MAGA World Thinks The Sketchy AZ Audit Will Pave The Way To A 2020 Reversal

PHOENIX, AZ - MAY 01: A contractor working for Cyber Ninjas, who was hired by the Arizona State Senate, works to recount ballots from the 2020 general election at Veterans Memorial Coliseum on May 1, 2021 in Phoenix,... PHOENIX, AZ - MAY 01: A contractor working for Cyber Ninjas, who was hired by the Arizona State Senate, works to recount ballots from the 2020 general election at Veterans Memorial Coliseum on May 1, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Maricopa County ballot recount comes after two election audits found no evidence of widespread fraud in Arizona. (Photo by Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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May 4, 2021 2:10 p.m.

When the leaders of a review of Arizona’s election were trying to convince a judge not to halt their sketchy audit of Maricopa County’s 2020 results, they claimed they’d be perfectly happy to find that nothing was amiss in the tally.

“Our client is not going into this with the perception that they are going to find anything wrong,”  Alex Kolodin, a lawyer for the auditors, said at a court hearing last week. “That nothing went wrong is an acceptable answer to our client, so we just wish to make that absolutely clear to the court.”

But in the far-right corners of the media ecosphere — and at the Palm Beach resort that the former president calls home — that’s not the perception.

Far-right blogs like Gateway Pundit have seen criticisms of the review as a sign that Democrats are “terrified” of the “alleged massive fraud” the audit may expose.

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One America News Network (OAN) has framed up its coverage of the Arizona review as just the first in what could be a series of audits in other states where former President Trump contested his defeat.

Trump himself, speaking to a crowd at Mar-A-Lago last week, remarked on the “interesting things” that were happening in Arizona.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they found thousands and thousands and thousands of votes,” Trump said, as he rattled off several other battleground states that he had targeted with his claims of mass voter fraud.

Trump may be watching the audit from afar. But several of his supporters who boosted his crusade to overturn the election have a direct hand in the audit, which started last month at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum. And as the recount chugs along, the wider MAGA world is pinning its hopes on the effort as a key step to finally — finally — overturning the election. 

An OAN reporter even asked the election scholar Rick Hasen, according to a screenshot of the email he tweeted Monday, what would happen to a president if his election was proven to be “fraudulent beyond any doubt.” Hasen declined to give the reporter a comment. 

Birthed Out Of Trump’s Election ‘Big Lie’

Arizona’s Republican-controlled legislature was one of several GOP state houses across the country to entertain President Trump’s voter fraud theories after he lost his reelection bid. Over time, state Republican lawmakers came to embrace the idea of an audit spearheaded by the Senate that, in the words of one committee chairman, would “put this to rest.”  

The leaders of the audit have repeatedly claimed that their aim isn’t to reverse the results.

“This has always been, and continues to be, about providing confidence in the election process and identifying any improvements that may need to be made,” Rod Thomson, a spokesperson for Cyber Ninjas, the Florida-based firm hired to lead the audit, told TPM in an email.

Yet Cyber Ninjas’ CEO Doug Logan promoted false claims of a stolen election in 2020, while working behind the scenes to assist those who led the failed election reversal crusade.

He authored a document, titled “Election Fraud Facts & Details,” which was published on the website of Sidney Powell, the pro-Trump lawyer who filed several Trump-aligned court challenges and now faces a 10-figure defamation suit from Dominion Voting Systems.

Another fringe pro-Trump lawyer, Lin Wood, confirmed to TPM last month that Logan was at Wood’s property in November last year, “working on the investigation into election fraud” with others. 

Wood has helped to raise private funding for the Arizona recount, which is now expected to cost far more than the $150,000 in public funding that the Senate has appropriated for it. Ex-Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne, Michael Flynn, and OAN employees — all cheerleaders of Trump’s efforts to overturn his lost reelection bid — have boosted the private fundraising effort as well. 

The official audit Twitter page has leaned into the fringe fundraising effort. On Saturday, a few hours after the account promoted fundtheaudit.com — a website “powered by” Byne’s group The America Project — Fund The Audit said that it had raised $1 million. OAN anchor Christina Bobb is reporting on the audit while also fundraising for it.

“I imagine that the outcome probably will change,” Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman (R) said on a press call Tuesday, while criticizing the audit, “just because there is an expectation by the people paying for this recount that the outcome is going to be different.”

Other election conspiracists have their handprints on the audit itself. A former state representative who sought to overturn the 2020 presidential results in Arizona, Anthony Kern, is working at the audit as a “temporary hired employee” of one of its contractors. Kern, in his last days in office, riled up a D.C. crowd a day before the attack by pledging his life for Trump. A picture the following day showed him on the Capitol steps as the attack took place.

The audit is also employing technology developed by Jovan Pulitzer, another election conspiracy theorist who Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) referred to as a “failed inventor and failed treasure hunter” when Pulitzer’s claims popped up in that state.

Even the recount’s procedures — a portion of which were released publicly due to a court order — appear to wink at some of the fantasies of mass fraud in the 2020 election. For instance, the procedures instruct auditors to take note of how certain ballots are folded and the ink being used — details that don’t really make a difference in the context of how Arizona elections are run but seem to play into conspiracy theories about counterfeit ballots flooding the election.

“They’re setting forth procedures and policies to make sure and ensure that the totals are wildly different because of the way they’re doing this “count-recount-audit,” depending on what you want to title this exercise,” said Tammy Patrick, a former election official in Maricopa County, who is now a senior fellow at the Democracy Fund.

Bearing Fruit For The Pro-Trump Fringe

Trump supporters around the country are hanging on every development out of the audit. 

While local reporters covering the recount have been constrained to a “pool” rotation of a limited number of reporters, a writer for Gateway Pundit was recently given looser rein and even an “BREAKING EXCLUSIVE” interview with Ken Bennett, the former Arizona secretary of state who is serving as the public face of the review. OAN, whose anchor is fundraising for the audit, is the Senate-approved live-streamer of the ballot-counting process. 

Peter Navarro, a Trump White House advisor and the author of several reports asserting mass election fraud, told OAN last week that he believed the Arizona audit could precede a similar audit in Georgia, where the scale of voter fraud was, in his universe, “much larger.” 

Speaking to Steve Bannon Thursday, Trump supporter Boris Epshteyn said that if the audit shows “even a small fraction” of what the former president’s devotees expect, “the freight train of audit is coming down the way. It’s on the train to Georgia.”

And at a Monday town hall in Windham, New Hampshire — one of the states Trump mentioned in his remarks about the Arizona recount last week — attendees demanded a Maricopa-style audit while chanting “stop the steal!” 

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