Of all the eyes watching Friday’s release of results from the election audit in Maricopa County, arguably nobody has more on the line than Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who will face intense pressure to take action.
Former President Donald Trump has been urging Mr. Brnovich to lean into the so-far unproven allegations that the 2020 election was “stolen” by Democrats, and Mr. Trump expects “incredible information” to come out of the audit.
Prevailing wisdom holds that the final report will reveal little but won’t stop fervent Trump backers from seeing guns that are smoking — or at least warm to the touch — inside the findings.
That is the tangle gripping Mr. Brnovich, the state’s chief prosecutor who’s also running for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate.
“If they come back with these [expletive] assertions, they are going to put Mark Brnovich in a real pickle,” said a Republican consultant based in the West who has been keeping close tabs on the audit. “I suspect they come out with something that is frankly factually inaccurate.”
The attorney general is keeping an open mind, said Brnovich campaign spokeswoman Joanna Duka.
“Mark Brnovich is prepared to take the appropriate legal action upon seeing the results of the Arizona audit,” she said.
The audit is the most prominent of the 2020 after-action reports and has been dogged by controversies, including the amount of time it has taken, battles over access to data and use of the Cyber Ninjas firm to lead the review.
The small Florida-based firm had no experience with election audits and its CEO had previously embraced Mr. Trump’s rigged election claims.
Things got messier this week when a secret recording emerged of a Maricopa County Board member suggesting that two of his colleagues opposed the audit because of their narrow victories in their reelection races.
The board member apologized for his comments and resigned.
Some local GOP leaders say the effort was never about overturning the election results and was more about coming up with recommendations to strengthen the election process.
The loudest GOP voices, however, insist that audit is the first step toward decertifying the state’s election results, which saw President Biden defeat Mr. Trump by 10,457 votes, 1,672,143 to 1,661,686.
Those pushing fraud claims say they believe there were mishandled ballots and “lost” votes in Maricopa County, which accounts for the lion’s share of the state’s voters.
State Sen. Wendy Rogers, a Republican, said she hopes the legislature votes to decertify the election results and that other states such as Georgia follow suit.
“The enormity of the decision that you are being tasked with rendering will ripple through the ages and may very well be viewed as a last nail in the coffin of the Idea of Government of the People and for the People and by the People that President Lincoln spoke about in the Gettysburg Address,” she said in a letter to fellow state senators.
Analysts say there is no path to overturn the results, which were accepted by Congress and led to Mr. Biden’s inauguration.
Election experts are horrified by the entire episode.
“Generally speaking, election results that are final will not be overturned,” said Richard L. Hasen, chancellor’s professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine School of Law. “It would take a court order and election contest, and the time for such under state law may have already passed — but that would depend on the specifics of state law.”
He said if the audit revealed criminal behavior it could lead to prosecution.
“BUT, I don’t expect the sham audit to produce any reliable evidence of any wrongdoing whatsoever,” he said in an email. “It is an embarrassing, stupid attempt to try to back up Trump’s lies that the election was stolen from him.”
In Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, certified the election results alongside Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, State Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Brutinel, and Mr. Brnovich.
Mr. Ducey, a Republican, has since been dismissed by Trump fans. Now those fans are looking to Mr. Brnovich.
“If the former president doesn’t get what he wants, Brnovich could be thrown under the bus just like Ducey was,” said Mike Noble, chief of research at the polling firm OH Predictive Insights.
“Brnovich is the clear front-runner in the [GOP nomination] race,” he said. “But if Trump continues issuing missives about the attorney general’s lack of action on perceived election irregularities then it will be a long 11 months until the state primary.”
Mr. Trump signaled earlier this year that his patience is running thin with Mr. Brnovich, calling him “lackluster” and saying “has to get on the ball and catch up with the great Republican patriots in the Arizona State Senate.”
Mr. Trump also warned that if the attorney general didn’t take a more active role that “no Arizona Republican will vote for him in the upcoming elections.”
Mt. Trump also targeted him at a July rally in Phoenix saying it would be “so sad” if the attorney general doesn’t act, and warned Mr. Ducey would be “no help.”
Some insiders insist the relationship between Mr. Trump and Mr. Brnovich is more cordial in private.
“Mark Brnovich has been regularly updating the president about the audit,” said a source familiar with their talks.
Mr. Brnovich’s allies also dismiss the idea he has been absent from the playing field. They say he has defended, on constitutional grounds, the Senate-led effort, welcomed the legislature’s bids to strengthen election laws, and told the Department of Justice to stop sticking its nose in the state’s business.
It’s unclear what options Mr. Brnovich will actually have for action.
Senate President Karen Fann and Senate Judiciary Chair Warren Petersen, both Republicans, with join Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan and others in presenting the findings Friday in the Arizona Senate chamber.
The big question is then what?
Arizona GOP Chair Kelli Ward, one of the audit’s biggest cheerleaders, said Ms. Fann “is the person who will make the decisions as to the next steps in the audit.”
“She has made it clear on multiple occasions that she will be making referrals to the Arizona Attorney General,” Ms. Ward said in a statement.
Mr. Noble likened Brnovich’s attempts to balance the duties of his office with the political demands of Mr. Trump to “walking a tightrope over the Grand Canyon.”
Sandra Dowling, a district chair in the Maricopa County GOP, said Mr. Brnovich has never been a favorite of the MAGA movement or far-right grassroots activists.
The audit will be a make-or-break moment, she said.
“If it says that something went wrong in the election process, these people are going for jugular veins to prove their point and we are going to have another whole round of ‘decertify the election,’ ‘do this,’ ‘do that,’ and Donald Trump is going to come in and rail against all the candidates,” said Ms. Dowling.
“He wants 100% support,” she said. “If you support him 80%, 90% or less, you are not a good Republican. It is 100% or nothing.”