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Critics accuse Brnovich of playing politics with election investigation

Shortly after the 2020 presidential election, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich was one of the first officials to defend the state’s election from baseless claims of fraud. He later certified election results that awarded the state’s 11 electoral votes to Joe Biden. 

Now Brnovich, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, is the one casting doubts on the 2020 vote.

On Wednesday, he released an interim report recapping six months of investigations into claims of election fraud — an inquiry prompted by a discredited election review run by state Senate Republicans in Maricopa County. The report offers no evidence of widespread fraud, criminal activity on the part of election officials, or anything that could throw the outcome of the presidential election in Arizona into question. And it mentions none of the debunked claims produced by Cyber Ninjas, the inexperienced and now-defunct cyber security firm hired to lead the Senate’s own investigation.

But to Brnovich, the report — which Maricopa County officials called a misleading and inaccurate 12-page description of the Attorney General’s Office findings — does raise concerns about “serious vulnerabilities” that raise “questions about the 2020 election in Arizona.”

“As our state's chief law enforcement officer, I am very concerned by any potential vulnerabilities in our state's election systems, including those that the audit and other complaints have alleged,” Brnovich wrote in the report.

Brnovich took it a step further Thursday morning. Appearing on a podcast hosted by former Trump advise Steve Bannon, the attorney general made overtures to those who still say, without evidence, the 2020 election was rigged against Trump.

“It’s frustrating for all of us,” Brnovich said of the slow pace of his investigation, “because I think we all know what happened in 2020.”

Brnovich’s critics on the left say the release of the report was a nakedly-political campaign stunt by a candidate struggling to separate from a crowded field of Republicans vying to challenge incumbent Democrat Sen. Mark Kelly. The attorney general has actively courted Trump’s endorsement in the race and met with the former president shortly before Trump pressured him in January to speed up his election investigation.

“There’s no question in my mind that it’s political,” said Adrian Fontes, a Democrat who served as Maricopa County recorder during the 2020 election — which he lost. “The timing is uncanny given the recent poll that came out showing him not doing as well as a sitting attorney general ought to. Plus he’s been barking up Donald Trump’s leg for some time trying to get that endorsement.”

Some critics on the right agree that Brnovich is playing politics with the investigation. 

Republican Jim Lamon, who was part of a slate of fake Trump electors from Arizona, called Brnovich’s interim report a “nothing burger” and suggested it was released due to reports the attorney general has slipped in the polls for the GOP nomination.

The Attorney General’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.

And while some Republicans, including the chair of the Arizona GOP, Kelli Ward, make false claims about the report’s conclusions as part of fundraising efforts, others are just as mad at Brnovich as they’ve ever been — Trump loyalists like northern Arizona Sen. Wendy Rogers say they want arrests, not letters and drawn-out investigations..

And while Brnovich goes on conservative podcasting boasting of the interim report as “the proverbial kind of shot across the bow,” Maricopa County officials are left doing what they’ve been doing for much of the past year and a half — defending the integrity of the county’s election with facts.

County Board Chair Bill Gates and Recorder Stephen Richer, both Republicans, issued a statement detailing their compliance with Brnovich’s investigators and their disapproval of his report.

“Unfortunately, the attorney general made no mention of the many areas of the election process that his investigators reviewed and found satisfactory,” they said. 

As for what the report did say, both Gates and Richer note it “includes no new evidence, nothing that would have changed the results, and nothing that should lead people to question the overall health of our electoral system.”

Perhaps the fiercest criticism came from Deputy County Attorney Joseph La Rue, who’s represented the county in election matters over the past few years.

“I was taught that, as officers of the court, prosecutors are supposed to respect facts and accurately present them, not distort them or omit them for their own personal or political gain,” La Rue tweeted. “Sadly, not all prosecutors believe that.”

Ben Giles is a senior editor at KJZZ.