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Key figures who pushed 2020 election conspiracies are now boosting Arizona audit

ABC News logo ABC News 5/17/2021
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More than six months after the 2020 election, several members of former President Donald Trump's inner circle are pouring millions into a renewed push to challenge the election's outcome -- an effort that has gained new life in Arizona as it captivates the former president and many of his followers.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2020 election, a sprawling collection of Trump loyalists, fueled by a host of baseless conspiracies involving disproven claims of widespread voter fraud, failed over and over again to overturn the election results in the courts. And while the effort resulted in dozens of unsuccessful lawsuits, many of the same Trump supporters -- from a former Overstock.com CEO to longtime Trump ally Steve Bannon -- have reemerged as key forces boosting the Republican-backed Arizona audit of the 2020 election results.

The audit, which comes after two previous audits found no evidence of fraud sufficient to invalidate President Joe Biden's victory in Arizona and Maricopa County, has not only commandeered the attention of the MAGA movement but also of Trump himself, who has continued to push false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. Trump has repeatedly issued email statements encouraging the audit, while behind the scenes he's been making periodic calls to get updates from those involved, including Arizona Republican chair Kelli Ward, according to people familiar with the situation.

a man wearing a striped shirt © Stephanie Keith/Getty Images, FILE

"Some very interesting things are happening in Arizona," Trump said in late April during remarks at his Mar-a-Lago resort, according to a video posted online. The former president even tipped his hat to a growing right-wing conspiracy that suggests the Arizona audit could be the first domino to fall in a series of events that returns him to the White House.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd: A protestor holds a placard reading, "stop the steal," during a demonstration at Nevada's state legislative building in Carson, Nev., Feb 1, 2021. © Ty ONeil/SOPA Images/Shutterstock A protestor holds a placard reading, "stop the steal," during a demonstration at Nevada's state legislative building in Carson, Nev., Feb 1, 2021.

"I wouldn't be surprised if they found thousands and thousands and thousands of votes," said Trump. "After that we'll watch Pennsylvania, and you watch Georgia, then you're going to watch Michigan and Wisconsin, and you're watching New Hampshire."

"This was a rigged election, everybody knows it, and we're going to be watching it very closely," he said.

Steven Slugocki, the former chairman of the Maricopa County Democratic Party through the 2020 election, said that the audit has become fertile ground for those looking to raise money and boost engagement among the former president's loyal base.

"There are some people that are making a lot of money on this -- and unfortunately, it's coming at the cost of our elections," he told ABC News. "They don't have Donald Trump anymore to lead them on social media, they're looking for content, they're looking for ways to engage the people who believe this election was stolen, and they're raising money off of it."

"It's turned into even more of a circus than anybody could have imagined," Slugocki said.

And while the Arizona audit is being partially funded with taxpayer dollars based on the Arizona Senate allocating $150,000 to the effort, it's also being bankrolled by private donations -- including some from those who pushed the baseless election fraud conspiracies that set the stage for the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6.


Video: Cyber Ninjas claim Maricopa County election audit 'most transparent in American history' (KPNX-TV Phoenix)

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Funding the audit

Former Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne, who emerged following the 2020 election as a key figure in pushing baseless election fraud claims, is one of the main fundraising forces behind the Arizona audit, having launched a website that aims to raise $2.8 million.

Byrne, who previously said he'd been funding his own team of "hackers and cybersleuths and other people with odd skills" to search for voter fraud, has so far raised over $1.5 million to support the audit, according to the website created by his new nonprofit organization, The America Project. The former CEO also claims to have donated at least $500,000 of his own money to fund the audit.

In an online video stream in early May, Byrne, who after the election reportedly met with Trump in the Oval Office, compared his work funding recount efforts over the last six months to providing seed money for a start-up -- in this case, "a bunch of organizers in Arizona, Michigan, and Florida."

Patrick Byrne attends a "Save America Patriot Rally" on April 24, 2021, at a mall in Bradenton, Fla. © Amy Harris/Shutterstock, FILE Patrick Byrne attends a "Save America Patriot Rally" on April 24, 2021, at a mall in Bradenton, Fla.

