Since it began in late April, every week seems to bring alarming and often incredible news from the Arizona Senate’s election audit of ballots cast in Maricopa County.
Two weeks ago, there were the headlines that auditors were looking for bamboo fibers, based on the ridiculous conspiracy theory that ballots had been shipped from Asia. Last week, Senate President Karen Fann, who has led the anti-democratic charge, accused county officials of having deleted data; on Tuesday, following a scathing letter from the majority-Republican Maricopa County Board of Elections who said that the inexperienced auditors were looking in the wrong place, Fann and her Senate colleagues backtracked and admitted they had found the data.
And each week, the state Senate has failed to keep its promise of a transparent process, even telling American Oversight that it doesn’t have “custody, control or possession” of key documents we had requested about the audit, from plans for securing election materials to contracts with Cyber Ninjas, the conspiracy-theorist-led firm chosen by the Senate to run the recount.
On Wednesday, American Oversight sued the Arizona Senate for those records under Arizona’s Public Records Law to compel the release of those records.
NEW LAWSUIT: We’re suing the Arizona Senate for failing to release documents related to the partisan audit of the 2020 presidential ballots in Maricopa County. #AZAudit #AZleg https://t.co/BOLi5V7yYC pic.twitter.com/fttVFMLn4T
— American Oversight (@weareoversight) May 19, 2021
Transparency about what Maricopa Board Chairman Jack Sellers has described as a “grift disguised as an audit” is vital, especially as supporters of former President Donald Trump’s lie that the election was stolen from him seek to replicate the Arizona audit elsewhere. Across the country, in swing states like Michigan and Georgia and even in small-town New Hampshire, the big lie of widespread voter fraud has spurred calls for more recounts and more attempts to undermine public confidence in the 2020 election. Such “audits” of vote counts that have already been verified — often multiple times — don’t just have the effect of further eroding trust in U.S. democratic processes; they may also provide the pretense for new voting restrictions to be enacted under the guise of “election integrity.”
Of course, multiple states haven’t waited for so-called audits, and American Oversight continues to investigate measures proposed or enacted across the country that make voting harder. Here are some recent related headlines:
‘New Phone, Who’s This?’
We’ve been seeking the public release of the communications of Seema Verma, who led the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under Trump, including text messages and other records from her mobile devices. Through our litigation, we learned that Verma lost her agency-issued cell phone just two days before President Joe Biden’s inauguration. She received a new one, which was returned to the government after the inauguration, but Verma said she lost the passcode — and the agency says it is unable to produce Verma’s messages. “The federal government has a legal obligation to preserve agency records, and there’s no excuse at this point in time for failing to do so,” American Oversight’s Austin Evers told Politico.
Dr. Oz and Laura Ingraham Requests About Hydroxychloroquine
Last spring, as his administration failed to control the surging pandemic, Trump used his office to erroneously promote the drug hydroxychloroquine as a miracle Covid-19 treatment, despite lack of evidence. We published records this week showing emails sent by prominent television hosts Dr. Mehmet Oz and Laura Ingraham to top federal pandemic-response officials requesting favors or information about the anti-malarial drug, which both for a time had also promoted to their audiences. Read more here.
Trump’s Direct Involvement in Ukraine Aid Freeze
This week, we also published records from the Office of Management and Budget from the summer of 2019, when the former president halted congressionally approved security assistance to Ukraine in an attempt to get the Ukrainian president to announce an investigation into then-presidential candidate Joe Biden. These latest documents — which include a prep sheet referring to the aid freeze as “the President’s decision” as well as an email from a White House official that said Trump “wants all security assistance frozen” — provide yet more evidence of Trump’s direct involvement.
Part of Investigation: