Jan. 6 investigators question Arizona officials about run-up to insurrection

Congressional investigators probing the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol have questioned at least a half-dozen Arizonans in recent weeks in a sign of the state’s connections to the insurrection.

Those working with the bipartisan select committee have talked with members of the Arizona Legislature, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, the county recorder, the secretary of state and other Arizona residents familiar with the efforts to pressure Congress to reject President Joe Biden’s win in Arizona and elsewhere.

The investigators interviewed people in person in Arizona and by phone in Washington, D.C., discussing matters leading up to the riot and its aftermath, The Arizona Republic has confirmed.

Investigators are seeking records such as text messages, emails and other documents the newspaper has obtained through public-records requests and sources for its extensive reporting about the aftermath of the 2020 election. 

Arizona has long figured to play a prominent role in any probe of the attack on the Capitol. Congressional Republicans, led by U.S. Reps. Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar of Arizona, sought to set aside the electors for Arizona and Pennsylvania in the final moments before the attack halted formal certification in Washington of the results.

Democracy in doubt: White House phone calls, baseless fraud charges: The origins of the Arizona election review

Maricopa County Supervisor Clint Hickman, a Republican who headed the county board until Jan. 6, was among those questioned about the period leading up to the riot. 

“They came out here and it was a real surface-type interview, and I don’t know if they’re ever going to call again, but yes, the Jan. 6 committee, two representatives did come out and talk to me for 45 minutes,” Hickman said. 

The interview touched broadly on the board’s activities surrounding the November 2020 election, he said. 

Investigators also asked Hickman about efforts by former President Donald Trump and his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to speak with Hickman in the days before Jan. 6. Hickman let their calls go to voicemail and refused to speak to Trump and Giuliani, he told The Arizona Republic in a July story that detailed efforts by Trump, Giuliani, Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward and others to flip the 2020 election results. Their efforts included a call to halt vote counting in November 2020 and prevent certification of Biden’s narrow win in the state.

“It wasn’t really hard-core specific about any one topic,” Hickman said of the interview. 

The committee did not respond to a request to discuss its ongoing investigation.

Hickman was interviewed Nov. 17, the same day The Arizona Republic began its “Democracy in Doubt” series that detailed the origins of the effort by Trump and his allies to overturn Biden’s win in the state. 

Hickman met with an investigative counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives and an attorney who joined the House select committee staff in August at the urging of Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who is one of two Republicans on the panel. Cheney has been a vocal critic of Trump’s attacks on the legitimacy of the 2020 election. 

Investigators talk to House speaker, who rejected plan to replace Biden electors

That same day, the same House staffers interviewed Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, whom Trump and his allies targeted in the weeks after the election in an effort to overturn the state’s results.

Bowers agreed to a sit-down at the investigators’ request and declined to discuss his interview, which lasted more than an hour. 

The Republic has learned investigators asked Bowers about much of the newspaper’s reporting, including his conversations and dealings with Trump, Giuliani, members of Congress and other Trump allies. 

After the election, Bowers rejected a plan to replace the state’s 11 presidential electors, whose votes were supposed to go to Biden, with electors for Trump. Bowers also rejected pleas from Arizona state Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, to hold an official legislative hearing for allies of Trump to air their grievances about the 2020 election. 

Finchem, along with Biggs, Gosar and a newly formed organization known as the “Data Integrity Group,” pressed Bowers to question election results in Maricopa County and elsewhere.

Bowers toured the county’s tabulation center in Phoenix to get a briefing on how elections in the state’s most populous county are run. 

House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, and key House staff  are captured by security footage at Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center in Phoenix on the morning of Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 2020.

Bowers also rebuffed a request by attorney John Eastman, a former law professor with Chapman University in Orange, California. Eastman wanted Bowers to help test a legal argument that state legislators had the authority to replace presidential electors at their discretion. 

Eastman reached out to House staff on Jan. 3, wanting to discuss the upcoming meeting of Congress on Jan. 6. He said he was representing Trump. He wanted to talk with Bowers and others about his various theories about why “Arizona electors could and should be objected to,” a person familiar with the conversations said. 

