Former president Donald Trump and his allies are pushing new efforts to recount last year’s election results after a sham “audit” conducted by a pro-Trump contractor in Arizona reaffirmed his loss.
After five months and at least $5.7 million spent reexamining 2.1 million ballots in Maricopa County, Trump's allies had looked forward to Friday, when Arizona Republicans would release the results and prove that the election was stolen. But a draft copy leaked on Thursday night, showing that not only did the auditors find that President Joe Biden won the election, but they also claimed to have found more votes for him.
Trump allies had spent months building up hope that Arizona would offer proof of their lies about the election, raising money along the way. Absent that proof, they did what they always do and spun reality.
“The Fake News is lying about the Arizona audit report!” Trump said in a statement Friday. “The leaked report conclusively shows there were enough fraudulent votes, mystery votes, and fake votes to change the outcome of the election 4 or 5 times over.”
By midday, Trump world was calling for more audits and investigations to build on the “proof” found in Maricopa County. Trump's spokesperson, Liz Harrington, called for a “full forensic audit of the entire state,” saying “Arizona is only the beginning!” Trump-aligned candidates for Arizona secretary of state and governor called for a sequel to the audit in Pima County, which Biden also won.
Christina Bobb, a reporter for the right-wing One America News Network who both covered the audit and started a dark money group to fundraise for it, tweeted that there were more than 50,000 fraudulent votes in the state and that that was “the floor,” a number that would only grow when the state attorney general opened a criminal investigation. (He hasn’t yet committed to doing so.)
Arizona’s audit was conducted by Cyber Ninjas, a contractor with no previous experience auditing elections and whose CEO, Doug Logan, spread conspiracy theories about the election long before the audit began in April. While its report conclusively affirmed that Biden got more votes than Trump in Maricopa County, it left plenty of what-ifs and unanswered questions for Trump and his allies to leap on, and leap they did.
The draft report claims, for example, that 9,041 more ballots were marked as returned than had been sent out, but it notes several ways that “this situation could be explained.” The report goes on to say that just because a ballot was marked as received “does not necessarily mean the ballot was counted” and that they themselves “assumed that only the first ballot was counted.” Those kinds of caveats, while ignored by Trump and his allies, are littered through the report. The report does not address, however, why five months and more than $5.7 million wasn’t enough to definitively investigate what it presents as “potential” discrepancies.
This was always where the audit was going: If you can’t find conclusive evidence of fraud, at least keep the specter alive. It’s been the pattern for nearly a year. The true fraud was supposed to come out in dozens of lawsuits, then the Kraken was going to be released, and Mike Lindell would offer proof at his “Cyber Symposium” in South Dakota; none of it amounted to anything, but the “Stop the Steal” train continues on.
And pro-Trump Republicans in other states are watching. GOP-controlled legislatures in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have launched their own sequels to the Arizona audit, though both are more limited so far. Republicans in Texas and Florida have filed legislation to conduct their own audits, despite Trump winning both states in 2020.
Far from expressing disappointment in the Arizona results, the Trump faithful were certain Friday that more was coming. Supporters of the QAnon mass delusion speculated in the morning that the leaked draft was a “false flag” designed to lure the media into covering the real audit results that would come out later in the day.
“The MSM shows up because they think they'll be covering something damaging to Trump and then wind up covering the proof of coordinated fraud live on air instead,” one person wrote on a popular QAnon message board. “I guess we'll just have to wait and see.” That theory was echoed by Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers, who didn’t even wait for the audit results to say the election should be “decertified,” and Jovan Pulitzer, a prominent figure in the realm of election conspiracies. (Pulitzer was involved in the Arizona audit and appears to have originated the theory that led auditors to search ballots for bamboo fibers to see if China had interfered in the election.)
Trump allies were delighted by the official announcement of the audit results at a Republican Senate hearing on Friday afternoon, which largely ignored the fact that the count confirmed Biden’s win. Arizona Senate President Karen Fann, who spearheaded the audit, said at the beginning of the hearing that the ballot count was “close” to the official results from November, but she didn’t explicitly acknowledge that they affirmed Trump’s loss. Auditors glossed over the final ballot count as well and instead presented what they said were “anomalies” and “questions” that they couldn’t answer without more information, echoing the caveats of their draft report.
Predictably, Trump and his allies ran with it. The former president, seemingly pleased, released another statement calling the audit “a big win for democracy and a big win for us. Shows how corrupt the Election was.”
Fann sent the audit report to Mark Brnovich, Arizona's Republican attorney general, on Friday, writing that his office should review it for further investigation “if you find it appropriate” and said that the state Senate would consider legislation to update laws for future elections. Her letter acknowledged that the audit confirmed the 2020 election result by recounting Maricopa County’s ballots by hand, writing, “There is no reliable evidence that they were altered to any material degree.”