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Group files ethics complaint against Nebraska attorney general for his support of lawsuit challenging 2020 vote

By: - September 21, 2022 6:54 pm

Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump protest inside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C., after breaching security and entering the Capitol as Congress debated the 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification. (Brent Stirton/Getty Images)

LINCOLN — A legal accountability group is charging that Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson used his elective office “to propagate lies and misinformation that imperil American democracy” and discredit the 2020 election results.

The 65 Project — named after the 65 unsuccessful lawsuits filed by former President Donald Trump’s supporters to overturn his 2020 defeat — said it filed bar complaints Wednesday against Peterson and 14 other Republican attorneys general.

Attorney General Doug Peterson
Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

The complaints were based on the GOP officials’ support of an unsuccessful lawsuit, led by the Texas attorney general, that challenged the vote counting in four battleground states.

The Texas lawsuit contained “numerous false allegations,” the 65 Project stated in its complaint, and Peterson violated an ethical requirement that attorneys not pursue legal actions they “reasonably” know were frivolous or false.

“These lawyers tried to help Trump cling to power by spreading falsehoods and lies in court filings. They must be held accountable,” said Michael Teter, managing director of The 65 Project.

AG exonerated after similar complaint

A spokeswoman for Peterson said that a similar claim had already been filed and rejected against the attorney general concerning the Texas lawsuit.

That complaint, filed by former State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha in December 2020, resulted in a “thorough report exonerating the AG of any wrongdoing,” according to spokeswoman Suzanne Gage. 

Peterson, when he signed onto an amicus brief supporting the Texas lawsuit, stated in a news release that his office took “very seriously” how votes are counted in other states.

“Nebraskans — no less than citizens in other States — have a strong interest in ensuring that presidential elections comply with the Constitution,” said the attorney general, who is not seeking re-election.

Texas lawsuit dismissed

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the Texas lawsuit on the basis that Texas, as well as Nebraska, had no standing to challenge election results in other states.

Donald Trump lost the popular vote in 2020 by more than 7 million votes to Joe Biden and lost the vote in the electoral college by 306-232.

At the time, U.S. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., described the Texas effort as a “PR stunt rather than a lawsuit.”

The 65 Project describes itself as a bipartisan accountability group seeking accountability for “bogus” claims about the 2020 election. However, InfluenceWatch.org, which tracks political groups, said that The 65 Project was formed by Democrats and that all of its complaints have been aimed at Republicans.

The complaints come a day after several other GOP attorneys generals — not including Peterson — signed onto an amicus brief supporting former President Donald Trump’s right to hold onto classified documents.

The 65 Group said that demonstrated that “Big Lie Lawyers” were continuing to show their “disinterest in the rule of law” by supporting Trump’s “theft” of classified national security documents.

Unaware of robocalls

The organization, in its 12-page complaint to the Nebraska Counsel of Discipline, also asked for an investigation into whether the attorney general’s staff participated on government time in strategy sessions, called “war games,” with organizers of the Jan. 6 rally outside the White House.

The Republican Attorneys General Association, in which Peterson has been active, participated in the strategy sessions, The 65 Project said. The association also donated $150,000 to cosponsor the Jan. 6 “March to Save America,” the Guardian reported.

The group’s fundraising arm sent out robocalls calling on “patriots” to “stop the steal” and to participate in the Jan. 6 rally, in which Trump urged people to “fight like hell” and march to the U.S. Capitol.

Peterson, when asked in February 2021 about robocalls by the Rule of Law Defense Fund, told the Omaha World-Herald he was unaware of them and guessed they were done without authorization.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and later, editing the Papillion Times group in suburban Omaha. He joined the Lincoln Journal-Star as a sports enterprise reporter, and then a roving reporter covering southeast Nebraska. In 1990, he was hired by the Omaha World-Herald as a legislative reporter. Later, for 15 years, he roamed the state covering all kinds of news and feature stories. In the past decade, he served as chief of the Lincoln Bureau and enterprise reporter. Paul has won awards for reporting from Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press, Nebraska Newspaper Association and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.

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