By Jonathan J. Cooper
PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona’s former attorney general suppressed findings by his investigators who concluded there was no basis for allegations that the 2020 election was marred by widespread fraud, according to documents released Wednesday by his successor.
Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes, who took office last month, said the records show the 2020 election “was conducted fairly and accurately by election officials.”
Previous Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, never released a March 2022 summary of investigative findings, which ruled out most of the fraud claims spread by allies and supporters of former President Donald Trump. Yet a month later, he released an “interim report” that claimed his investigation “revealed serious vulnerabilities that must be addressed and raises questions about the 2020 election in Arizona.”
He released his April report despite pushback from his investigators who said some of its claims were refuted by their probe. Brnovich was at the time in the midst of a Republican Party primary for U.S. Senate and facing fierce criticism from Trump, who claimed he wasn’t doing enough to prosecute election fraud.
Brnovich, whose primary bid was unsuccessful, also did not release a September memo that systematically refuted a bevy of election conspiracies that have taken root on the right, including allegations of dead or duplicate voters, pre-marked ballots flown in from Asia, election servers connected to the internet and even manipulation by satellites controlled by the Italian military.
“In each instance and in each matter, the aforementioned parties did not provide any evidence to support their allegations,” the September memo read. “The information that was provided was speculative in many instances and when investigated by our agents and support staff, was found to be inaccurate.”
The September memo, which was among the documents released Wednesday, describes an all-encompassing probe that became the top priority for the attorney general’s investigators, who spent more than 10,000 hours looking into 638 complaints. They opened 430 investigations and referred 22 cases for prosecution. President Joe Biden won Arizona by a little over 10,000 votes.
Mayes said the fraud claims were a waste.
“The ten thousand plus hours spent diligently investigating every conspiracy theory under the sun distracted this office from its core mission of protecting the people of Arizona from real crime and fraud,” Mayes said in a statement.
Attempts to reach Brnovich for comment were unsuccessful.
Brnovich’s “interim report” claimed that election officials worked too quickly in verifying voter signatures and pointed to a drop in the number of ballots with rejected signatures between 2016 and 2018 and again in 2020. He also claimed that Maricopa County was slow in responding to requests for information.
He made those claims even after investigators who reviewed a draft pushed back, publishing his report largely unchanged following their feedback.
The investigative staff concluded that the county recorder’s office “followed its policy/procedures as they relate to signature verification; we did not uncover any criminality or fraud having been committed in this area during the 2020 general election,” investigators wrote. They also said they found the county “was cooperative and responsive to our requests.”
Arizona became the epicenter of efforts by Trump allies to cast doubt on Biden’s victory. Republican leaders of the state Senate subpoenaed election records and equipment and hired a Florida firm led by a Trump supporter, Cyber Ninjas Inc., to conduct an unprecedented review of the election in Maricopa County.
The Cyber Ninjas review gave Biden more votes than the official count but claimed that their work raised serious questions about the conduct of the election in Maricopa County, home to metro Phoenix and the majority of Arizona’s voters. The investigation by the attorney general’s office found the allegations did not stand up to scrutiny.
“Our comprehensive review of CNI’s audit showed they did not provide any evidence to support their allegations of widespread fraud or ballot manipulation,” Brnovich’s investigators wrote.
Thursday’s release is the latest confirmation that there was no widespread fraud in the 2020 election and that Biden won the presidency legitimately. Trump continues to repeat his lie that the election was stolen from him as he mounts his third bid for the White House, despite reviews and audits saying otherwise in the battleground states he contested and his own administration officials debunking his claims.
Officials in Maricopa County, where nearly all the officials overseeing elections are Republicans, say they endured death threats and verbal abuse due to the suggestions of malfeasance in the Cyber Ninjas review and Brnovich’s “interim report.”
“This was a gross misuse of his elected office and an appalling waste of taxpayer dollars, as well as a waste of the time and effort of professional investigators,” Clint Hickman, the Republican chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors said in a statement.
Brnovich’s investigators did conclude that Maricopa County officials did not uniformly follow state election procedures when filling out forms to document the pickup and transport of mail ballots. But they said the errors were procedural and that “investigators did not find anything that would (have) compromised the integrity of the ballots or the final ballot count.”
Investigators interviewed two Republican state lawmakers who publicly claimed they knew of fraud in the election, but wrote that neither Rep. Mark Finchem nor Sen. Sonny Borrelli repeated their claims to investigators — when they could have been subject to criminal charges for false reporting to law enforcement. The investigators said a third lawmaker, Republican state Sen. Wendy Rogers, declined to speak with them.