AZ lawmakers subpoenaed regarding Jan. 6 riot

At least two Arizona lawmakers say they were subpoenaed by the FBI for communications regarding the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, and Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Apache Junction, say they were subpoenaed recently by the FBI for communications regarding the insurrection at the nation’s Capitol last year.

Karen Fann

Fann said there is a list of lawmakers who received subpoenas, but did not disclose the other names.

Several lawmakers, including Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, and Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, have stated that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from President Donald Trump.

Borrelli said he did not receive a subpoena and Rogers did not immediately respond to a request for comment. “I’ve been asked by the FBI not to comment,” Finchem said.

Townsend and Fann will cooperate with the request.

“They are looking to see if I had any correspondence with a list of attorneys for Donald Trump. Staff is going through all of my emails and will submit it soon,” Townsend said in a text on June 29.

Fann called the request a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) in the form of a subpoena, “asking for my … emails, texts, whatever we have between me and a list of people.” After the 2020 election, Fann led an audit of Maricopa County ballots to search for fraud, but never stated the election was stolen.

“I was not part of January 6, didn’t even know it was going on until after it happened. I saw it on the news like everybody else. This whole alternative slate of electors, I didn’t have anything to do with that either,” she said on June 28.

Kelly Townsend

Kim Quintero, Senate majority communications director, said that Senate attorneys don’t think Fann will be called to testify in Washington, D.C.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, testified in front of the January 6 committee on June 21 that Trump and his aides tried to convince him to investigate their claims of fraud in Arizona after the election, but they would not provide evidence. Without substantiation for their ideas, Bowers refused. “I said, ‘Look, you are asking me to do something that is counter to my oath,’” he told the committee.

Bowers received a John F Kennedy “Profiles in Courage” award on April 21 for refusing to decertify the election despite pressure from several other Republican officials. Congressman Andy Biggs also tried to convince Bowers to go along with the theories of fraud, but was unsuccessful. Protestors picketed and yelled outside of Bowers’ home in Mesa for days.

Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward, and former lawmaker Anthony Kern are among a group of 84 self-proclaimed “electors” across the country who signed onto a document that said the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. Hoffman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Kern and Hoffman are both running for seats in the Arizona Senate this year.

Finchem and Kern were both present at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Finchem and Ward were previously subpoenaed by the committee investigating January 6 in February.




Democrats seek ouster of Republican Finchem

Democratic Rep. Athena Salman on Monday introduces a resolution to expel Republican Mark Finchem from the House based on his activities before and including the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Democratic Rep. Athena Salman on Monday introduces a resolution to expel Republican Mark Finchem from the House based on his activities before and including the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Rep. Athena Salman and 22 other House Democrats introduced a resolution Monday to expel Rep. Mark Finchem from the body.

“Every day the member remains in office is a threat to the Arizona House of Representatives, a threat to national security and a threat to our democracy,” Salman, a Tempe Democrat, said at a news conference.

Finchem, R-Oro Valley, was a vocal supporter after the election of efforts to overturn President Biden’s narrow win in Arizona. He was in Washington, D.C. to speak on Jan. 6 and he had planned to deliver evidence of fraud in Arizona to Vice President Mike Pence. Although Finchem said he wasn’t near the Capitol when a pro-Trump mob stormed it trying to stop the certification of the electoral vote, he said he learned of it hours later and put out a statement blaming the violence on Antifa.

Since then, Democrats have been trying to keep the spotlight on Finchem’s role in challenging the election results and in the Jan. 6 riot that led to five deaths. House and Senate Democrats sent a letter to the FBI on Jan. 13 asking the bureau to investigate Finchem’s conduct, and Rep. Cesár Chávez, D-Phoenix, on Jan. 14 formally called on the House Ethics Committee to investigate Finchem’s actions and possibly recommend his expulsion.

Salman, who is leading the effort, conceded under questioning that many of the individual allegations detailed in what was introduced as HR 2006, by themselves, might not rise to the level of her contention that the conduct of the Oro Valley Republican “was dishonorable and unbecoming of a member of the House.” She also contends that his activities “undermine the public confidence in this institution and violated the order and decorum necessary to complete the people’s work.”