"We're the kind of angel money, setting the fires, doing the really under-the-radar stuff," Byrne said, adding, "That stuff is starting to burn and come to life."

Byrne did not respond to a request for comment from ABC News.

Lin Wood, a far-right pro-Trump attorney who recently called for former Vice President Mike Pence to face "firing squads" over certifying the 2020 election, has also been boosting the Arizona audit by donating what he claims is $50,000 of his own money to the effort. Wood's accusations of 2020 voter fraud quickly propelled him to prominence among the MAGA faithful and followers of the far-right QAnon conspiracy.

Wood brought multiple lawsuits of his own challenging the 2020 election results, and is currently in the midst of running for chair of the South Carolina Republican Party -- despite Trump having already endorsed his opponent multiple times. The lawyer, who's been banned by Twitter, has amassed a massive following on the messaging app Telegram, where's he's used his nearly 850,000 subscribers to solicit funds for the Arizona audit, promising that all the money will be used for the effort.

"Please consider joining the effort. We can get this done, Patriots! $5, $20, $100 -- every dollar you give goes STRAIGHT to the AZ election audit," Wood wrote to his followers on Telegram in early April. "When the fraud is finally revealed in one state, just watch the other states fall like dominoes!"

Wood linked the post to a fundraising website for a group called Voices and Votes, which is run by One America News host Christina Bobb and also has One America News' White House reporter, Chanel Rion, as its chief marketing officer.

MORE: Funding behind 'Stop the Steal' movement shrouded in mystery

Wood also has a connection to cybersecurity consultant Doug Logan, who also previously spread baseless election conspiracies and is the founder of the private Florida firm Cyber Ninjas, which the Arizona Senate tapped to lead the audit.

Logan met with Wood at his South Carolina property late last year while Logan was investigating the 2020 elections, Wood told Talking Points Memo in an interview last month. "He was there working on the investigation into election fraud," Wood said, according to the website.

Neither Wood nor Logan responded to a request from ABC News for comment.

The return of "Stop the Steal"

Others who have gone all-in on the Arizona audit include longtime Trump ally Steve Bannon, who has devoted around-the-clock coverage to the audit on his video podcast, similar to how he used his show to promote "Stop the Steal" rallies around the country in the lead-up to Jan. 6.

His "War Room" show regularly displays a live video feed of the audit on screen and regularly features appearances by key figures involved in the audit, including Arizona State Sen. Sonny Borrelli, who recently said that the Justice Department's warning that the audit could be in violation of federal voting and civil rights laws proves that the audit is "right over the target."

a man standing in front of a building: Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon exits the Manhattan Federal Court on Aug. 20, 2020, in the Manhattan borough of New York. © Stephanie Keith/Getty Images, FILE Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon exits the Manhattan Federal Court on Aug. 20, 2020, in the Manhattan borough of New York.

Bannon has also said on his podcast that the Arizona audit "is going to lead to Georgia and it's going to lead to Michigan."

A representative for Bannon declined to provide comment when contacted by ABC News.

The Arizona effort has attracted others who helped organize and promote "Stop the Steal" events around the country, including the Jan. 6 rally ahead of the storming of the Capitol. Conservative activist Scott Pressler, who promoted and attended the Jan. 6 rally, met with Arizona Senate President Karen Fann and discussed the audit in March, according to a post Pressler shared on Twitter.

MORE: How Trump, RNC raised hundreds of millions pushing baseless election fraud claims

Fann did not respond to a request for comment from ABC News.

"Stop the Steal" founder Ali Alexander has promoted the Arizona audit on social media, as has Amy Kremer, who runs Women for America First, the group behind the Jan. 6 rally.

Alexander, who's been banned from several major social media sites including Twitter and Facebook, shared a message on Telegram in March telling subscribers that, moving forward, the "Stop the Steal" movement will be "focusing on the following states: Arizona, Georgia, and Michigan as a start."

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