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How Arizona's 'fake elector' case is different from others around the U.S.

It's been less than two weeks since Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes announced indictments against 11 "fake electors" for former president Donald Trump, plus seven other top aides to Trump, for falsely certifying the 2020 election.

Some of the indicted have since denied the allegations, and many in the GOP have claimed the investigation and prosecution are politically motivated, as Mayes is a Democrat. But Arizona isn't the only state where cases like these are playing out in the wake of the 2020 election.

Yvonne Wingett Sanchez covers democracy for the Washington Post. She's based here in Arizona, and she spoke with The Show more about the case.

Full conversation

LAUREN GILGER: tell us about the other cases like this that are happening around the country, like how many other states had these fake electors as they're called?

YVONNE WINGETT SANCHEZ: Well, there were a total of seven states, seven mostly battleground states around the nation that employed the so called alternate elector strategy. Two of those states, Pennsylvania and New Mexico, they decided to press for what, what's referred to as contingency language. Basically, they got concerned that this would be illegal. And so they decided to insert language into their paperwork that essentially said, look, this is this group of electors. These slates of electors are only to be used in the event that there's a legal maneuver or a legal opening for us to be able to use them.

We have five other states, including Arizona, that pursued the alternate elector strategy without including that contingency language, and those are the states that we are seeing a pretty momentous criminal investigations into that effort.

GILGER: OK. OK. In Arizona here, remind us what exactly they were accused of doing like what are the charges here legally.

SANCHEZ: So it's essentially like conspiracy and fraudulent schemes and fraudulent practices and forgery. And essentially they've all been charged, all the defendants have been charged under each count of the indictment and they are essentially accused of trying to steal Arizona's electoral votes and the consequences had that been successful could have been, you know, theft of an American presidency.

GILGER: So Yvonne, let's talk about how Arizona's case is a little different from some of these others that are playing out around the country. First is that this one seems to go a little further, right? Because Mayes included these other seven top aides to Trump. Tell us about, about them and the charges against them.

SANCHEZ: So, we are somewhere in between what Fani Willis did in Fulton County, Georgia, where she went for bank. Like she went for a lot of the, the people who were involved in a lot of different areas. Post-2020 election in Fulton County, she went for electors, she went for attorneys and strategists for Trump. She went for local Republicans, you know, people within the Republican Party, who were sort of aiding and abetting, allegedly, this effort. Then we have other states like Michigan, that, in Nevada, they really stuck to like an isolated group of defendants that really included just the electors, the people who signed the paperwork and purported to be the duly elected electors for their states.

Kris Mayes decided to go for both the middlemen from Trump's orbit who helped put this thing together, and the 11 alternate electors here in Arizona who signed the paperwork. And one of the things that I think is very notable about this investigation is that she decided to go for someone named Boris Epshteyn, an attorney, someone in Trump's orbit who has not been named in a lot of other investigations, but whose name appears in the correspondence that we saw earlier this year from Kenneth Chesebro, a key architect of this effort. And he spent a lot of time here in Arizona and was really invested in Arizona all the way through, you know, 2022. So that was one big notable difference.

GILGER: OK. The other difference, right, is the timeline here, like Arizona's case is playing out on a slightly delayed timeline from some of these other states because Kris Mayes didn't pick up this case until after she took office. Tell us about what we might learn from how this case might play out here by what's happened in other states so far.

SANCHEZ: I would expect this to not be, not conclude anytime soon., right. We're probably looking, you know, these things take years. That, no one should have any expectations that this thing will be wrapped up before the election. That's one of the big questions that I get. Could we have certain individuals decide to co-operate, to flip, to offer information that might not necessarily be known within the public purview, might not yet be known to investigators or prosecutors with the Attorney General's Office? Perhaps.

You know, so much of this, as you know, played out in the open when it comes to the electors. I think the biggest question is what happened behind the scenes. How much did Kelli Ward, who was then chair of the Republican Party; Greg Safsten, who was the executive director of the party; you know, Tyler Boyer, a Republican committeeman from Arizona; and some of these sort of well-informed Republicans, how much did they know? How much did were they concerned about ultimately what could happen if they decided to pursue this?

There have been records that say, you know, Kelli Ward was concerned that this could be seen as treasonous, for example. Well, does that show intent? Does that, does that demonstrate an underlying basis that perhaps this could have been a bad idea? You know, I think any sort of data points or correspondence or evidence that gets us to learn more about that intent or that knowledge is going to be crucial.

KJZZ’s The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ’s programming is the audio record.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.