“When you look at these things in a vacuum, sure, they can appear random,” she said,  But Salman said that, taken together, they amount to evidence that Finchem “participated in, encouraged and incited the events of Jan.6,” making him complicit of “insurrection and rebellion” and therefore unqualified to serve.

Finchem declined to comment “on advice of counsel.”

He already has obtained legal representation in connection with at least one issue not now in Salman’s bill of particulars: his refusal to turn over text messages sought as part of a public records request. His attorney, Alexanader Kolodin — the same lawyer who filed lawsuits to challenge the results of the Arizona election — argued that the messages are on their own personal devices and therefore not public.

Although several dozen people, many of them residents of Finchem’s Legislative District 11, have filed complaints with the committee also calling for an investigation, it has not scheduled any hearings or taken any other action on the matter yet. Salman said the FBI has acknowledged receiving the Democrats’ letter but she hasn’t heard anything else. She acknowledged that the apparent disinclination from House Republicans, who hold a 31-29 majority, to act on the Democrats’ complaints could be an obstacle.

“The conservative majority has made it very clear that they’re not responding or even doing anything,” she said.

The resolution recounts the actions of the mob at the Capitol on Jan. 6, and highlights Finchem’s membership in the Oath Keepers, which the resolution describes as “a far-right group with a well-documented history of domestic terrorism and violence against the government, and whose founder threatened to hang Arizona’s former United States Senator  John McCain in 2015.” Several people affiliated with the Oath Keepers are facing federal conspiracy charges, over their alleged actions on Jan. 6.

It also highlights Finchem’s ties with Ali Alexander, one of the “Stop the Steal” organizers. And, the resolution says Finchem has “failed to denounce these domestic enemies, and further, has sought to conceal the consequences of his actions by promoting a baseless conspiracy blaming leftists that has been disproven by federal law enforcement agencies” and has “a documented history of pushing conspiracies that blame the left for violence by white nationalists, including deflecting blame for neo-Nazi violence at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017.” It concludes by calling for his expulsion for taking part in an attempt to overthrow the government.

“Finchem has no honor, is unfit to serve in the Arizona state Legislature and poses a clear and present danger to American citizens,” said Dana Allmond, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who lives in LD11. “We cannot settle for anything less than his expulsion now.”

Allmond accused Finchem of violating his oath of office.

“It’s apparent Finchem doesn’t understand what that oath embodies,” she said. “He claims a stolen presidential election and celebrates murder.”

Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed to this report. 

Fernandez fights Finchem, Kern lawsuit against her

From left are Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, former Rep. Anthony Kern, and Rep. Charlen Fernandez, D-Yuma.
From left are Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, former Rep. Anthony Kern, and Rep. Charlen Fernandez, D-Yuma.

A Yuma Democratic lawmaker is asking a judge to toss a defamation lawsuit filed against her by two Republican legislators and a member of Congress.

Rep. Charlene Fernandez contends she did nothing wrong in signing a letter asking the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI to investigate the activities of Rep. Mark Finchem of Oro Valley and now-former Rep. Anthony Kern of Glendale during the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Both state lawmakers were there but have denied taking part in any disturbance.

There also were questions raised in the letter she signed about GOP Congressmen Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar. These stem from a claim by Ali Alexander, who organized the “Stop the Steal” movement, that he worked with them and Republican Congressman Mo Brooks from Alabama on the plan for the Jan. 6 demonstration.

In filing suit, Finchem, Kern and Gosar — Biggs did not join in — are seeking unspecified damages as well as a court order requiring Fernandez “to publish a full retraction of the false and malicious allegations” in the letter to the federal agencies.

But attorney David Bodney who represents Fernandez, said the claim is flawed. He said that communications with law enforcement like this letter are “absolutely privileged as a matter of Arizona law.”

Bodney also took a slap at claims made in the original lawsuit that appear to be designed in a bid to use their claims against Fernandez to pursue a political agenda.

