By Peter Eisler and Nathan Layne
(Reuters) - A sheriff in Barry County, Michigan, already under state investigation for alleged involvement in an illegal breach of a vote-counting machine, sought warrants in July to seize other machines in an effort to prove former President Donald Trump’s claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election, documents reviewed by Reuters showed.
The proposed warrants sought authorization to seize vote tabulators and various election records from the offices of the Barry County and Woodland Township clerks, the documents showed. The two jurisdictions have not been previously identified as targets in the sheriff’s investigation into suspicions that machines in the county were rigged to siphon votes from Trump.
The warrants were submitted in July to the office of Barry County Prosecuting Attorney Julie Nakfoor Pratt, a Republican, who told Reuters she declined to endorse them because she felt the sheriff lacked sufficient evidence to support his suspicions that the machines were rigged.
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Reuters obtained copies of the documents under a Freedom of Information request filed with the prosecutor’s office.
The requests suggest Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf, a Republican, was seeking to broaden his investigation of alleged election fraud even as he faced investigation from the state attorney general’s office.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, has identified Leaf as a target in a statewide investigation into alleged illegal breaches of vote tabulators in at least three counties.
Nessel last month alleged Leaf was involved in the breach of a voting machine taken without authorization in 2021 from Irving Township, another jurisdiction in Barry County. Leaf has denied wrongdoing and told Reuters that no one in his office was involved in improperly accessing the machine. Leaf’s proposed warrants also included voting machines from Irving Township.
Last month, Nessel requested appointment of a special prosecutor to consider charges against Leaf and eight other targets in the state probe because the list includes Matthew DePerno, the Republican nominee to challenge Nessel for attorney general in November’s elections.
Leaf did not respond to a request for comment on the proposed warrants.
Pratt, the prosecutor, told Reuters previously that she declined to endorse the warrants because “I didn’t see evidence of a crime” in the material Leaf provided in support of the requests. “I didn’t see probable cause” for seizing voting equipment, Pratt added.
Barry County Clerk Pamela Palmer and Woodland Township Clerk Nancy Stanton could not be reached immediately for comment. Palmer, A Republican, told Reuters previously that the vote count in Barry County was accurate and confirmed by multiple audits.
Leaf’s investigation has become a clarion call for adherents of Trump’s disproven claims that he was robbed of reelection by widespread voter fraud.
A member of the so-called “constitutional sheriffs” movement, which holds that sheriffs have supreme law enforcement authority within their counties, exceeding that of state and federal agencies, and even the U.S. president, Leaf has appeared repeatedly at events around the country organized by proponents of Trump’s rigged election claims.
Reuters has previously reported that Leaf has been aided in his investigation by key Trump allies, but his efforts to get access to voting machines in the county have been blocked by state and federal judges who said he failed to provide credible evidence to support his claims that the equipment was rigged.
The state investigation into illegal breaches of voting equipment concluded that criminal charges should be filed against Leaf for his alleged role in helping a private investigator get access to the Irving County vote tabulator, which was found to have been taken to the Detroit area, broken open and examined by computer technicians working in concert with key national figures backing Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
(Reporting by Peter Eisler and Nathan Layne; Editing by Jason Szep and Jonathan Oatis)