Several state lawmakers who have traveled to Arizona to try to learn lessons from the ongoing Republican “audit” of the 2020 election had also traveled to Washington for Jan. 6, when a pro-Trump mob rioted at the Capitol in an attempt to overturn the election results.
The Republican-led Arizona Senate’s audit of votes cast in Maricopa County, which has dabbled in absurd conspiracy theories and is being funded by shadowy outside groups, will not affect the outcome of the election; Joe Biden is president and the state Senate said this is all about how the state should think about future elections anyway. But far-right politicians from across the US continue to show up in Phoenix to observe it as they push — unsuccessfully, so far — for similar audits to appease Trump and his supporters in their own states.
At least four legislators and one former legislator turned gubernatorial candidate who have toured the Arizona audit in recent weeks were present at Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally, which preceded the violent insurrection at the Capitol. While all of the lawmakers have said they did not enter the Capitol building that day, three of them marched to the building with the crowd. And one, Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano, appears to have been captured in footage that day passing onto the Capitol grounds after another man pushed aside a police barricade blocking the way.
Former Arizona state representative Anthony Kern, who worked on the audit, was also at the Capitol on Jan. 6. He too has denied going inside the building, but, the Arizona Mirror reported, Kern was photographed on the steps of the Capitol, and footage of the riots appears to show him on the West Front of the Capitol after the building had been breached. Kern was removed from the audit “once it was identified that that wasn't the best optics,” an audit spokesperson told the Arizona Republic.
Of course, there’s a direct line between Trump’s rally on Jan. 6, in which he implored his supporters to “fight like hell” to overturn the election results, and these visits to the audit in Arizona. They are both premised on the same falsehood — that Trump did not lose. And these crusades to Phoenix underline just how much power Trump, and that lie, still hold over elected Republicans around the country.
Pennsylvania Sen. Doug Mastriano
Mastriano led the first delegation of legislators to tour the Arizona audit on June 2, bringing two of his Pennsylvania Republican colleagues with him, Sen. Cris Dush and Rep. Rob Kauffman.
Mastriano spent thousands in campaign funds to bus people to Washington for the “Stop the Steal” rally, WHYY and others reported. On Jan. 6, Mastriano and his wife marched with other Trump supporters to the Capitol. He claimed the next day that they had left “when it was apparent that this was no longer a peaceful protest” and “at no point did we enter the Capitol building, walk on the Capitol steps, or go beyond police lines.”
But footage uncovered by Twitter users in May appears to show Mastriano and his wife walking onto the Capitol campus after a man pushes barricades aside to let the crowd through. In a statement to the Philadelphia Inquirer responding to the footage, Mastriano said that the police lines had “shifted throughout the course of the day” and that he followed the directions of Capitol Police.
Pennsylvania Spotlight also reported that Mastriano and his wife appeared to be walking past the steps of the Capitol at 1:59 p.m. in footage uploaded to Parler (which is hosted in a ProPublica database) just seven minutes before that staircase was breached by the mob.
Mastriano has met with Trump several times since the former president lost the November election and has said Trump has encouraged him to run for governor of Pennsylvania in 2022. (Then-Trump spokesperson Jason Miller tweeted in response to a story calling Mastriano Trump's pick for governor in May that Trump had not "made any endorsement or commitments yet in this race.")
Mastriano did not respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.
Alaska Rep. David Eastman
Eastman, who represents Sarah Palin’s hometown of Wasilla in the Alaska state legislature, received a tour of the Arizona audit on June 8.
The day before the insurrection at the Capitol, Eastman had tweeted that he would be in Washington and linked to a blog post he wrote titled “Trump Lost and Jeffrey Epstein Killed Himself,” in which he argued that Congress should not certify Biden’s win. The next day, he attended the “Stop the Steal” rally and spoke on the phone with Alaska Public Media as he said he was walking from the rally to the Capitol.
Eastman later said he didn’t witness any of the violence at the Capitol, and there is no evidence he entered the Capitol grounds. The next day, Eastman posted a photo of himself and other Alaskans at the Grant Memorial, just west of the Capitol, to a Facebook group for Alaskans who were in DC on Jan. 6, according to APM.
Eastman later said on Facebook that “Antifa” was responsible for the violence at the Capitol that day (the rioters were overwhelmingly and vocally Trump supporters). Two weeks after the insurrection, Eastman tweeted that “those who broke the law in violating the integrity of our capitol building should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” while equating the insurrectionists with “those who broke the law in violating the integrity of our election.”
Eastman did not respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.
Colorado Rep. Ron Hanks
Hanks toured the Arizona audit on June 10, just a day after he unsuccessfully tried to oust the Colorado House’s Republican leader.
Hanks was also present in Washington on Jan. 6 to protest the results of the 2020 election, the same election in which he first won his seat in the Colorado House. Hanks told Heart of the Rockies radio the next day that he had marched from Trump’s rally to the Capitol, where he saw people “on the scaffolding with the Trump signs and flags” and that he “heard what sounded like a couple of concussions,” but said he and his group “still didn’t have an idea of what was going on from the standpoint of the violence.” Hanks also suggested that the rioters were perhaps members of “the opposition” trying to make the “good” Trump supporters he’d seen at the rally that morning “look bad.”
Asked on that radio show why he’d gone to the Capitol, Hanks said he thought “something might come of this that would be worth experiencing, witnessing, participating in,” later adding, “The fraud will be brought out over time.”
Hanks did not respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.
Former Georgia representative Vernon Jones
Jones, who is running for governor in 2021, toured the audit on June 9. He is running against Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican who has been a top target of Trump’s since he refused to help try to overturn the state’s election results in 2020.
Jones, then a Democratic member of the statehouse who had endorsed Trump for president, spoke at the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6, announcing his switch to the Republican Party. He tweeted late that afternoon — nearly three hours after rioters breached the Capitol — calling on “peaceful Patriots” not to “drown out our message with violence.”
Jones has also traveled to Mar-a-Lago since Trump’s defeat, where the former president encouraged him to run for governor.
Jones did not respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.
Virginia Sen. Amanda Chase
Chase visited Phoenix on June 10 and told the right-wing, conspiratorial Gateway Pundit site that the audit “is setting the gold standard for elections going forward, period.” She also said that “every legislator should come and watch this process.”
Chase also spoke at the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6, but said in a video she posted to Facebook — on an account that has since been suspended — that she left before the riot on the advice of her security team, according to the Chesterfield Observer. “When you give them no other options, when you cheat them of their elections, when you take away their constitutional rights and freedoms, you’re backing patriots like myself into a corner,” she said, according to the paper. “We would like to have a peaceful [resolution] to the events of today, but as you can see, there are already many patriots that have — we’ve had enough.”
Calling the rioters “patriots,” among other things, earned Chase a censure in the state Senate.
Chase, who refers to herself as “Trump in heels,” according to the Washington Post, unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for governor this year.
Chase did not respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.
This story was updated with a tweet from Jason Miller clarifying Trump's position on Sen. Mastriano's potential gubernatorial bid.