Trump helped bankroll Senate audit, texts suggest

Trump helped bankroll Senate audit, texts suggest

In this July 11, 2021, file photo former president Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)
In this July 11, 2021, file photo former president Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

Former President Donald Trump may have offered to help pay for Arizona Senate election audit that supporters hope will reverse his election loss, according to newly released records.  

In an April text exchange with audit spokesman Randy Pullen, Trump campaign official and former Arizona state treasurer Jeff DeWit offered to send $175,000 to the Guardian Defense Fund, a dark-money fund run by Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, where Pullen serves as treasurer. A dark-money fund is not required to disclose its funders. Finchem is also running for secretary of state.  

DeWit later asked about a second nonprofit that contributed money to the audit, Fund the Audit by The America Project. 

“So they are ok to donate to? Trump asking,” he texted Pullen on April 28.  

It’s unclear if Trump’s money eventually made it to the Senate’s election audit. The Senate’s contractor, Cyber Ninjas, announced in late July that it raised more than $5.6 million from five different nonprofit organizations, but didn’t share the original donors. The Arizona Capitol Times has also not independently confirmed whether Trump or any of his affiliates contributed money to the campaign.  

DeWit and Pullen’s texts are among a trove of records released after Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael Kemp set an Aug. 31 deadline for requested public records already in the Arizona Senate’s physical possession to be turned over to liberal watchdog group American Oversight. Senate attorneys uploaded more than 4 GB of documents.  

DeWit at first did not want to comment on the record, but asked how the Arizona Capitol Times was able to see Pullen’s text messages.  

“I’ve been trying to stay really far away from that thing, but man, I don’t want to be on record saying anything,” he said.  

After 15 minutes, DeWit called back to downplay any involvement Trump may have played in showing financial interest.  

“I wasn’t referring to Trump himself, but to the broader Trump orbit, as many people were trying to determine if this was a legitimate organization, or one of the hundreds of scam PACs that was trying to make money off the president’s name and likeness,” he said.  

Kemp’s order to release audit records in the possession of Cyber Ninjas and its subcontractors has been stayed pending Arizona Supreme Court review. The state’s high court is set to conference the matter on Sept. 14. Kemp and the Court of Appeals both rejected the Senate’s arguments regarding records custody and legislative immunity. 

Pullen and DeWit first texted about funding a portion of the audit on April 22, the day Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan and audit liaison Ken Bennett held a joint press conference in which both insisted they knew nothing about funding beyond the $150,000 the Senate agreed to pay.   

During that press conference, Logan said he didn’t know how much the audit would cost and repeatedly insisted that it didn’t matter who funded it.  

“Is the question about whether someone funded it, or is the question whether that individual influenced these results?” Logan asked. 

On April 28, DeWit asked Pullen about the people behind “Fund the Audit” because Trump was asking if it was safe to give them money. Trump hired DeWit to help run his 2016 campaign while he was still state treasurer, appointed him to run NASA and DeWit eventually joined Trump’s 2020 campaign team.  

Pullen replied that the people who ran that group are Mike Roman, Abbey Jones and Todd Sandler, but noted that former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne was also involved and that they all were “funding Cyber Ninjas.” 

Byrne, who made a much-panned documentary about the audit starring Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan (among others), openly boasted about his The America Project “dark money” group providing some funding. It made up a bulk of the nearly $6 million raised with $3.25 million. 

In a separate text exchange between Bennett and Lori Hunicutt, editor of Arizona Daily Independent, a local conservative blog, the former secretary of state acknowledged that the Arizona Audit Twitter account was run by the same people behind “Fund the Audit.”  

The account, which began as an outlet to inform the public about audit events, abruptly shifted to sending attacks against elected officials and members of the media. Bennett would not share who ran the account, including after he was locked out due to them changing the Twitter password. 

Bennett on several occasions mentioned how he did not like the tone of the account and thought it was unprofessional. He said the same to Hunnicutt in a May exchange. 

“They’re running it like a bunch of third grade bullies in my opinion,” he wrote, adding that they had ties to Logan, the Cyber Ninjas CEO who previously boasted about how he thought the election was stolen from Trump. “These guys are from FundTheAudit.com I think.”  

The released records don’t include any communication between senators, who maintain that their conversations are protected by legislative privilege.  

Capitol Times reporter Julia Shumway contributed to this report. 

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Lori Hunnicutt’s name.