Jocelyn Benson, Michigan’s top election official, faced an onslaught of threats after the 2020 presidential election for refusing to overturn results that showed Joe Biden had won the state. In those hectic weeks, she says she also received an especially disturbing piece of information: President Donald Trump suggested in a White House meeting that she should be arrested for treason and executed.
Benson, a Democrat, revealed the alleged remark for the first time in an interview with NBC News. She said she learned of it from a source familiar with Trump’s White House meeting.
“It was surreal and I felt sad,” Benson said, recalling her reaction.
“It certainly amplified the heightened sense of anxiety, stress and uncertainty of that time — which I still feel in many ways — because it showed there was no bottom to how far he (Trump) and his supporters were willing to stoop to overturn or discredit a legitimate election.”
Reached for comment, Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich said: "I have it on good authority that Secretary Benson knowingly lied throughout her interview with NBC News."
Benson, Michigan’s secretary of state, is now locked in an election fight with a Republican candidate who parrots Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election. In speeches and on her podcast, Kristina Karamo has said the election was “rigged and stolen” and “Secretary of State Benson should go to jail.”
A community college instructor, Karamo has secured the endorsement of the state GOP party and, more pivotally, Trump himself.
“She is strong on crime, including the massive crime of election fraud,” Trump said in his endorsement.
The emails, sent by Ginni Thomas to a pair of lawmakers on Nov. 9, 2020, argued that legislators needed to intervene because the vote had been marred by fraud. Though she did not mention either candidate by name, the context was clear.
Just days after media organizations called the race for Biden in Arizona and nationwide, Thomas urged the lawmakers to “stand strong in the face of political and media pressure.” She told the lawmakers the responsibility to choose electors was “yours and yours alone” and said they have “power to fight back against fraud.”
Thomas sent the messages via an online platform designed to make it easy to send pre-written form emails to multiple elected officials, according to a review of the emails obtained under the state’s public records law.
The messages show that Thomas, a staunch supporter of Donald Trump, was more deeply involved in the effort to overturn Biden’s win than has been previously reported. In sending the emails, Thomas played a role in the extraordinary scheme to keep Trump in office by substituting the will of legislatures for the will of voters.
Thomas’s actions also underline concerns about potential conflicts of interest that her husband has already faced — and may face in the future — in deciding cases related to attempts to overturn the 2020 election. Those questions intensified in March, when The Post and CBS News obtained text messages that Thomas sent in late 2020 to Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, pressing him to help reverse the election.
The emails were sent to Russell Bowers, a veteran legislator and speaker of the Arizona House, and Shawnna Bolick, who was first elected to the chamber in 2018 and served on the House elections committee during the 2020 session.
“Article II of the United States Constitution gives you an awesome responsibility: to choose our state’s Electors,” read the Nov. 9 email. “… [P]lease take action to ensure that a clean slate of Electors is chosen.”
Thomas’s name also appears on an email to the two representatives on Dec. 13, the day before members of the electoral college met to cast their votes and seal Biden’s victory. “Before you choose your state’s Electors ... consider what will happen to the nation we all love if you don’t stand up and lead,” the email said.
It included a link to a video of a man delivering a message meant for swing-state lawmakers, urging them to “put things right” and “not give in to cowardice.”
“You have only hours to act,” said the speaker, who is not identified in the video.
By December, the claim that legislators should override the popular vote in key states and appoint Trump’s electors was also being pushed publicly by John C. Eastman, a former law clerk to Clarence Thomas, and Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer.Trump allies argued that pandemic-era changes in election administration and supposedly widespread fraud meant that elections had not been conducted in accordance with state legislatures’ directions, and that under the U.S. Constitution the results therefore could be cast aside. Many legal experts have called those arguments unpersuasive and anti-democratic, and no state legislature complied. Efforts to persuade state lawmakers to name new electors are among the issues under examination by the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.
Ginni Thomas did not respond to requests for comment.
A spokeswoman for the Supreme Court did not respond to messages seeking comment from Clarence Thomas.