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Office of Arizona Attorney General launches investigation of state 2020 election after ballot review


Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s Office is investigating the 2020 election after the findings of the state Senate’s partisan ballot review and months of pressure from former President Donald Trump to take action.

Roger Geisler, a special agent with Brnovich’s major fraud unit, questioned Adrian Fontes, the Democratic former Maricopa County recorder, on Monday about issues stemming from the election.

Another investigator also attended the one-hour interview of Fontes, arranged late last week by Geisler. 

The interview, Fontes told The Arizona Republic, was unlike any briefings he had with law enforcement officials during his four years as recorder and did not suggest he was the target of a criminal probe. Fontes is a lawyer and a former member of the attorney general’s office who is seeking the Democratic nomination for secretary of state next year.

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It is unclear how far along the probe is or how wide it reaches, but the interview makes clear that Brnovich, a Republican running for the U.S. Senate, is taking up an issue that has often dominated GOP politics in the aftermath of Trump’s narrow defeat in Arizona last year.

A Brnovich spokesperson did not immediately respond to The Arizona Republic’s request for comment. Last week, attorney general officials told The Republic they had not received any written complaints of election fraud from the Trump campaign, Trump’s lawyer or key figures from his reelection campaign. Officials did not respond when asked repeatedly whether the office had received any verbal requests.

The investigators seemed to be taking up issues raised by Cyber Ninjas, the Florida-based company that conducted the ballot review for the Senate, Fontes said.

“They are going down the Cyber Ninja rabbit hole,” Fontes said afterward. He added, “It’s incredibly troubling that a prosecutor would send two agents out to try to bolster the ‘Big Lie,'" a reference to Trump’s unfounded assertions that widespread fraud led to his loss against Democrat Joe Biden.

In an email seeking time with Fontes, Geisler said he “would like to know about the election preparation and execution. What some of the difficulties were and what worked well.”

Investigators questioned Fontes about some of the questions raised during the ballot review of 2.1 million ballots in Maricopa County from the 2020 election and zeroed in on the timing of archiving for computerized election records. Fontes said they did not seem to understand the basics of election administration. 

Trump has baselessly called the 2020 election the “crime of the century” and specifically called on Brnovich to investigate the matter in Arizona, which voted for Biden and had the closest margin in the country.

In a July speech in Phoenix, Trump said the state Senate’s unprecedented review of Maricopa County’s 2.1 million ballots was finding significant problems. The results of that undertaking, which actually concluded Biden picked up a few more votes, were not released for another two months.

“In my opinion, there’s no way (Democrats) win elections without cheating,” Trump said during his speech. “What you’re doing here is incredible. The 2020 election was a total disgrace.”

Trump urged Brnovich at that time to act on the information pulled together in the Senate’s ballot review. 

“Hopefully, he’s going to do what everybody knows has to be done,” Trump said of Brnovich. The comment hung over the political rally like a carrot and a stick.

Brnovich refuted election fraud allegations; Trump bit back 

Trump remains the most influential figure in conservative politics, and his endorsement in the Senate race could help tip the race. He has, to this point, had a rocky view of Brnovich over the past year.

On Nov. 11, 2020, Brnovich debunked allegations of fraud in Arizona’s election in an appearance on Fox Business.

“If people have evidence or facts there’s some impropriety, they need to tell us,” he said. “Look, in Arizona, there was a prediction that the (Republican-controlled) Legislature would flip. It didn’t. … The county recorder here oversees elections, went from Democrat to Republican. The county attorney remained Republican. If indeed there was some grand conspiracy, it apparently didn’t work.

“What really happened, it came down to people split their ticket. People voted for Republicans down-ballot. They didn’t vote for President Trump and (then-Sen.) Martha McSally. That’s the reality. Just because that happened, it doesn’t mean it’s fraud.”

Fox News quickly called Arizona for Biden. It eventually proved correct, but many news organizations only called the race days later as it became clear that Trump could not win the state.

Since the election, Trump has lashed out at Brnovich for his lack of support on the state Senate’s ballot review.

“The lackluster Attorney General of Arizona, Mark Brnovich, has to get on the ball and catch up with the great Republican patriots in the Arizona State Senate,” Trump said in a May statement.

“Brnovich must put himself in gear, or no Arizona Republican will vote for him in the upcoming elections,” Trump continued.

In July, Brnovich went on Fox News to fire back at Biden, who had described Republican bills across the country that made voting harder as the “most significant test of democracy since the Civil War.”

More: 'Election subversion' accusations: Donald Trump and allies look for new ways to challenge votes

“I just think it’s quite frankly shameful that the president of the United States would use such divisive rhetoric,” Brnovich said. “And not only is it divisive, it’s just not accurate. It’s just not true.

“Because the reality is the left has tried to create this false dichotomy where somehow we have to choose between voter participation and voter integrity and it’s just not the case.”

In September, state Sen. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, sent Brnovich the final report of the company that conducted the ballot review of Maricopa County.

That widely criticized report found that Biden picked up an extra 99 votes and Trump lost 261. It also asserted irregularities that have been widely dismissed by election experts.

Among the claims, Cyber Ninjas said there were 23,000 mail-in votes from people who no longer lived at the address on record. That claim relied on a commercial database that didn’t include information for 86,000 of the county’s registered voters.

In a letter to Brnovich on Sept. 24, Fann said there were several “urgent issues” that needed to be followed up on. Those included the signature verification process for absentee ballots, the maintenance of voter rolls, election technology and machinery, and preservation of election-related information to be used for future audits, if warranted. 

“As the Senate enters that next phase, there are several items in the reports that merit the attention of your office. I am therefore forwarding the reports for your office’s consideration and, if you find it appropriate, further investigation as part of your ongoing oversight of these issues.”

Reach the reporters at yvonne.wingett@arizonarepublic.com and Ronald J. Hansen at ronald.hansen@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-4493. Follow him on Twitter @ronaldjhansen.