Arizona Republicans figure prominently in election turmoil

PHOENIX — (AP) — Several Arizona lawmakers figure prominently in the controversy over the Republican effort to overturn President Donald Trump’s election loss and the ensuing chaos after a mob stormed the Capitol.

From raising objections to the state’s election results to attending or potentially helping to organize the violent rally, Arizonans are playing an outsized role in the recriminations that have marked the final weeks of Trump’s presidency. Some of their actions have brought formal complaints and demands for an investigation from Democrats.

Arizona was a hotbed for GOP election denialism long before Trump supporters broke into the Capitol and halted the formal certification of Biden’s victory. Several state lawmakers began questioning the result almost immediately after it became clear that Biden had narrowly become the first Democrat to win Arizona since 1996.

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There is no evidence for the allegations of fraud. But they were aired during a meeting at a Phoenix hotel with Trump’s lawyers, Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis.

Two Arizona congressmen, Reps. Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar, carried the allegations to the Capitol on Jan. 6 when lawmakers met to count the electoral college votes. Biggs and Gosar were among the lawmakers who objected to counting Arizona’s 11 votes in Biden’s column, touching off two hours of debate that was interrupted when the mob broke in to the Capitol. They ultimately voted to reject Arizona's votes, along with Rep. Debbie Lesko.

Biggs and Gosar have received national scrutiny after a pro-Trump activist named Ali Alexander said they were among four lawmakers who helped him plan the Jan. 6 rally that led to the siege on the Capitol.

“We four schemed up of putting maximum pressure on Congress while they were voting,” Alexander said in a video posted to social media in late December, which has since been deleted. He said he the group hoped to “change the hearts and minds of Republicans" voting on election challenges that day.

A spokeswoman for Gosar declined to comment.

A spokesman for Biggs has rejected the suggestion that the congressman was involved. Biggs is not aware of ever meeting Alexander, the spokesman, Daniel Stefanski, told The Arizona Republic.

“He did not have any contact with protestors or rioters, nor did he ever encourage or foster the rally or protests,” Stefanksi said, adding that those who were violent “are solely responsible for their crimes.”

Alexander played a recorded message from Biggs at a rally in Phoenix in December. Stefanski said Biggs recorded at the request of Gosar aides.

Three of Gosar’s siblings told The Arizona Republic that they believe he should be expelled from Congress. His siblings in 2018 filmed an ad urging Gosar's constituents to vote against him, saying he has become extreme.

Democrats have taken aim at Biggs, Gosar and Republican state lawmakers who were in Washington on the day of the riot.

Democratic lawmakers sent a letter Wednesday to FBI Director Christopher Wray and Acting U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen demanding an investigation of the role that elected officials played in the uprising. It singled out Biggs, Gosar, state Rep. Mark Finchem and former Rep. Anthony Kern, who lost his re-election bid.

“It is vital to any current or future federal investigations, and ultimately to the Arizona public they represent, that we learn what these elected officials knew about this planned insurrection and when they knew it,” the Democrats wrote.

Democratic state Rep. Cesar Chavez of Phoenix on Thursday filed an ethics complaint alleging that Finchem violated his oath of office by attending the rally.

Finchem has said he went to Washington in an attempt to show Vice President Mike Pence alleged evidence of fraud. He said he was also scheduled to speak at a permitted event on the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, the day the Capitol was breached. A photo he posted to Twitter shows the crowd in front of the Capitol.

In a statement released earlier this week, Finchem said he remained about 500 yards from the Capitol and didn’t learn it was breached until 5 p.m., hours after the mob broke in. He blamed the mayhem on antifa, a loosely organized group of anti-fascist groups that have engaged in violent clashes with right-wing demonstrators — a claim that has been disproven.

“To connect my presence to speak in the company of other elected officials at a properly permitted public event at the Capitol event with ‘leading an insurrection,’ or that walking with the crowd to the Capitol can be construed as anything other than an exercise of my First Amendment right to free speech it is utterly absurd,” Finchem said.