The Republican lawmakers claim, without proof, that there were “irregularities” in the election of President Biden and that social media sites like Twitter and Facebook quashed harmful stories about Biden’s son, Hunter, and his laptop that contained documents about his business dealings. And the lawsuit claims problems with the integrity of electronic voting systems and what they claim were “mysterious changes in swing states” of vote tallies on election night.

All that, Bodney said, is legally irrelevant.

“Contrary to all of the rhetoric … this is not a lawsuit about fraud in the 2020 election, the purported suppression of conservative viewpoints by social media companies or issues of border security,” he wrote.

What the lawsuit is, Bodney said, is an attempt by Finchem, Kern and Gosar “to punish a critic for simply asking federal authorities for an investigation into their role in that attack” on the Capitol. And he said there’s no legal basis for that claim.

“Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from criticism, and the First Amendment protects Rep. Fernandez to the same extent it protects plaintiffs,” Bodney said.

In seeking federal review, the Democrats said that Republican legislators “publicly advocated for the overthrow of the election results which encouraged precisely the kind of violence that we witnessed.” More to the point, it says that Finchem and Kern, who had lost his re-election bid, were not only present but “actively encouraged the mob, both before and during the attack on the Capitol.”

And then there was the post from Alexander.

“We four schemed up putting maximum pressure on Congress while they were voting” on counting the Electoral College delegates, Alexander said in a now-deleted video on Periscope.

The letter at the center of the lawsuit, which actually was signed by all of the Democrats in the legislature, says there is evidence that all four “encouraged, facilitated, participated and possibly helped plan this anti-democratic insurrection.” But only Fernandez is named as a defendant.

The lawsuit contends she knew or should have known there was no evidence linking them to the riot. And it says that Fernandez knew the allegation that the Republicans helped stir up protesters were false or that she made them “in reckless disregard of their truth or falsity.”

Bodney said even if the letter to the FBI and Department of Justice were not absolutely privileged as communication with law enforcement, the lawsuit fails on other grounds.

“Plaintiffs have failed to plead any facts that would establish, as required, that Rep. Fernandez knew the challenged statements were false or consciously disregarded subjective doubts about their truth,” he told the judge. And Bodney said nothing in the complaint alleges any facts showing that Fernandez entered into any conspiracy to defame.

And there’s something else.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that public officials can sue for defamation only if they can show there was “actual malice,” meaning that the person making the statements knew or seriously doubted the veracity of those statements. Simple negligence or even false statements, by themselves, is insufficient for a public figure to maintain a libel or slander action.

And Bodney said the fact that both Finchem and Kern have denied participating in the riot, by itself, is not enough to support their claim that Fernandez knew what she — and the other Democrats — were telling federal officials was false.

“Both the innocent and the guilty will deny their culpability for criminal conduct,” he said. “Neither the law nor common sense required anyone to take plaintiffs’ denials at face value.”

A legislative aide to Fernandez said she is paying for her own defense.

No date has been set for a trial.



Finchem, Biggs answer lawsuit to disqualify them from running for office

In this May 2, 2018, file photo, Republican Rep. Mark Finchem argues against an amendment to the state budget proposed by minority Democrats, at the Capitol in Phoenix.  PHOTO BY BOB CHRISTIE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Attorneys for candidates for office are asking judges to throw out complaints that they can’t legally run based on contentions they are guilty of insurrection for their role in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Jack Wilenchik, who represents state Rep. Mark Finchem, and Kory Langhofer, who is the attorney for Congressman Andy Biggs, say there is no basis for the claims by Free Speech for People that their clients are constitutionally barred from office. And Exhibit No. 1, they say, is that neither of them has been convicted of anything, much less charged with a crime.

“We don’t allow random members of the public to accuse politicians of a crime and remove them from office,” Wilenchik told Capitol Media Services. “If we did, then, Lord knows, the courts would be full of this kind of thing every day.”

He said that’s why mere allegations against everyone from Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton can’t be used in things like election challenges to bar them from running for office.

