Michigan’s top election official Jocelyn Benson faced a wave of threats after the 2020 presidential election for refusing to overturn results that showed Joe Biden winning the state. During those turbulent weeks, she says she also received a particularly disturbing piece of information: President Donald Trump suggested during a meeting at the White House 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 about it from a source close to Trump’s meeting at the White House.
It was surreal and I felt sad, Benson said, recalling her reaction.
It certainly amplified the heightened sense of anxiety, stress and uncertainty from that time that I still feel in many ways, because it showed there was no bottom to how 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 reliable information that Secretary Benson knowingly lied throughout her interview with NBC News.”
Benson, Michigan’s secretary of state, is now locked in an election tussle with a Republican candidate who is repeating Trump’s misrepresentations about the 2020 election. In speeches and on her podcast, Kristina Karamo said the election had faked and stolen and that Secretary of State Benson should go to jail.
A community college teacher, Karamo won the endorsement of the state’s GOP party and, more importantly, Trump himself.
She is strong on crime, including the massive crime of voter fraud, Trump said in his endorsement.
Kristina Karamo speaks at a rally hosted by former President Donald Trump near Washington, Michigan on April 2. File Scott Olson/Getty Images
The Michigan running secretary is among several GOP candidates who pushed the false claim that the 2020 election was marred by widespread fraud.
In November, voters in 24 states will decide who should hold their elections. Candidates who deny the 2020 election results are on the ballot in 14 states, including major battlegrounds Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Nevada, according to an NBC News review.
Until the last election, the majority of people who served as secretary of state operated largely outside the spotlight. Their primary role of ensuring the smooth and secure conduct of elections was seen as non-partisan.
We need people to call bullets and strikes, said Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. But if you have an umpire who doesn’t believe baseball exists, that’s a problem.
Since leaving office, Trump has continued to spread lies about the 2020 election despite audits in 39 states and more than 60 courts upholding the results.
The message seems to have an effect on the American public. NBC News’ most recent poll suggests that about 38% of voters across the country still believe the election was stolen.
The Big Lie is not just spreading, but deepening its grip on the American people, Benson said.
Experts say the proliferation of candidates making false claims about previous elections raises serious concerns about how they might handle such claims in the future if elected.
Many elections are close. And when you have a close election, you have to trust that someone will count the votes and say, you know what, here’s who won, Waldman said. If we can’t have that trust, it’s very difficult to have real democracy.
The array of election lies hit close to home for Benson.
On the first Saturday of December 2020, weeks after the election, she looked forward to a quiet night with her family. They had planned to hang Christmas decorations and then watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
But just as his 4-year-old son was settling in for the film, a crowd of armed protesters showed up outside his house chanting traitorous and murderous for his insistence on certifying Biden’s election victory, according to videos posted on social networks.
Benson, who got a job at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, investigating hate groups, said she was not the kind of person to back down from threats from ordinary people or politicians from high level.
I think that’s my job as a leader in Michigan right now, as a leader right now,” Benson said. Demonstrate the importance of opposing hate, opposing hateful threats and violent threats. And say, No, not today, not against me, not against our democracy.
And walking forward, she added.
Kit Ramgopal contributed to this.
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