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Why the Arizona AG's aggressive Justice Dept pushback matters

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) wasn't too engaged with his state's bonkers election "audit." Then he launched a U.S. Senate campaign.
Image: Arizona Recounts 2020 Presidential Election Ballots
Former Secretary of State Ken Bennett, center, works to move ballots from the 2020 general election at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, on May 1, 2021.Courtney Pedroza / Getty Images file

Arizona Republicans' utterly bonkers "audit" of Maricopa County's presidential ballots is reportedly nearing completion, but the controversy is far from over.

It was last month when the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division wrote to Arizona State Senate President Karen Fann (R), explaining that federal officials had reviewed "news reports and complaints regarding the procedures being used for this audit" and was first concerned by a number of reports suggesting the ballots, machines and voter information are no longer under the control of state and local elections officials, aren't being kept secure, and are at risk of "being lost, stolen, altered, compromised or destroyed."

The Justice Department similarly reminded the Republican leader that "federal law creates a duty to safeguard and preserve federal election records."

It was no small thing to see federal law enforcement warn Arizona Republicans that their sham "audit" may have violated federal laws regarding the mishandling of ballots and elections equipment. Attorney General Merrick Garland appeared to raise the stakes, at least a little, in remarks last week on voting rights.

Though Garland did not explicitly mention the Grand Canyon State by name, the attorney general did say, in prepared remarks, "[S]ome jurisdictions, based on disinformation, have utilized abnormal post-election audit methodologies that may put the integrity of the voting process at risk and undermine public confidence in our democracy."

Evidently, this didn't sit well with Arizona's Republican state attorney general. The Arizona Capitol Times reported:

State Attorney General Mark Brnovich is warning his federal counterpart to stay out of the way of the current audit of the 2020 election returns. In a letter Monday to Merrick Garland, Brnovich said he is displaying "an alarming disdain for state sovereignty" by suggesting that there may the need for some federal oversight of what is playing out at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum. And Brnovich hinted that any intrusion will result in a lawsuit.

"Arizona will not sit back and let the Biden administration abuse its authority, refuse to uphold laws, or attempt to commandeer our state's sovereignty," Brnovich wrote, adding that he believes the Justice Department appeared "more interested in supporting the hysterical outcries of leftist pundits on cable television, rather than the rule of law."

In case that wasn't quite provocative enough, the state AG added his office "will not tolerate any effort to undermine or interfere with our State Senate's audit to reassure Arizonans of the accuracy of our elections. We stand ready to defend federalism and state sovereignty against any partisan attack or federal overreach."

Brnovich concluded by suggesting the Justice Department's interest in enforcing federal elections laws is at odds with "the Founders' intent" of a federalist system.

To be sure, the Republican's posturing was tiresome and ahistorical, but that doesn't mean it was irrelevant.

For one thing, the idea that the U.S. Justice Department should look the other way -- in the name of "state sovereignty" -- as Arizona Republicans mishandle ballots and elections equipment in a federal election is plainly foolish. For another, no serious person could look at the laughable Arizona "audit" and think it's intended to "reassure Arizonans of the accuracy of our elections."

But let's also not look past the electoral context: State Attorney General Mark Brnovich launched a U.S. Senate campaign three days before writing this over-the-top letter to Merrick Garland. The biggest hurdle standing in the way of Brnovich's candidacy? Donald Trump has publicly criticized the Republican for not going far enough to kowtow to the former president's anti-election nonsense. Trump, in a written statement last month, said Brnovich was "nowhere to be found" in helping spread the former president's crackpot ideas.

"The lackluster Attorney General of Arizona, Mark Brnovich, has to get on the ball and catch up with the great Republican patriots in the Arizona State Senate," Trump added.

And so the next step was inevitable. Brnovich, needing to please the former president and his followers, has decided to champion his party's indefensible election scheme, picking a fight with that rascally Biden administration.

It's pitiful, but that doesn't mean the efforts will fail.