“If the courts were to even attempt to hold such a proceeding, then it would not only encourage countless more cases in which political candidates claim their opponent is unfit to hold office due to commission of a crime, but the trial would also fail to satisfy basic constitutional guarantees of due process in criminal cases,” Wilenchik said.

But the outcome of the lawsuits — and the 2022 candidacies of Finchem, Biggs and Congressman Paul Gosar – could turn on finer legal arguments of what the Fourteenth Amendment actually means.

At issue is a provision of the 1868 amendment, approved in the wake of the Civil War, which says that anyone who “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” is precluded from holding any office in federal or state government. Free Speech for People, a national organization involved in election issues, contends that the alleged activities of all three in planning what happened on Jan 6. meets that definition.

And in the case of Finchem, who now is running for secretary of state, he was at the Capitol, though he said he never went inside.

Langhofer said the legal arguments presented by challengers are a stretch, at best.

“Even if we assume all the facts they said are true, it wouldn’t constitute insurrection,” he said.

” ‘Insurrection’ has a particular meaning,” Langhofer said. And he said it’s more than doing “mean things.”

The bigger legal question is whether, even assuming the definition fits, any of that can be used in a state court action to knock a candidate off the ballot.

“To date, Congress has enacted no legislation that would provide a state court with the authority to determine that a person is barred from holding public office under the Disqualification Clause (of the Fourteenth Amendment), especially in an expedited civil proceeding such as this,” Wilenchik wrote in his pleadings.

“To the contrary, Congress has seen fit to address the penalties for engaging in violent rebellion only though criminal statutes which provide that such persons – following a proper indictment, trial, conviction, and entry of judgment, of course -‘shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States,’ ” he continued.

Langhofer said the lawsuits are even more problematic when trying to keep someone from running for Congress.

“Only Congress can judge the qualifications of its members,” he said. “And whether you are an ‘insurrectionist’ is, in fact, a qualification for membership.”

And there’s something else.

Langhofer pointed out that all three of the defendants are not just candidates but have, in fact, been holding office for years.

“They knew more than a year ago who was running,” Langhofer said of the challengers.

He pointed out that the Fourteenth Amendment not only precludes someone from seeking office but also from holding office in the first place. Yet Langhofer he said those who filed suit didn’t challenge their ability to be in office now but instead waited until after the April 4 filing deadline for candidates for the 2022 election to file suit – and only to keep them off the ballot.

And that last-minute maneuver, Langhofer said, doesn’t provide the time for a proper trial.

It’s also a violation of a legal concept known as “laches,” where courts can throw out claims where plaintiffs knew about the facts but waited to file suit.

“We all have to scramble,” he said.

“We’re not going to be able to bring in witnesses, do discovery, things like that,” Langhofer said. “You can’t bring a major constitutional case at the very last minute.”

Hearings were originally scheduled to begin later this week but have been delayed.



Hold those responsible for Jan. 6 accountable

In this Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 file photo, supporters of President Donald Trump gather outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar)

A year ago today, far-right extremists attempted to overthrow our government in an attempted coup led by the former president of the United States.

As a former police officer with the Phoenix Police department, I can only imagine the horror felt by the Capitol police officers defending our democracy that day. Before joining the Phoenix P.D., I served my country in the Arizona Army national guard and later with the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Corps. I believed in the rule of law and wanted to play a part in administering justice and helping to spread American values across the globe. But what I saw on January 6, with mobs threatening to execute the sitting Vice President, looked like something I’d only ever associated with third-world dictatorships in faraway places.

The events that unfolded on January 6 make clear that American democracy is under attack. To ignore or minimize the ongoing attack on our democratic institutions will most certainly destroy our country and our constitutional freedoms.

Conservative extremists have manifested their right-wing rhetoric into actual violence against the foundations of our democracy and those who defend it. Continued polarization leaves us vulnerable as a country to attacks that threaten our national security both from within and outside our borders.

To this day, foreign influences and followers of the former president have exploited the polarization in our country, radicalizing our fellow Americans and refusing to acknowledge the truth about who’s in charge in a democracy: the people.

