Maricopa County recorder sought DHS support in war on purported election misinformation in media

Briefing federal information warriors on election "misinformation," Stephen Richer proposed Homeland Security cybersecurity arm "hold bootcamps for media representatives such as FOX News or CNN to enhance media's understanding of how elections are administered," reveals internal agency report.

Updated: December 8, 2022 - 4:37pm

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, who started a PAC to support anti-Trump Republican candidates, sought support from the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) — incuding funding, intelligence, and collaboration with social media — in election officials' often controversial efforts to combat purported election misinformation, according to a newly released internal agency report.

On Wednesday, Christina Bobb, attorney for Donald Trump for President 2024, posted a CISA report on Twitter recapping Richer's March appearance before the DHS agency's Protecting Critical Infrastructure from Misinformation and Disinformation Subcommittee to brief the members on combating election misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation.

Bobb told Real America's Voice's "War Room" TV show on Wednesday that she was given the documents to publish by Arizona GOP gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake's attorneys, who "obtained it through legal discovery."

According to the documents, Richer "suggested that CISA hold bootcamps for media representatives such as FOX News or CNN to enhance media's understanding of how elections are administered." He also said that the "malinformation" his office has encountered included "Abuse of Arizona's permissive public records process," as they received more than 350 public records requests last year regarding the 2020 election.

Richer told the subcommittee that as election misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation continues to spread, "the pressure on his staff will continue to build and it will become difficult to perform statutory responsibilities needed to establish safe, credible, and fair elections."

According to the subcommittee report on Richer's appearance, he identified five "opportunities for CISA support" for election officials, including:

  • "Educate the public and determine how people are manipulating the public's understanding of the truth;
  • Funding and resources;
  • Intelligence and metrics;
  • Partnership with social media; and 
  • Share best practices on pre-bunking."

Richer, a Republican allied with the anti-Trump wing of Arizona's bitterly divided state party, advised that "CISA's credibility and the credibility of the federal government is lowest with populations most in need of assistance and most in disbelief of the accuracy of the 2020 election results." He "suggested that local citizens within the communities remain the most trusted sources of information and upheld the credibility of main media institutions, social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook, and encouraged the business community to mobilize and share information from CISA."

Lake retweeted the documents on Wednesday, commenting: "Besides running Maricopa County elections @stephen_richer was censoring Election talk and running a PAC to stop me & our movement—all while overseeing an election with my name on the ballot.

"His goal: Stop Kari Lake by any means necessary. 

"#AZBananaRepublic"

Richer, who defeated Adrian Fontes in the 2020 election for Maricopa County recorder, vowed to tighten up and depoliticize the chronic maladministration of elections in the county. After taking office, however, he emerged as an often acerbic critic of GOP efforts to audit the disputed 2020 election in the county and tighten election security.

In 2021, Richer started a political action committee, funded by Democrats, that supports Republican candidates who "acknowledge the validity of the 2020 election and condemn the events of January 6, 2021 as a terrible result of the lies told about the November election," according to a press statement announcing the PAC's creation.

When reached for comment on Wednesday, the Maricopa County Recorder's Office referred election questions to the county Elections Department, which then forwarded the request for comment to the recorder's office.

The recorder's office told Just the News on Thursday, "While the document identified in the post is 'For Official Use Only,' it is no secret that the Maricopa County Recorder's Office communicates with CISA, DHS, and other government agencies to engage in information sharing and best practices, as well as law enforcement purposes.

"As the lead federal agency responsible for national election security, CISA assists jurisdictions across the country in shoring up their election and cyber security needs," the statement continued. "The agency was founded in 2018 in response to the growing number of threats facing U.S. elections, including foreign actors attempting to influence domestic audiences. In furtherance of these goals, the Recorder was invited to speak to the group and share his perspective as an election administrator for the second-largest voting jurisdiction in the country.

"The Recorder's Office is responsible for combatting categorically false information about election administration, and we do so through various means. We regularly communicate with voters and share important, factual information on our official Twitter and Facebook accounts."

CISA didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

The revelation of Richer's meeting with CISA officials comes after a Jan. 7, 2021 email from the office of Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs was posted on Twitter on Saturday, showing that her office had flagged two tweets on election information for review. Twitter removed the flagged tweets later that day.

As a result, Hobbs, who was certified as the winner of the Arizona gubernatorial election this week, is now the subject of calls for an investigation of her intervention to censor a Twitter account.

The Republican Party of Arizona sent a letter to Attorney General Mark Brnovich on Tuesday, asking him to investigate Hobbs for allegedly violating federal law regarding the protection of constitutional rights and state law regarding campaign finance.

At least 72 vote centers in Maricopa County experienced issues on Election Day, from ballots rejected by tabulators to improper checkout procedures and hours-long lines for voting, according to reporting by Republican election observers filed with the Arizona attorney general's office.

The attorney general's office raised concerns regarding the county's administration of the Nov. 8 election in a Nov. 19 letter to the Maricopa County Attorney inquiring into the widespread irregularities reported in the county on Election Day. The letter gave a deadline of Nov. 28 for the county to respond.

"The Elections Integrity Unit ('Unit') of the Arizona Attorney General's Office ('AGO') has received hundreds of complaints since Election Day pertaining to issues related to the administration of the 2022 General Election in Maricopa County," Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Wright wrote.

"These complaints go beyond pure speculation, but include first-hand witness accounts that raise concerns regarding Maricopa's lawful compliance with Arizona election law," she said.

On Nov. 27, the county replied to the letter, saying that it followed the law on Election Day and the election problems were "regrettable." The county insisted, however, that "every lawful voter was still able to cast his or her ballot."

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors voted to certify its election on Monday, after listening to a flood of voter complaints regarding issues they experienced trying to vote on Election Day.

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