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Arizona's attorney general is probing 'alternate electors' who backed Trump in 2020 election

The investigation comes amid similar probes by special counsel Jack Smith and District Attorney Fani Willis in Fulton County, Georgia.
Kris Mayes before a debate in Phoenix on Sept. 28, 2022.
Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes before a debate in Phoenix on Sept. 28.Ross D. Franklin / AP file

Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes’ office is investigating the transmission of an alternative slate of electors by Trump allies to be included in Congress’ counting of electoral votes on Jan. 6, 2021, a source familiar with the probe said Thursday.

A second source familiar with the matter said prosecutors from Mayes' office have had direct conversations with legal counsel for multiple people who acted as alternate electors, including former Arizona GOP chair Kelli Ward.

A lawyer for Ward has been asked for comment.

Mayes, a Democrat who narrowly defeated a 2020 election denier in November, had previously vowed to investigate the fake electors scheme, which was designed to challenge President Joe Biden's election win in Arizona.

"We have to make sure that it’s clear to everyone it's unacceptable to try to steal an election, to undermine and overthrow an election, and that’s what happened," Mayes told MSNBC this year. "We have to make sure what happened in 2020 never happens again."

Mayes' predecessor, Republican Mark Brnovich, did not investigate the electors scheme, but he had agents in the attorney general's office spend more than 10,000 hours looking into GOP claims of voting irregularities and allegations of illegal voting, Mayes’ office said in a news release this year.

A summary prepared by the attorney general’s Special Investigations Section in September showed agents had not found any evidence that backed up the GOP claims, but Brnovich did not make that information public, Mayes' office said.

The Washington Post first reported Thursday that an investigation into the so-called fake electors by Mayes' office is now in full swing.

Then-President Donald Trump and his allies hotly contested Biden’s victory in Arizona, one of seven states where "alternate" electors signed paperwork falsely claiming Trump had won the state.

Special counsel Jack Smith is investigating the broader electors scheme, while Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, a Democrat, has been investigating the effort in Georgia.

Mayes’ probe is not believed to be as far along as Willis’ investigation, which has been going on for more than two years. Willis is expected to seek indictments in coming weeks.

The fake electors effort and Arizona's involvement were a focus of the Democratic-led House committee that investigated the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

"The existence of these purported alternate-elector votes was used as a justification to delay or block the certification of the election during the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021,” committee Chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., wrote in a letter last year.

The phony electors met the day the real electors cast their Electoral College votes. While Electoral College vote counts are typically ceremonial events that formalize the results of presidential elections, the vote on Dec. 14, 2020, came as Trump was refusing to accept the results of the election and urging legislatures in Biden-won battleground states to disqualify Biden’s electors.

Trump legal adviser John Eastman argued at the time that then-Vice President Mike Pence could use the existence of the alternate electors to name Trump the winner of the election as he presided over the electoral vote count in Congress on Jan. 6.

Eastman wrote in a memo: “At the end, he announces that because of the ongoing disputes in the 7 States, there are no electors that can be deemed validly appointed in those States. … There are at this point 232 votes for Trump, 222 votes for Biden. Pence then gavels President Trump as re-elected.”

Pence rejected the idea, and Trump blasted him on Twitter during the Jan. 6 riot, saying he failed to show "courage."

When the joint session of Congress had to adjourn temporarily because of the violence in the Capitol, Ward, an organizer of the fake elector effort in Arizona, tweeted: “Congress is adjourned. Send the elector choice back to the legislatures.”