Tennessee attorney G. Kline Preston IV said Russia is 'much better' at running elections than the United States.
A Tennessee attorney who worked on a Michigan lawsuit alleging voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election has a history of working with Russian nationals, an investigation by the American Independent Foundation has found.
The lawyer, G. Kline Preston IV, worked with a conservative legal group in Michigan as part of an effort to overturn the election results in the state, where Joe Biden defeated former President Donald Trump by a slim margin in 2020.
Preston has worked for Republican politicians and causes as a legal adviser for nearly two decades. He has said he is "family friends" with Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, whose campaign he represented in 2005 as it was being investigated for possible finance violations. He gave legal advice to Blackburn's 2007 House campaign and worked with her as recently as 2014.
Preston has a long history of sharing pro-Confederate propaganda on social media. He even quoted a former Ku Klux Klan leader in one of the many books he's written. In 2013, Preston sent a tweet suggesting that former President Barack Obama is not American — the same "Birther" conspiracy theory that Trump pushed before he ran for president.
"As long as US is electing foreign-born presidents, I propose Vladimir Vladimirivich [sic] Putin," Preston tweeted in 2013.
On Nov. 8, 2020, lawyers with the right-leaning Great Lakes Justice Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of two Wayne County residents alleging fraud took place during the vote count. The lawsuit, which alleged that officials affiliated with Democrats "allowed illegal, unlawful, and fraudulent processing of votes cast" in a plot to sink Trump's chances of winning the state, was initially dismissed by the Wayne County Circuit Court. The lawyers behind the legal effort then appealed the ruling to the Michigan Supreme Court.
During the effort to get the Michigan Supreme Court to hear their case, the Great Lakes Justice Center's lawyers filed affidavits from 47 witnesses who alleged they saw voter fraud during the vote count at Huntington Place, the convention center in Detroit where the voting and vote-counting were conducted. Among the affidavits is a sworn statement from Preston that identifies him as "an attorney for the GOP in Michigan on November 3-4, 2020."
In the statement, Preston claimed that election officials at the venue where the vote-counting took place intentionally set up their process in an obscured area so Republican election observers couldn't see what they were doing.
"The entire set-up of the administration and calculation of ballots on November 4, 2020, at the Detroit Department of Elections in the TCF Center was improper because a central part of their procedure was hidden and obscured in plain sight by the raised stage on which unknown functions were performed involving ballots which were not subject to observation, review, scrutiny or challenge," the statement reads.
On Nov. 23, 2020, the Michigan canvassing board voted to certify the state's election results, with one of two Republicans joining the Democratic board members in the vote.
One of the Russian nationals Preston is connected to is Maria Butina, an unregistered foreign agent who infiltrated the National Rifle Association as part of a Russian effort to influence conservatives. In 2018, The Daily Beast uncovered that it was Preston who first introduced Butina's handler, Alexander Torshin, a former Russian parliamentarian who was sanctioned by the Treasury Department, to David Keen, the former president of the NRA. According to their reporting, Preston is a "friend and confidant" of Torshin. In 2011 — the same year he introduced Torshin to Keene — Preston traveled to Russia to serve as a foreign elections observer. Preston also told The Tennessean in 2018 that Torshin "was interested in the NRA so I hooked him up."
In speaking with Rolling Stone in 2018, Preston waved off suspicion about introducing his friend to the NRA's leader. "Torshin is a gun enthusiast," he said. "I just called [Keene] out of the blue. I told him, 'Hey, I got a friend who is interested in the NRA, gun rights, that kind of stuff. Happens to be a Russian senator.'"
Preston is mentioned several times in the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Most notably, the report mentions that "according to Butina and press reporting, Tennessee attorney G. Kline Preston may also have been involved in the introduction."
From 2015 to 2017, Butina acted "as an agent of Russia inside the United States by developing relationships with U.S. persons and infiltrating organizations having influence over American politics, for the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian Federation," according to the Justice Department.
Butina was working at the direction of an unnamed individual only described as a "high-level official in the Russian government who was previously a member of the legislature of the Russian Federation and later became a top official at the Russian Central Bank," according to an affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint against her.
The "high-level official in the Russian government" mentioned in the affidavit was later revealed to be Torshin, Preston's "friend and confidant."
Preston's ties to Moscow extend far beyond the Butina episode. As an undergraduate, he studied in Russia at Leningrad State University and is said to speak Russian fluently. In the affidavit, Preston says he's written 14 books on law, most of which are about Russian law and elections, including "Parliamentary Elections of the Russian Federation: The Case Against Western Media Bias and Prejudice" and "The Law on Advertising of the Russian Federation." According to Preston's website, he served as a freelance elections observer in at least three Russian parliamentary elections in 2011, 2012, and 2016.
In August of 2020, Preston appeared on the internet show of Johan Bäckman, a Finnish pro-Russian political academic, and said he anticipated there would be widespread voter fraud to prevent Trump from being reelected. "We also have an issue now with the integrity of our voting system," Preston said. "So I anticipate a lot of voter fraud during our election ... U.S. elections are nothing like what we see in Russia."
He also has decades of business experience with Russia, according to his LinkedIn profile. The Daily Beast found a cached version of his law office's website that expands on his years of work with Russian clients, including a claim to have organized the "visit, participation and conference for Russian Government Officials to attend the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association."
In an interview, Preston said he volunteered for Lawyers for Trump, a coalition of right-wing lawyers formed in July of 2020 that led legal efforts to overturn the election results in several states with false allegations of election fraud. Preston said the group placed him in Michigan to serve as an "election observer."
"[Lawyers for Trump] reached out and I got back in touch with them and said I'd be happy to [help] and went and spent about a week up in Detroit," Preston told the American Independent Foundation. "A lot of it was monitoring. We had people at the precincts."
Preston insisted he worked with Lawyers for Trump of his own accord, not at the direction of any Russian nationals. But in speaking with the American Independent Foundation he repeatedly praised the way Russia runs its elections, saying the country is "much better" at running elections than the United States, which he called "a joke."
"I've been an observer in five federal elections in Russia," Preston said. "And I'm just here to tell you their elections are run much more smoothly — and with much more credibility than what I saw in Detroit."
Though the lead-up to the 2020 election in the U.S. was once again fraught with concerns of Russian interference, there's been no evidence that Russia or any other country had a hand in the post-election efforts to overturn the results in Michigan or any other state. A declassified intelligence report from March of 2021 confirmed that Putin did in fact authorize interference in the 2020 election by attempting to influence people close to Trump. "Neither Russia nor other countries tried to change ballots themselves," the report concluded.
Ultimately, the Great Lakes Justice Center's lawsuit was tossed by a Wayne County Circuit Court judge, who found that "the affidavits supplied by plaintiffs, purporting fraud, were 'rife' with generalization, speculation, hearsay, and a lack of evidentiary basis." An appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court was later dismissed as moot after the Michigan Board of Elections certified the state's election results.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.