Aug 02, 2023

Kelli Ward in Crosshairs of Arizona Fake Electors Investigation

Arizona’s criminal probe into the 2020 fake electors plot is heating up and investigators are now asking plenty of questions about a key Donald Trump ally involved in it: former state GOP chair Kelli Ward.

The Arizona probe has been accelerating in the past several weeks, two sources familiar with the matter tell Rolling Stone, with prosecutors gathering evidence and speaking with individuals with knowledge of how the fake electors scheme was carried out in the state. The fake electors plot was a core component of the then-president and his aligned lawyers’ plans to overturn his 2020 election defeat and stop the legitimate transfer of power to his Democratic successor Joe Biden.

The sources add that Ward — once one of the state’s most prominent Republicans — and her potential contacts and private activities following Election Day 2020 have been of particular interest to investigators as of late. One of these sources describes Arizona investigators as “moving aggressively” on this stage of the inquiry into the state’s pro-Trump fake electors, which included Ward, a Trump hardliner and then-chair of the Arizona Republican Party.

Ward did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ward, her husband, Michael, and nine other Arizona Republicans signed a document falsely attesting that they were the state’s legitimate electors casting Arizona’s Electoral College votes for Trump.

According to the January 6 Committee report, Ward was “unusually active” in her advocacy for President Trump after the election. She spoke with the former president and participated in a Trump-backed pressure campaign to get the state to stop counting votes and delay certification of the tally showing Biden’s victory.

After Arizona certified its vote tally, Ward, her husband Michael, and 9 other Republicans in the state convened to falsely represent themselves as Arizona’s legitimate slate of electors during a signing ceremony recorded and shared on social media.

In an email from Trumpaligned attorney Kenneth Chesebro to colleagues on the Trump team, the attorney relayed concerns from Ward and Republican state senator Kelly Townsend about the legality of the ploy.

“Ward and Townsend are concerned it could appear treasonous for the AZ electors to vote on Monday if there is no pending court proceeding that might, eventually, lead to the electors being ratified as the legitimate ones,” Chesebro wrote in an email obtained by The New York Times.

Investigators have started asking questions about any potential contacts between false electors such as Ward, then-President Trump, and other out-of-state officials and lawyers working on his behalf to steal the election, one of the sources tells Rolling Stone. In recent discussions with possible witnesses and others, some investigators have asked or requested information related to a video — tweeted by the Arizona GOP in December 2020 — where Ward and other Trump allies sign documents falsely claiming to be the state’s legitimate electors.

“They actually have themselves on video doing it,” says one of the people familiar with the stage of the investigation. “It is as if Ward and everyone else were thinking: How do we make this a walk in the park for [the prosecutors]?”

A spokesperson for the Arizona attorney general’s office declined to comment and referred Rolling Stone to public comments made by Attorney General Kris Mayes on Wednesday following the Trump indictment in Fulton County, Georgia.

“We are investigating the fake electors situation. I understand why folks want to know what is happening in our investigation. That is a natural desire given what just happened in Georgia and in Michigan,” Mayes said. “But we are doing a thorough and professional investigation and we’re going to do it on our timetable as justice demands.”

Ward has already drawn the attention of the federal special counsel’s office related to a 2020 lawsuit alleging “misconduct” by election officials and a mass of “illegal votes.” In May, prosecutors from the special counsel subpoenaed the Arizona secretary of state’s office asking for records related to both Ward’s suit and a suit from the Trump campaign alleging that election machines in the state had erroneously rejected ballots from voters. Arizona courts ultimately tossed both suits.

In July, former Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers also told CNN that he was interviewed by FBI agents as part of the special counsel’s investigation into the 2020 election. Trump and senior advisers pressured Bowers to decertify the state electors for Biden, a move Bowers refused.

Reached on Friday, Bowers declined to answer questions. “I am under counsel to not discuss anything at this time, so I must … [decline to comment],” he tells Rolling Stone.

Before Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel to investigate the attempt to overturn the election, both Ward and her husband received subpoenas to testify before a federal grand jury investigating the fake electors scheme in the state.

Ward also fought an unsuccessful legal battle to shield her phone records from the January 6 Committee. The committee questioned Ward under subpoena but she invoked the Fifth Amendment and declined to answer.

Correction: This post has been corrected to fix the name of Kelly Townsend.

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