On Friday, American Oversight sued Barry County, Mich., and Sheriff Dar Leaf for records related to a baseless “investigation” that relies on debunked allegations of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.
In August, American Oversight requested communications related to this baseless investigation, including communications between Leaf’s office and certain election conspiracy theorists and activists such as Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Arizona Rep. Mark Finchem, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, and Catherine Engelbrecht, founder of True the Vote, a prominent conservative group that promotes discredited election conspiracy theories.
In response to our request, Leaf’s office acknowledged that communications exist between Leaf and True the Vote, but said that releasing the records would interfere with law enforcement proceedings.
“The 2020 election was free and fair, as confirmed by more than 60 lawsuits across the nation and leading officials in Michigan. Yet two years later, Sheriff Leaf is squandering taxpayer resources chasing baseless partisan allegations,” said Heather Sawyer, executive director at American Oversight. “Sheriff Leaf is not doing legitimate law enforcement work. As we’ve seen in other states, True the Vote is propagating misinformation and lies, and the people of Barry County deserve the truth.”
Since the 2020 election, Michigan’s Office of the Auditor General, the Republican-led Michigan State Senate Oversight Committee, and the Michigan Bureau of Elections have all issued reports rebutting allegations that there was widespread voter fraud that could have altered the results. The Barry County prosecutor has also reviewed documents that Leaf turned over to her office as “evidence” and has not found any credible indication of voter fraud.
Additionally, True the Vote and its claims have been discredited by officials on both sides of the aisle. In October, the office of Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich asked the FBI and the IRS to investigate True the Vote for its pattern of promoting falsehoods and its questionable fundraising tactics, describing how True the Vote repeatedly failed to provide substantive evidence to back up its allegations despite promises to do so. This week, Engelbrecht was jailed for refusing to comply with a court order in a civil case challenging her group’s claims that an election software company helped manipulate the outcome in 2020.
“The Michigan Freedom of Information Act is clear that these records must be disclosed to the public,” said Michigan attorney Mark Brewer of the law firm Goodman Acker, who is representing American Oversight in its lawsuit. “There is no legitimate reason for them to be withheld and we look forward to their court-ordered disclosure so the public can see what the Barry County Sheriff has been doing with taxpayer funds.”
Other individuals listed in American Oversight’s request have publicly claimed that they have communicated with Leaf about voter fraud. In an interview with the New York Times, prominent election denier Mike Lindell reportedly said that he and his team have offered “resources” to Leaf. Leaf’s office claimed that no records of communications with Lindell since the 2020 election exist. Our lawsuit asks the court to find that the office’s search for those records was inadequate.
Friday’s lawsuit is a part of American Oversight’s investigation into the nationwide activist network promoting election conspiracy theories and sowing doubt about the integrity of our elections. Previous lawsuits brought by American Oversight in Arizona and Wisconsin have revealed extensive involvement of partisan actors and conspiracy promoters in those states’ election reviews.
More information about this investigation and what American Oversight has uncovered so far is available here.