- Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told Business Insider she's "hanging in there" after the FBI foiled a right-wing plot to kidnap and assassinate her.
- "That's my phrase for 2020," she said, adding that she was "appalled" when President Donald Trump encouraged his supporters to "lock her up" just 10 days after the men who plotted against her were arrested.
- Whitmer sharply rejected the Trump campaign's "ridiculous" claim that she was encouraging "assassination attempts" against the president following a recent television appearance.
- Whitmer also excoriated the president for stirring up conspiracy theories about the integrity of the election system, and expressed confidence in state and local officials who are working overtime to ensure the safety of the vote.
- "It's going to take a while to count these ballots because we're going to have historic turnout, which is a great thing for democracy," she said. "And so it may take a few days to get a final vote, but we're going to do it right. And we're going to keep voters informed about every step along the way."
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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says she's "hanging in there" after the FBI foiled a right-wing plot to kidnap her.
"That's my phrase for 2020," she told Business Insider in an interview Tuesday morning.
Whitmer has been in the national spotlight since 13 men were arrested and charged earlier this month with scheming to kidnap the Democratic governor, put her on trial, and execute her.
Six of the defendants were charged with felonies, and seven were arrested and charged with state crimes. Authorities said the six men who were charged with federal crimes went as far as monitoring Whitmer's vacation home and building bombs.
An FBI affidavit signed by special agent Richard Trask II said that two of the defendants "agreed to unite others in their cause and take violent action against multiple state governments that they believe are violating the U.S. Constitution."
Trask added: "Several members talked about murdering 'tyrants' or 'taking' a sitting governor."
On Monday, CNN reported on text messages between some of the defendants, one of which said of Whitmer: "Have one person go to her house, knock on the door and when she answers it just cap her."
"It's not easy," Whitmer told Business Insider on Tuesday when asked how she and her family were coping with the arrests. "And it's so serious what was being planned and plotted, and yet, you know, we're trying to stay focused on doing what we each individually need to do to support one another."
Chants to 'lock her up' ring out at Trump's rallies
The controversy surrounding the alleged kidnapping plot against Whitmer became turbocharged over the weekend, when President Donald Trump laughed and encouraged supporters at a Michigan rally to "lock her up."
The chant — an old favorite among the president's supporters and directed at then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016 — came after Trump criticized Whitmer's decision to order a lockdown of her state amid surging coronavirus cases this year.
"You've gotta get your governor to open up your state, OK?" Trump said. The crowd cheered and erupted into chants of "lock her up!" The president smirked and responded: "Lock 'em all up."
Whitmer's deputy digital director, Tori Saylor, assailed the president's actions as dangerous, tweeting: "I see everything that is said about and to her online. Every single time the President does this at a rally, the violent rhetoric towards her immediately escalates on social media. It has to stop. It just has to."
Whitmer also responded, writing on Twitter, "This is exactly the rhetoric that has put me, my family, and other government officials' lives in danger while we try to save the lives of our fellow Americans. It needs to stop."
Asked about her immediate reaction when she saw the president's rally, Whitmer told Business Insider that she was "appalled."
"We're 10 days out from an unprecedented announcement of charges of a group of people that was plotting to kidnap and murder me, a sitting US governor," she said. "This was a moment where we really need people of good will on both sides of the aisle to take on domestic terrorism. It's a threat to us all, and to hear the president encourage this kind of rhetoric is stunning and incredibly dangerous."
Whitmer derides the president's allegations against her as 'ridiculous'
Whitmer added that no one from the White House or Trump's campaign team has reached out to her since the rally. By contrast, Democratic nominee Joe Biden and his vice-presidential running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, have both reached out several times, she said.
She added that several Republican gubernatorial colleagues, like Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, also checked in on Whitmer and her family to "share some of their frustrations with the political climate."
"That gives me great hope that there are people of good will on both sides of the aisle who are going to — sure we'll disagree — but we're going to make sure that we never foment that dangerous, hateful rhetoric that's pulling our nation apart," she said.
Shortly after Whitmer appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" over the weekend to criticize the president for what she described as inciting violence against her, the Trump campaign retaliated.
Specifically, it accused Whitmer of "encouraging assassination attempts" against the president because of a series of numbers that were displayed behind her when she appeared on the show.
According to the Oxford English dictionary, the term "eighty-six" means to "eject or debar (a person) from premises; to reject or abandon."
"That was ridiculous," Whitmer said when asked about the campaign's accusation. "Eighty-six means reject, and I do reject Donald Trump. I reject Donald Trump's rhetoric, I reject Donald Trump's bungled COVID response, and I reject Donald Trump's decisions to pit Americans against Americans."
The Michigan governor also excoriated the president and his allies for stirring up conspiracy theories and casting doubt on the integrity of the election system. But she expressed confidence in state and local officials who are working overtime to ensure the safety of the vote.
"We take very seriously any efforts to undermine keeping voters safe and ensuring that every vote is counted," Whitmer said, adding that she is working with the Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel on the matter.
'The road to the White House is always going to go through the state of Michigan'
Trump attacked Nessel on Saturday, telling rallygoers, "Be careful of [Whitmer] and her attorney general. Because, you know, they're like, in charge of the ballot stuff, right … You got to watch it. Watch those ballots. Watch what's going on … and law enforcement is watching."
Nessel hit back at Trump on Twitter, saying, "In nearly every state of the union, including Michigan, the Secretary of State is 'like in charge of the ballot stuff.' I AM law enforcement. And you can bet our election will be safe and the vote will be protected."
Whitmer also defended Nessel and Benson on Tuesday, saying Trump would have attacked the integrity of the election results in her state "regardless of the facts."
"It's going to take a while to count these ballots because we're going to have historic turnout, which is a great thing for democracy," she said. "And so it may take a few days to get a final vote, but we're going to do it right. And we're going to keep voters informed about every step along the way."
Indeed, more than four times as many people have voted so far this year compared to this point in 2016, and 35 million voters have already cast ballots in the 2020 election, according to the US Elections Project.
Michigan has emerged as a critical battleground state ahead of the general election, particularly since Trump picked up the state in 2016 in a stunning upset over Clinton. Trump won the state by fewer than 11,000 votes in the last election, while Whitmer won it by over 400,000 when she ran for governor in 2018.
"I think Michigan has always been a swing state," Whitmer said. "Even in a year like 2018 where we saw a dramatic swing, it was still a 53% vote. So elections in Michigan, even in big years, are always inherently close, and that's why Michiganders are a reflection of the country and I think that's why the road to the White House is always going to go through the state of Michigan."
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