According to new records obtained by American Oversight and reported on by Politico, in the weeks after the 2020 presidential election — as former President Donald Trump and his allies were engaged in an all-out push to overturn his loss — Arizona state Rep. Mark Finchem asked federal cybersecurity officials to audit voting machines in his home state.
Another email shows that Phil Waldron, a prominent supporter of the stolen-election lie who assisted in those efforts, reached out to the top lawyer at the Department of Homeland Security in late December 2020 to share a “request memorandum.”
The documents obtained by American Oversight “show Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and his allies’ attempts to get the federal government to help them reverse election results went even broader than previously known,” wrote Politico reporters. “Perhaps even more significantly, the emails underscore that Trump’s stalwart allies in his baseless quest to contest his loss to Joe Biden are still core parts of his network heading into a possible 2024 White House bid.”
The emails reveal that Finchem, a key leader in the effort to overturn election results in Arizona, submitted a request in late 2020 to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) for a “full spectrum forensic examination” to “analyze, investigate and report on the Dominion and/or SmartMatic voting systems.”
The request was elevated to CISA’s acting director, Brandon Wales, on Dec. 24, 2020. “We need to do a call on this today,” Wales wrote to other officials.
In his request, Finchem suggested that the firm CyTech run the examination. CyTech’s CEO and founder Ben Cotton was later involved in the Arizona Senate’s sham “audit” of votes cast in Maricopa County, and CyFIR, an offshoot of CyTech, later subcontracted with lead “audit” contractor Cyber Ninjas. Finchem said that CyTech’s technology and “subject matter expertise” would be sufficient for “this expert level of analysis and investigation.” He also mentioned the “public hearing on election integrity” that he hosted with Rudy Giuliani in Phoenix in late November 2020.
While much of the ensuing conversation among CISA officials about Finchem’s request is redacted, the emails indicate that CISA officials discussed the request with Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Arizona’s election director at the time, who officials said “were not surprised by the request” and “provided some additional context.”
Finchem is running for Arizona secretary of state, a role that includes overseeing the state’s elections, and was endorsed by Trump in September 2021.
The same month as Finchem’s request that federal officials conduct an audit of voting machines, which were the subject of various baseless fraud allegations, Trump allies had been urging the president to have the federal government seize machines. This included the circulation of a draft executive order that would have directed the secretary of defense to seize the machines as part of the effort to keep Trump in power.
First reported on by Politico in January 2022, the order cited a later-debunked report about election inaccuracies in Antrim County, Mich. Legal experts say the draft, dated Dec. 16, had little legitimacy and demonstrated little understanding of federal emergency powers. Another similar draft order was created for the Department of Homeland Security, rather than the Pentagon.
According to testimony provided by Trump legal team member Bernie Kerik to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the idea to seize voting machines came from Phil Waldron, a retired Army colonel.
The documents obtained by American Oversight include a Dec. 21, 2020, email to acting DHS General Counsel Chad Mizelle that, based on other open records requests we’ve made, appears to come from Waldron. “Here is the image of the request memorandum,” Waldron wrote. “I look forward to working with you.”
It is not clear what memorandum he is referring to, but Waldron, who is currently under investigation by the Jan. 6 committee, has been outspoken about the conspiracy that the nation’s voting machines were hacked by foreign governments.
Waldron is also known for having briefed members of Congress and Trump allies on election fraud theories in the remaining weeks of Trump’s presidency, including circulating an infamous 38-page PowerPoint outlining schemes to overturn the election. The PowerPoint, which was dated Jan. 5, 2021, was also shared with former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. These records further illustrate the extent of Waldron’s access to top Trump administration officials.
American Oversight has been investigating Waldron’s promotion of the Big Lie and his connections to state and federal officials. We’ve obtained numerous records documenting his interactions with state officials in Arizona, including messages sent to Senate President Karen Fann recommending Cyber Ninjas, the inexperienced firm Fann later hired to conduct the “audit.”
Finally, the records obtained by American Oversight also include a Dec. 18, 2020, exchange in which someone at Fox News Corporation asked then-acting DHS Chief of Staff John Goutanis for help expediting an Adjustment of Status Application filed by an employee at Fox and their family. Specifically, the email asks for the direct consideration of Ken Cuccinelli, then the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and second in command at DHS. Goutanis replied the same day notifying the sender that he had forwarded the request to the USCIS chief of staff. The sender asked for an update in an email sent on Jan. 7, 2021.
American Oversight obtained these records in response to a lawsuit filed in December 2021 for the communications of top officials with right-wing entities, Trump campaign associates, and promoters of the stolen-election lie.
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