Michigan Gov. Whitmer warns about ‘serious legal and ethical questions’ of GOP leaders’ White House trip

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Credit: Whitmer office photo

State House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) are supposed to be headed to the White House Friday for a chat with President Donald Trump, who’s been eager to overturn the results of the Nov. 3 election won by Democrat Joe Biden. (Politco reports that the GOP lawmakers have arrived in Washington.)

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appeared Thursday night on both CNN and MSNBC, with the GOP leaders’ meeting as the primary topic of discussion.

CNN host Erin Burnett asked Whitmer about Trump’s contention that he should win Michigan, despite losing by about 155,000 votes, and what she can do about it.

“The president can say all he wants; he can summon people to the White House all he wants. He can try to interfere — which raises serious legal and ethical questions, by the way. But the fact of the matter is, Joe Biden won this state and won big — by 14 times the margin that Donald Trump won Michigan in 2016,” said Whitmer, a former Ingham County prosecutor.

“The will of the people will be done. And these efforts to disenfranchise Wayne County, where the majority of our African American voters live is just a blatant attempt to steal the election result and disenfranchise Michigan voters, and it will not stand.”

That echoes arguments made by University of Michigan law professor Richard Primus in a Thursday Politico column. He argues taking the meeting is a threat to democracy, but he also lays out a case that it “threatens the two Michigan legislators, personally, with the risk of criminal investigation.” Neither Shirkey nor Chatfield are attorneys.

“The president is a dealmaker, and it’s far more likely that his agenda is transactional. When considering a course of action, he doesn’t think about principles; he thinks about what’s in it for whom. So it makes sense to think that he is inviting Shirkey and Chatfield for a private meeting to offer them something,” Primus writes.

“… The danger for Shirkey and Chatfield, then, is that they are being visibly invited to a meeting where the likely agenda involves the felony of attempting to bribe a public official.”

CNN host Erin Burnett noted reports that Trump called the GOP members of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers, who initially refused to certify election results and then signed on Tuesday night. But by Wednesday night, the Republicans signed affidavits that they wanted to rescind their votes, which doesn’t appear to be a legal option.

Whitmer was asked if the president’s call broke any laws.

“I think that there’s a legitimate question there. I do, and I think that continuous efforts to interfere could be legally unsound. And I think they should all be very careful,” she said. “They have a job to do and the job is to certify this election. The [Board of State Canvassers] needs to do that. And if they don’t, there will be ramifications from that. And I really believe and hope that they follow the law, they do their jobs, they respect the will of the people of this state, and don’t embarrass the state of Michigan any more than it already has been. And that we certify this election and be done with it, because the people of this state spoke and they spoke loudly on Election Day.”

Whitmer noted the State Board of Canvassers are meeting next week and they “have one legal duty and that is certify this election so that we can send our electors. And it will be Joe Biden electors and he will be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on Jan. 20.”

This story is from the Michigan Advance, an affiliate of the nonprofit States Newsroom, which includes the Florida Phoenix. The story also includes material from Politico.

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Susan J. Demas is a 19-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief of the Michigan Advance, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Michigan Advance is part of the States Newsroom, a network of news outlets across the country covering state government and politics. Florida Phoenix is one of those outlets.