Weeks after Melissa Carone was tapped by the Trump campaign as a star witness in Michigan, little appeared to be going as planned with the contract IT worker’s testimony – an unverified series of claims about ballot fraud at Detroit’s vote-counting center.
In interviews with conservative-leaning media, last month, her offbeat tale suggesting ballots were being smuggled inside food vans seemed to baffle even Fox Business host Lou Dobbs. Two days later, a Wayne County judge ruled that her allegations “simply are not credible.”
Yet, there she was in front of a Michigan House panel on Wednesday, dressing down a Republican lawmaker as she loudly insisted, without proof, that tens of thousands of votes had been counted twice. At one point, she was audibly shushed by Trump campaign attorney Rudy Giuliani.
“I know what I saw,” Carone told state GOP Rep. Steven Johnson, raising her eyebrows sharply as some laughs could be heard from the chamber. “And I signed something saying if I’m wrong, I can go to prison. Did you?”
On social media, her pointed declarations, Midwestern lilt and poofy, blond updo drew comparisons to “Saturday Night Live” characters played by Victoria Jackson and Cecily Strong. By early on Thursday, one clip of her exchange with Johnson had been viewed about 9 million times.
For many following along, the viral clips of Carone appear to sum up the last-ditch legal efforts by the Trump campaign to challenge the vote in swing states won by President-elect Joe Biden. As the campaign’s lawsuits have been repeatedly tossed out in court, Giuliani has instead urged Republican legislators to embrace his unverified claims of fraud and halt their states’ vote certifications.
The key witness in that campaign? A woman whose baseless claims about illegal ballots even made Giuliani reportedly point out that he had only just met her this week.
Carone, Giuliani and the Trump campaign all did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Washington Post late on Wednesday night.
A contractor for Dominion Voting Systems, which supplies voting technology for election jurisdictions nationwide, Carone stumbled into the national spotlight last month as one of a handful of “extraordinary witnesses” cited by Giuliani to support the Trump campaign’s unverified claims of a “stolen election.”
On Election Day, Carone said she worked a nonstop, 24-hour shift at Detroit’s vote-counting operation at TCF Center, tasked with IT support for Dominion’s machines. In an affidavit filed on Nov. 10, she claimed seeing some ballots being illegally scanned multiple times and suggested that vans meant to bring in meals for elections workers were hiding tens of thousands of ballots instead.
Carone’s affidavit was included in a lawsuit filed by the Trump campaign seeking to halt the certification of election results in Wayne County, a liberal, vote-rich area where Biden racked up much of his support. Wayne County Circuit Judge Timothy Kenny denied that request on Nov. 13, saying Carone’s and other witnesses’s “interpretation of events is incorrect and not credible.”
Nearly a month later, she continued making the same allegations in separate testimonies this week before the Michigan House and Michigan Senate Oversight Committees.
“Everything that happened at that TCF Center was fraud,” she declared. “Every single thing.”
During her exchange with Johnson on Wednesday, the GOP state lawmaker questioned her claim that 30,000 votes were counted multiple times but were not reflected in the poll book, a database that allows elections officials to review voter registration figures.
“We’re not seeing the poll book off by 30,000 votes,” he said.
“What’d you guys do, take it and do something crazy to it?” Carone fired back, before telling him there were “zero registered voters” in Wayne County’s poll book and that the turnout rate had been “120%.” (Biden won Michigan by more than 154,000 votes.)
When another representative suggested she should be “under oath” during her testimony, Carone got personal.
“I am a mother, I have two children, I have two degrees,” Carone said in a clip that was shared on Twitter Wednesday by President Donald Trump. “I don’t know any woman in the world that would write an affidavit under oath just to write it. You can go to prison for this.”
Asked later why more people did not come forward with allegations of fraud, she claimed that Trump’s critics had ruined the lives and reputations of witnesses like her. She added that she lost family and friends, received threats, had to move, change her phone number and take down her social media accounts. (A Facebook account with the name “Mellissa Carone,” which promoted her media appearances in November and repeatedly expressed support for Trump, still appears visible on the social media website.)
“My life has been completely destroyed because of this,” she said.
But on social media, her allegations seemed to be drawing far more attention for what they said about the Trump campaign.
“Imagine lining up your witnesses,” one person wrote on Twitter, “and this is the best you got.”
The Washington Post’s Tom Hamburger in Detroit contributed to this report.
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