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Arizona Republican who ordered election audit touted Trump phone call, Giuliani support in emails

Karen Fann, the state Senate president, also told a constituent that "Biden won," according to the messages obtained and released by a watchdog group.
Image: Arizona audit
Contractors with Cyber Ninjas examine and recount ballots cast in the 2020 general election in Maricopa County, in Phoenix, on May 6, 2021.Matt York / Pool via AP file

Karen Fann, the Republican president of the Arizona Senate, told constituents that then-President Donald Trump had personally called and thanked her for pursuing a controversial review of ballots in Maricopa County, according to emails released by a watchdog group on Friday.

More than 500 pages of Fann’s emails were obtained through a freedom of information request and released by American Oversight, which has ties to Democrats. She repeatedly mentions discussing the election with the president’s then-attorney, Rudy Giuliani when responding to constituents who expressed frustration with the outcome of the election in the state. President Joe Biden flipped Arizona blue for the first time since 1996, winning by approximately 10,000 votes.

“I have been in numerous conversations with Rudy Giuliani over the past weeks trying to get this done,” she wrote in a Dec. 28 email sent from her iPhone to an individual who self-identified as a voter from her district. “I have the full support of him and a personal call from President Trump thanking us for pushing to prove any fraud.”

Fann led the GOP-controlled chamber to authorize the extraordinarily partisan audit not long after Biden's victory in November. After a months-long legal battle, a judge ruled in February that Maricopa County officials had to comply with the state Senate's subpoena and turn over election equipment as well as the nearly 2.1 million ballots cast in the 2020 election. Fann then hired private firms in March to conduct the review.

The audit has been dogged by logistical issues and criticized for its indulgence of conspiracy theories. The private companies proposed processes that baffled and concerned election experts, state and county officials and even the Justice Department. In May, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, a mostly Republican body in charge of overseeing elections, told Fann her "'auditors' are in way over their heads."

Board Chairman Jack Sellers, a Republican, called it a “grift disguised as an audit."

Image: Karen Fann
Arizona Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, speaks to the media in Phoenix, on May 26, 2020.Ross D. Franklin / AP file

In an email to NBC News, Fann said Giuliani approached her on Dec. 1 about meeting, and that she believes that she has not spoken with him since.

She did not explain the other conversations she referenced in the Dec. 28 email.

On Dec. 2, several days after Arizona's Democratic secretary of state and Republican governor appeared together to formally certify Biden's win, a constituent who said she'd met Fann previously wrote to her requesting a “redo” election, a hand recount, or that the state’s electors be given to Trump.

Fann wrote back to the constituent, saying that she had “spoken with Mayor Giuliani at least six times over the past two weeks” and that they were “trying very hard to find a legal path forward to resolve these allegations.”

She said that she was limited by the Constitution and by needing proof of fraud to seek legal remedies, and concluded her email with a lengthy memo she said that she was sending as a blanket response to the “thousands (and I’m not exaggerating) of emails” she was receiving from people who said they were concerned about the election's outcome.

Fann and numerous Arizona Republicans met with Giuliani, who promoted Trump's unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, in late November and early December.

There is no evidence of voter fraud in Arizona, and numerous independent audits and reviews found that Maricopa County results were accurate and the vote secure. Several lawsuits alleging fraud or misconduct were dismissed or denied.

Fann's emails offers a candid look at her personal effort to defend and explain the audit to constituents.

Responding to an email last month that argued the audit was a waste of money, Fann wrote in part: "Biden won. 45 % of all Arizona voters thinks there is a problem with the election system. The audit is to disprove those theories or find ways to improve the system."