Eastman spoke with Bowers and others on Jan. 4. Eastman claimed there were all sorts of reasons for doubt about Arizona’s election results, but when pressed for details, he acknowledged he was unfamiliar with the facts in Arizona, a person familiar with the discussion said. 

“It’s never been done in the history of the country,” Bowers told Eastman. “and I’m going to do that in Arizona? No.”

Last month the Jan. 6 committee subpoenaed Eastman, who reportedly authored a memo outlining the process for state lawmakers. It hinged on former Vice President Mike Pence, overseeing the counting of electoral votes, first setting aside some state results.

On the morning of Jan. 6, before rioters overtook the Capitol, Biggs called Bowers to ask if the fellow East Valley Republican would support decertifying Arizona’s electors. Bowers said he would not.

Recorder, secretary of state, supervisors interviewed

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a Republican who won his race in November 2020, also met with the two House staff on Nov. 17. 

Jan. 6 was the third day of his tenure, “and I was basically still figuring out how to dial out of the office,” Richer said in an interview with The Republic. 

Investigators asked about his experiences on Jan. 6, his text messages and emails about the election, and any ongoing threats or related concerns. 

“Getting a better sense of the election administration law, landscape of Phoenix, and maybe some of the ramifications of the ongoing, I guess, concerns regarding the 2020 election,” Richer said. 

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who oversaw the 2020 election and helped certify its results, was interviewed Nov. 16 by investigative counsel for the committee. Investigators inquired about election administration in Arizona, threats and harassment to her and her staff, and the GOP-ordered review under Senate President Karen Fann of 2.1 million ballots from 2020. 

Republican Supervisor Jack Sellers, who took over as chairman of the board on the day of the attack, and Bill Gates, his vice chair, talked with counsel from the Jan. 6 committee by phone for 10 minutes while in Washington for a separate hearing in October before the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee. 

During their conversation, investigators asked the supervisors whether they viewed the effort to audit the county’s election systems as a way to justify setting aside the state’s overall results. The supervisors said they did.

2 Arizona congressmen part of 'Stop the Steal' effort

Investigators also want to know more about Biggs and Gosar, both of whom have been identified as key to the “Stop the Steal” movement.

Earlier this week, Politico reported the committee is expected to formally seek the phone records of some congressional Republicans with ties to the “Stop the Steal” rallies before Jan. 6. CNN reported months ago that the committee wanted telecommunication companies to preserve records between those involved in the rallies and members of Congress who were active in some ways with those activities. If so, that could point them to Biggs and Gosar.

Texas resident Ali Alexander, the man who headed “Stop the Steal,” has reportedly agreed to be deposed by investigators this month about his involvement. 

In a video published before the riot, Alexander named Biggs, Gosar and Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., as the members of Congress most instrumental to advancing his efforts to thwart congressional certification of Biden’s win.

“We four schemed up of putting maximum pressure on Congress while they were voting,” he said in the video.

Alexander has called Gosar the “spirit animal” of “Stop the Steal.” During a Dec. 19, 2020, rally in Phoenix, Alexander played a recording of Biggs for those gathered. 

Biggs has maintained he made the recording at the request of Gosar’s aides and said he had no dealings with Alexander.

Arizonans had prominent role

Other Arizonans were notable for their presence in Washington on Jan. 6.

Finchem, whom Trump has endorsed in the 2022 race for secretary of state, brought a document signed by some of his GOP colleagues and what he considered evidence of election fraud to Washington that week. Though it was not an official act of the Arizona Legislature, it was part of what Trump and Giuliani cast as a desire by several states to reverse their election results.

Arizona resident Jake Angeli, known as the “QAnon Shaman,” was sentenced in November to 41 months in prison for his role in the Jan. 6 melee.

Reach the reporter Ronald J. Hansen at ronald.hansen@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-4493. Follow him on Twitter @ronaldjhansen.

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