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Trump urged DOJ to use Antrim report to declare election results 'untrustworthy'


Washington — A top Justice Department official said Thursday he repeatedly stressed to former President Donald Trump in December 2020 that claims about election fraud in northern Michigan's Antrim County were not true.

In testimony before a U.S. House panel, former Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue said Trump was "fixated" on the report about Antrim that fueled unproven claims about Dominion election software.

Donoghue recounted at least two meetings in December 2020 in which Trump pressed him and others at the Department of Justice about a report about Antrim, arguing the DOJ should use it as the basis for declaring the election results "untrustworthy." 

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Donoghue said a hand recount in Antrim County had turned up a single error — one ballot, which upon quick calculation Donoghue pointed out to Trump was a 0.0063% error rate, which is "well within tolerance," he said. 

"So that Mr. President is an example of what people are telling you, that is not true and that you cannot and should not be relying on," Donoghue said, adding that was reflected in handwritten notes he took during his calls with Trump. 

Donoghue and other former DOJ officials testified Thursday before the U.S. House panel investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. 

Donoghue said he offered the Antrim example among other debunked claims of election fraud that he "tried to educate the president on" as Trump pressured him and others at DOJ about the 2020 presidential election.

During one conversation, Trump told Donoghue and a colleague to "just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest of me in the Republican congressman," according to Donoghue's notes. Donoghue said Trump was "adamant" that he'd won.

Asked whether the DOJ found any of the fraud claims credible, Donoghue replied he did not.

DOJ officials testified that they found only "isolated" instances of fraud but nothing that came close to calling into question the outcome of any state's election. 

In Antrim County, errors by election workers were warped into unsubstantiated claims about election software manipulation, after initial election results posted in the small county had Democrat Joe Biden winning there by 3,260 votes with 62% of the overall total. Trump received 36%.

But election officials caught the problem and later reported the official tallies: Trump had won Antrim County by 3,788 votes, 61%-37%, a 7,048-vote swing from the unofficial results.

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The incorrect tallies first posted were caused by human errors — the failure to properly prepare equipment after late changes to the ballot designs. But Trump supporters  claimed serious problems with Dominion Voting Systems software had resulted in votes being flipped.

Donoghue said he'd received a copy of a report on the Antrim County election from an organization called Allied Security Operations Group on Dec. 14, 2020, and had circulated it to the U.S. attorneys in Michigan "for their awareness."

During a meeting  the next day, Trump raised the ASO report with DOJ officials.

"He was adamant that the report must be accurate, that it proved that the election was defective and that he, in fact, won the election, and the department should be using that report to basically tell the American people that the results were not trustworthy," Donoghue told the committee. 

A couple days later, the Michigan Department of State on Dec. 17, 2020, released an audit of the results in Antrim County: Trump had gained 12 votes, a 0.07% shift from the certified results. 

News of the Antrim report being circulated at DOJ was reported more than a year ago with the release of internal DOJ emails by the House Oversight Committee. 

Michigan Republican attorney general candidate Matt DePerno gained prominence in the state by leading the litigation challenging election results in Antrim County.

Donoghue said Trump also raised Antrim again in a Dec. 27 conversation in which Donoghue said he stressed what the department had concluded based on "actual" investigations, witness interviews and reviews of documents: "that these allegations simply had no merit.

"And I wanted to try to cut through the noise because it was clear to us that there are a lot of people whispering in his ear, feeding him these conspiracy theories and allegations," Donoghue said. "And I felt that being very blunt in that conversation might help make it clear to the President that these allegations were simply not true."

Staff Writer Craig Mauger contributed. 

mburke@detroitnews.com