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This is more dangerous than Fox News peddling 2020 election lies.
Using the government to spread election lies must be a crime
Over the past ten days we have seen two glaring examples of the corrupting influence of trying to please Donald Trump and his supporters who believed Trump’s 2020 election lies. The first involved Fox News peddling election lies after the 2020 election because the network’s executives and hosts helped the network financially. The second, involved then GOP Attorney General of Arizona, Mark Brnovich who trafficked in election misinformation to help himself politically. The more alarming of the two, however, was Brnovich, who used the apparatus of the state and taxpayers’ funds to delegitimize our democracy.
On Feb 16, we learned by way of emails and text messages released in a lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems against Fox News for alleged defamation, that certain executives and on air hosts at the network—such as Tucker Carlson—had privately expressed concerns that the tales of election fraud being broadcast on the network were not true. The pictured painted by this evidence was that Fox still peddled these bogus claims because executives and hosts feared losing their audience to rival networks like Newsmax that were all in on Trump’s election lies.
Fox News’ action were unethical and violate any sense of journalistic integrity. But Fox is a private corporation—not a government actor. That is why what Mark Brnovich did—as we learned from blockbuster reporting on Thursday from The Washington Post—in furthering Trump’s campaign lies to destabilize our democracy was far more disturbing.
But it didn’t start that way for Brnovich, a former federal prosecutor who was first elected as Arizona’s Attorney General in 2014. In the weeks after the the 2020 election, Brnovich did something most Republican leaders across the nation didn’t have the courage to: He publicly refuted Trump’s election lies.
First, just a little over a week after the 2020 election, Brnovich appeared on Fox News stating that his office had investigated complaints in connection with Arizona’s election—which had already been called for Joe Biden. Brnovich declared, “There is no evidence, there are no facts that would lead anyone to believe that the election results will change.” At the time, The Washington Post noted Brnovich was “the first high-ranking Republican in Arizona to reject the president’s fraud claims in the state.”
And despite Brnovich later revealing that Trump had called him after the 2020 election telling him, “All you gotta do is say the election's fraudulent, and you will be a superstar,” Brnovich refused. In fact, Brnovich in late November 2020, appeared with then Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and GOP Governor Doug Ducey to sign the certification of Arizona’s 2020 election results declaring Biden the winner.
That should’ve been Brnovich’s legacy: A profile in courage of a patriotic public servant who stood up to Trump’s lies to defend our democracy.
But that all changed when seven months later in June 2021, Brnovich decided to seek the 2022 GOP nomination for the US Senate. Brnovich knew he needed Trump’s support to win the GOP nomination, but the problem was Trump had been publicly critical of Brnovich for failing to support his election lies.
That’s when Brnovich compromised his integrity in the pursuit of political power. The same Brnovich who had publicly rebuffed Trump’s claims of election fraud suddenly announced in November 2021 --five months into his Senate campaign and a year after the 2020 election--that he was opening up an investigation into alleged election fraud and misconduct in the state’s Democratic stronghold of Maricopa county.
This taxpayer funded investigation—per The Washington Post—included setting up a “command center,” involved all 60 investigators in his office and “spent more than 10,000 hours examining claims of irregularities, malfeasance and fraud.” Perhaps Brnovich was hoping that what Trump had told him after the 2020 election would come true now, “all you gotta do is say the election's fraudulent, and you will be a superstar.”
But the problem for Brnovich was that when his staff wrote their interim report in March 2022, they didn’t find the fraud and misconduct that Brnovich was apparently hoping for. Did Brnovich tell the public truthfully what his staff found? Nope.
Instead, in April 2022, Brnovich sent a 12 page letter to the Arizona’s GOP Senate President Karen Fann- a Trump loving election denier who as late as 2022 was still calling the 2020 election to be overturned-claiming that his office had discovered “serious vulnerabilities” in signature verification and ballot transportation procedures, among other possible issues.
But as The Washington Post’s reporting found based on documents released to them by the new Attorney General Kris Mayes, “He left out edits from his own investigators refuting his assertions.” Brnovich also failed to release a fuller “Investigation Summary,” prepared by the assistant chief special agent and dated March 8, 2022, that noted “virtually all allegations [of election misconduct] had been deemed unfounded.” And on the issue of signature verification that Brnovich had flagged as suspect, the summary actually stated, “No improper Election Procedures were discovered during the Signature Verification review.”
Why would Brnovich conceal that information? Well an Associated Press story in April 2022 at the time Brnovich’s letter was released gives us some insight: “Brnovich is courting Trump’s endorsement for his Senate run, which would give him a significant boost in a field with no clear Republican frontrunner.”
Brnovich—just weeks after releasing his misleading report-even appeared on Steve Bannon’s podcast where he amplified his misleading claims stating that his investigation had turned up “serious concerns,” adding, “It’s frustrating for all of us, because I think we all know what happened in 2020.” On Bannon’s show, he even falsely claimed that Maricopa county utilized artificial intelligence to verify ballot signatures when—as The Washington Post reported at the time—“every signature is verified by election staff.” But facts apparently don’t matter when you are trying to suck up to Trump—all that matters is blind loyalty.
However, Brnovich’s soul selling still wasn’t enough for Trump who ended up endorsing Blake Masters—who had bluntly proclaimed months before, “I think Trump won in 2020." Masters--like the other Trump endorsed election deniers in Arizona such as Kari Lake--all won in the August GOP primary.
After Brnovich lost, he then did something even more hypocritical. He appeared on 60 Minutes just a week before the 2022 election where he slammed the election deniers in Arizona like Lake as “clowns” and “grifters.” He even told host Scott Pelley that the election lies were, "Horse****" that “I've been trying to scrape-- scrape it off my shoes for the last year.”
Then Brnovich added something truly revealing: “When you're an actual prosecutor, when you're the actual government, there's a higher obligation.”
Thankfully, Brnovich is no longer in office. And on Friday, current Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs sent a letter to State Bar of Arizona seeking a review of what her office alleges was “likely unethical conduct” by Brnovich. The letter, signed by Hobbs’s general counsel calls the conduct “harmful to our democracy, our State, and the legal profession itself.”
In response to Hobbs’ letter, Brnovich—in very Trumpian fashion—refused to accept responsibility for his obvious wrongdoing, instead calling this an effort to “cancel a political opponent.”
We know now both Fox News and Brnovich clearly knew better all along. But in the pursuit of Trump’s support that would help them either financially or politically, both sacrificed their values and any last shred of integrity. Fox News should not be permitted to spews such lies without being held accountable—but Fox News is not subject to FCC oversight.
Brnovich’s conduct, though, was worse than Fox News because he used the apparatus of government and taxpayer funds to undermine the very democracy he had sworn to protect. This may go beyond unethical and end up being criminal.
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