Senate audit inches closer to conclusion

Kyra Haas Arizona Capitol Times//November 19, 2021

Senate audit inches closer to conclusion

Kyra Haas Arizona Capitol Times//November 19, 2021

Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, Thursday, May 6, 2021 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix.   (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool)

It’s been two months since the Senate and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors agreed the county would turn routers and Splunk logs over to a “special master” and team of IT professionals after the county repeatedly refused to give access to the Cyber Ninjas auditing team.  

But former U.S. Rep. John Shadegg – the “special master” who will oversee answering the Senate’s questions about the materials – hasn’t told the county yet who will be on the IT team. 

John Shadegg

He also hasn’t received questions from the Senate yet, though Senate President Karen Fann said Senate attorneys plan to submit them by November 19. 

Shadegg comes at a rate of $500 per hour, paid by the county. So far, he has billed the county $10,500, county spokesman Fields Moseley said. 

The county formally retained Shadegg for the job on October 20. Before adding experts to his team, Shadegg is supposed to send their proposed rates to Tom Liddy, head of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office’s civil division, for approval, according to the engagement letter. 

In September, faced with the prospect of losing about $700 million in state-shared revenue, the supervisors agreed to foot the bill for Shadegg and his team and let the Senate and its contractors ask them questions about the routers and Splunk logs. They also agreed to eat another cost by dropping efforts to have the Senate reimburse $2.8 million the county spent to replace voting equipment that may have been compromised during the Senate’s audit.  

In return, Fann told Attorney General Mark Brnovich that the subpoenas had been fulfilled and no further action was needed from his office. The supervisors previously faced a September 27 deadline to resolve the subpoena issue or face loss of state-shared revenue for violating state law. 

Fann and Board Chairman Jack Sellers, along with their legal counsel, signed that settlement agreement September 17. The county had repeatedly declined to turn over its routers and Splunk logs subpoenaed by the Senate, saying that giving that access to an outside firm could result in sensitive private and law enforcement information being compromised. 

Cyber Ninjas and its subcontractors presented their “final” audit reports on September 24, though they still wanted to access the denied materials. The contractors provided no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election in those reports but insinuated impropriety, suggesting future investigations, such as the attorney general’s, may uncover wrongdoing.  

The Senate and county agreed to appoint Shadegg, a Republican, as the special master. Per their settlement agreement, Shadegg is to hire a team of one to three computer technology experts. Those team members will have to sign a confidentiality and nondisclosure agreement.   

Ben Cotton, the CEO of CyFIR, one of Cyber Ninjas’ subcontractors, was directly involved in deciding which IT experts the Senate would suggest for Shadegg’s team, Fann said. Cotton also wrote many of the questions the Senate plans to submit, giving his list of questions to Senate attorney Kory Langhofer to review last week, Fann said. 

“(Langhofer) has been working with Ben over these last few days, trying to tweak those questions, add a few more and then tweak those so that we’re 100% clear exactly what it is that he needs, what he wants,” Fann said. 

Shadegg told the Senate and the county he would take suggestions for IT experts from both, Fann said.  

“It was my understanding that he was going to work with both lists to try and find experts that would be acceptable to both sides,” she said. 

Moseley confirmed that Shadegg was open to suggestions from the county and the Senate. Asked if the county would be comfortable with one of the IT experts having been suggested by a Senate auditor, Moseley said the county had confidence in Shadegg’s choices. 

“The County trusts Mr. Shadegg to choose qualified third-party technology experts who will simply focus on answering the Senate’s questions,” Moseley said in an email. 

Ultimately, it is Shadegg’s decision, according to the settlement agreement. 

Neither the settlement agreement nor the letter specifies a timeline for Shadegg’s work or how much it will cost taxpayers. 

Fann said it was difficult to assess how long the process will take because she said the county’s answers to the Senate’s questions may prompt more questions from the Senate. 

“I think everybody is anxious to get this done – the constituents are as well as Maricopa County and the Senate and everyone else,” she said. 

Moseley said the county understood that there would be a timeline set. 

“It is in the best interests of the citizens for this matter to be concluded expeditiously,” he said.