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Yet Another Election Denier Needs To Be Held to Account

Former Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich joins the hall of shame.
February 24, 2023
Yet Another Election Denier Needs To Be Held to Account
Supporters of US President Donald Trump hold flags as they demonstrate in front of the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix, Arizona, on November 7, 2020. - Democrat Joe Biden has won the White House, US media said November 7, defeating Donald Trump and ending a presidency that convulsed American politics, shocked the world and left the United States more divided than at any time in decades. (Photo by OLIVIER TOURON / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER TOURON/AFP via Getty Images)

Before this week, former Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich was best known as the named party in a 2020 Supreme Court voting rights decision.

On Wednesday, however, the Washington Post revealed that there will be another entry on his Wikipedia page: He was for election denialism before he was against it. Here’s what happened.

While running for the Republican Senate nomination in 2022, Brnovich had his office spend 10,000 hours investigating claims of fraud and supposed 2020 election irregularities in Maricopa County.

Brnovich systematically misrepresented what his investigators found. And then he compounded the misrepresentations by hiding their findings. Plainly, he did so because his office’s findings disproved the election denialist claims that he was running on in his (failed) Senate primary campaign against Blake Masters.

In April 2022, for example, one month after the investigators concluded that “virtually all claims of error and malfeasance” in the county’s electoral system were unfounded,” Brnovich issued an “interim report” saying his office had uncovered “serious vulnerabilities.”

Such Alice-in-Wonderland logic is as serious a danger to democracy as election denialism itself, especially when the cover-up is carried out by a state’s chief law enforcement official.

Brnovich also raised suspicions by writing that Maricopa County had not always timely and fully responded to his office’s requests for records. This was contrary to, as the Post reported, the “collective opinion of . . . investigators” in Brnovich’s office that Maricopa County “was cooperative and responsive to our requests.”

Brnovich clearly understood that if his office was seen as disproving the stolen election lie, then his campaign would be DOA. He chose dishonor. And in the end, he got defeat too.

Yet even after his cover up was disclosed, all Brnovich said was that he is “proud of the work” his office did. “We did our due diligence to run all complaints to ground. . . . Where we were able to debunk rumors and conspiracies, we did so.” Which sounds reasonable until it’s reported that after his employees debunked the rumors and conspiracies, Brnovich hid their work from the public.

Arizona’s new Attorney General Kris Mayes took an important step when she released the evidence that her predecessor concealed so that the people would know the truth.

But more needs to be done to hold Brnovich accountable.

From 2020 to the present, Arizona has been a hotbed of election denialism, not just by ordinary citizens and media figures, but by major party political candidates. This conspiracy-mongering has corroded public trust. We now know that Brnovich bears some share of responsibility for this corrosion as well.

Here are his investigators’ findings that, according to the Post, he never shared with the public:

  • The office found an “absence of any basis for claims of systematic fraud.”
  • Notwithstanding allegations of massive voting by “dead people,” the attorney general’s office found only a single—one—instance where a vote had been cast in the name of someone who was deceased.
  • “No improper Election Procedures were discovered during the Signature Verification review.”

The Post also notes that “it was only in the final days before the November 2022 midterm election, several months after Brnovich had lost his Senate primary, that he began to denounce politicians who continued to propound the Big Lie, calling them ‘clowns’ engaged in a ‘giant grift.’”

Which is true. But it is also true that when Brnovich was running for office, he was part of it. For this, there should be consequences. Arizona bar legal authorities should investigate and determine whether he should keep his license to practice law.

It appears that bar authorities in New York, D.C., and California are moving to bring accountability to Trump lawyers such as Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman and Jeffrey Clark. State bar rules of professional responsibility expose any lawyer who engages in dishonest conduct to discipline, including suspension or disbarment.

Brnovich should face the same consequences so that in the future, lawyers whom the people choose to serve them will understand that they do not have the option of serving themselves by hiding politically unpalatable findings.

The public trust that is invested in our elected officials is democracy’s most sacred asset. An assault upon it ought never be tolerated or ignored. As Thomas Jefferson once put it, such abuse is the “rock on which good governments, and the people’s rights, have been so often wrecked.”

Accountability is the antidote to ensure their future.

Austin Sarat and Dennis Aftergut

Austin Sarat (@ljstprof) is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College. The views expressed here do not represent Amherst College. Dennis Aftergut is a former federal prosecutor.