certification. As she was leaving, Trump called out of a “genuine concern for my safety,” Palmer told reporters three years ago.

Back then, she described the contents of the Nov. 17, 2020, call with Trump as “Thank you for your service. I’m glad you’re safe. Have a good night.”

The segments of the call reviewed by The News didn’t include those comments.

However, in the days after the call on Nov. 17, 2020, Palmer and Hartmann publicly attempted to rescind their votes and said “intense bullying and coercion” plus bad legal advice forced them to agree to certify the election after they had voted no.

‘Never know what happened’