Insider

There are concerns that if the Biden administration DOJ intervenes in the Arizona Cyber Ninjas audit it’d incite a January 6-style riot

Summary List PlacementThe audit in Arizona has been called everything from a "sham" to a "fundraising ploy" for  Republicans to raise money. And election security experts are requesting the Department of Justice monitor the Election 2020 vote audit taking place in Maricopa County, Arizona.  But there's serious risk that comes...

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Summary List Placement

The audit in Arizona has been called everything from a “sham” to a “fundraising ploy” for  Republicans to raise money. And election security experts are requesting the Department of Justice monitor the Election 2020 vote audit taking place in Maricopa County, Arizona. 

But there’s serious risk that comes both with the Justice Department jumping in — and not.

Perhaps most urgent is the threat of violence akin to the January 6 attack on the US Capitol building, perpetrated by supporters of President Donald Trump who believed the 2020 presidential election was rigged. 

Some officials said this threat alone necessitates federal involvement, particularly since Trump himself continues to tell lies and push conspiracy theories about how he believes the election was stolen from him. The New York Times recently reported that Trump has told associates that he expects the audits will lead to him being reinstated as president by August.

While that’s a constitutional impossibility, don’t tell that to Trump’s most ardent supporters.

“Could there be another riot or interaction like they had on January 6? You bet,” said Steve Gallardo, the only Democratic official on the Board of Supervisors in Maricopa County. “These are the unintended consequences to them continuing to push the big lie. They continue to undermine our democracy, and they continue to discredit the election system in the state of Arizona.” 

Gallardo added that the Justice Department “needs to stand up and come to Arizona, and intervene and put an end to this. If our top law enforcement officers are not willing to do it, then I believe the Department of Justice needs to do it.”

The Justice Department has not responded to Insider’s inquiries on whether it will intervene.

Federal officials have, however, already cautioned Arizona officials about the audit. 

For example, Pamela Karlan, principal deputy assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, previously told Arizona Senate President Karen Fann her chamber could be violating the Civil Rights Act of 1960 if it turned over all of its election materials to Cyber Ninjas, the private firm that is conducting the Arizona vote audit.

Current federal laws require state and local officials to maintain ballots and election materials for at least 22 months. 

Karlan also expressed concerns on reports that ballot and other election materials are being destroyed and compromised under the supervision of the cybersecurity firm, which is another violation of federal law.

Ken Bennett, the Arizona Senate liaison overseeing the Maricopa County audit, dismissed the Justice Department’s concerns, telling Insider that the audit process is violating no federal laws and that it’s “unnecessary” for the department to get involved.

Arizona officials have recounted more than 80 percent of the Maricopa County ballots and could finish the hand count portion of the audit by the end of this week, Bennett said in a phone interview. 

He added, however, that the final report of the audit would most likely come out in late July or early August.

Biden

‘Not Biden’s call to intervene’ 

Some officials worry that if the Justice Department begins to monitor the audit then it may look as if the Biden administration is trying to control the outcome of the audit results. 

This could complicate the prospects of some Democrats who are running for office on both the state and federal level.

“If Democrats believe (the audit) is a train wreck, then they should let the train run off the track, not stop the train from breaking,” said Bennie Smith, a Democratic election official in Tennessee, who has traveled to Arizona to monitor the audit.

He warned that if the Justice Department does get involved, it will “look like they are covering up something that they don’t want to be revealed.”

Biden won Arizona in the November elections by a slim margin, making him the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since 1996.

Many Arizona state officials have criticized the audit, saying that it is undermining the US electoral process. Jack Sellers, the Republican chairman of the Board of Supervisors in Maricopa County, called the audit “dangerous.”

“This board is done explaining anything,” said Sellers.“People’s ballots and money are not make-believe. It’s time to be done with this craziness, and get on with this county’s critical business.”

If the Department of Justice monitored or otherwise involved itself in the Arizona audit, it would not be at the direction of Biden, said Ronald Weich, a former Justice Department assistant attorney general for legislative affairs and dean of the University of Baltimore School of Law.

“The White House should have nothing to do with the decision making,” Weich told Insider, a referring to Biden’s promise to let the Justice Department operate independently from the White House. 

‘There is a lot at stake’

Several election experts told Insider that there is still a need for the Justice Department to get involved because of Cyber Ninjas’ lack of transparency on conducting the audit.

It is the Justice Department’s job “to enforce our laws in terms of the conduct of our election and the processing and handling of our ballots,” Alex Gulotta, Arizona state director for All Voting is Local.

“If there are companies that are in fact violating those laws, then they should take that seriously,” he said.

Grant Woods, a former Republican attorney general of Arizona, told Insider that he has also tried to reach out to the DOJ to deploy some of its agents to the state and monitor the audit.

“Everyone has pointed out the myriad of problems with the so-called audit, and yet it continues on. At some point, we’re going to have to make a point in this country that you can’t do this.”

The audit was launched in April after Trump continued to peddle conspiracy theories that the election was rigged and Fann, the Arizona Senate president, subpoenaed ballots for a recount of the November 2020 election results.

Lawmakers from several states, including  Georgia, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Colorado, have traveled to Arizona to observe the audit. 

The cybersecurity firm has been under intense scrutiny because it has never conducted an election audit before this one. 

In 2013, Doug Logan, a staunch Trump supporter, founded the firm. Reports have highlighted that after Biden won the election, Logan continued to advocate on social media for the “Stop the Steal” movement that continued to tout that the election was rigged.

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