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Elections chief Jocelyn Benson: Trump suggested she be tried for treason


Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson told NBC News that former President Donald Trump allegedly said she should be tried for treason and "potentially executed” following the November 2020 election based on a source she wouldn't reveal. 

The first term Democratic secretary of state made the unproven claim to the network and said Trump made the statement during a White House meeting and that someone familiar with the meeting had told her about the comments. 

“It was surreal and I felt sad,” Benson said during the interview, adding that learning of the remarks amplified her feelings of anxiety and stress at the time. 

“It showed there was no bottom to how far he and his supporters were willing to stoop to overturn or discredit a legitimate election.”

A Trump spokesman could not be immediately reached for reaction. But when NBC News asked about the claims, a Trump spokesperson told the network: "I have it on good authority that Secretary Benson knowingly lied throughout her interview with NBC News."

Benson is running for re-election and is expected to face Trump-endorsed Republican Oak Park educator Kristina Karamo in the fall election. Karamo rose to prominence after serving as an election challenger in Detroit and making unsubstantiated and disproven claims that she witnessed fraudulent activities during the city's absentee ballot count.

"Secretary Benson and all election officials need to be able to do their work administering democracy free from threats and retaliatory harassment, even from the former President of the United States," Benson spokeswoman Tracy Wimmer said Friday, who also didn't indicate Benson's source for the alleged comment.

Benson is making $8 million available to local clerks across Michigan to bolster election security, Wimmer said, as well as urging the Republican-led Legislature to increase penalties for those who threaten or harass election officials.

Benson's remarks follow a long history of the Republican former president publicly attacking Benson over election-related issues. The two sparred frequently in the lead-up to the 2020 election and in the tumultuous months that followed.

In May 2020, Trump referred to her as a “rogue Secretary of State” in a tweet and threatened to “hold up” unspecified funding for Michigan over her decision to automatically send out absentee ballot applications to the state’s registered voters.

Benson replied to the tweet, which had incorrectly claimed she was sending unsolicited ballots, saying “we sent applications, not ballots. Just like my GOP colleagues in Iowa, Georgia, Nebraska, and West Virginia.”

Then in September 2020, after some overseas voters received ballots with candidate errors and had to be sent new ones, Trump accused Benson of having the ballots “purposefully misprinted.”

"This was not a mistake, it was done illegally and on purpose," he tweeted at the time.

In a Twitter response at the time, Benson said Trump was wrong. 

"This was an unintended computer glitch that was caught & quickly corrected. Suggesting otherwise is false & misleading. Impacted voters immediately received an accurate ballot & guidance to ensure their vote counts," she wrote in the tweet.

In the aftermath of the November 2020 election, which saw Democrat Joe Biden win Michigan by 154,000 votes or 3 percentage point, Benson became a target of Trump loyalists pushing unproven claims of election fraud and his supporters who believed the election had been stolen. The Democrat received threats and saw armed protesters gather outside her Detroit home.

Biden's victory in Michigan has been upheld by a series of court rulings, more than 200 audits and an investigation by the Republican-controlled state Senate Oversight Committee.

kruble@detroitnews.com