Even after seeing the violence in the U.S. Capitol, Republicans across the country and especially here in Arizona marched forward in their efforts to undermine democracy and overturn the results of the last election. After initially defending the election process in November 2020, Attorney General Mark Brnovich sided with Republicans to persuade a judge to enforce subpoenas for the so-called audit that was designed to sow doubt in our elections and undermine the democratic process.

Republicans in the State Senate wasted at least $425,000 of taxpayer money in that months-long effort, and the total cost to Arizonans could be much higher. Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, who attended the rally at the U.S. Capitol and was close to the steps where the mob stormed the building, now looks to control the levers of our democracy that administer our elections by running for secretary of state.

News reports link Congressmen Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar to the planning of January 6, which both deny, and the two have only fanned the flames of division in our country over the last year. 

Our country is on rocky ground, and the future of our society remains uncertain. If there is a bright spot, it’s that Arizonans can rely on U.S. Armed Forces veterans like Senator Mark Kelly and Congressman Ruben Gallego representing our state in the halls of Congress. Both were at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, and both have called for a thorough investigation of the events leading up to that fateful afternoon.

America needs answers, and we need to hold those responsible fully accountable if we’re going to prevent another January 6. We’re counting on U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly, U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, and the commission tasked with investigating the insurrection. Many think we can never go back to the way things were before January 6, 2021. But if our leaders do their job, I believe we still have the power to reclaim our position as the world’s exemplar of democracy and the rule of law.

Signa Oliver is a former Phoenix police officer and a U.S. Army veteran. She currently serves on the board of VetsForward. You can follow her and VetsForward on Twitter at @Signalaw and @AZVetsForward. 

Renowned attorney speaks up for ‘the guy in horns’

Attorney Albert Watkins works in his office Monday, May 4, 2015, in Clayton, Mo. Watkins has filed a lawsuit in an effort to obtain court files and adoption records that might shed light on what exactly happened in at Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis after nearly 20 women came to him expressing concerns that their infants who reportedly died at birth at the now-closed hospital, mostly from the mid-1950s through the mid-1960s, were actually stolen and adopted by others. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Attorney Albert Watkins works in his office Monday, May 4, 2015, in Clayton, Mo. Watkins has filed a lawsuit in an effort to obtain court files and adoption records that might shed light on what exactly happened in at Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis after nearly 20 women came to him expressing concerns that their infants who reportedly died at birth at the now-closed hospital, mostly from the mid-1950s through the mid-1960s, were actually stolen and adopted by others. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

When you’re accused of something as outrageous as participating in the storming of the U.S. Capitol while dressed in a horned headdress, you need a lawyer like Al Watkins.

Watkins, of St. Louis-based Kodner Watkins, is representing Jacob Anthony Chansley, of Arizona, who faces a six-count federal indictment for his alleged role in the January 6 demonstration. Chansley, also known as Jacob Angeli, instantly became a famous figure when he was seen on video inside the U.S. Senate chamber, bedecked in fur and face paint and carrying the American flag on a spear.

“I watched on TV like everyone else when I watched what was going on in our nation’s capital,” Watkins said in an interview. “I was appalled, seriously appalled. But once I got to know Jacob Chansley, and once I kept the primary focus of my professional duties in the forefront of my mind, I was afforded the privilege and opportunity of getting to know a young man who was peaceful.”

In the face of such notoriety, Watkins isn’t taking a “no comment” approach to Chansley’s defense. His job, he said, is to “change the dialogue” about his client, who he says didn’t break into the Capitol building and had no intent to cause damage.

Watkins said his client felt he was answering President Donald Trump’s call to come to Washington, D.C., and he compared Chansley’s devotion to Trump as similar to the followers of Jim Jones, minus the suicide by Kool-Aid. Watkins even asked the White House to consider pardoning Chansley, which he admitted was a long shot.

Despite Chansley’s odd costume and belief in the QAnon conspiracy, Watkins said he and his fellow devotees shouldn’t be belittled.

FILE - In this Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 file photo, supporters of President Donald Trump, including Jacob Chansley, center with fur hat, are confronted by Capitol Police officers outside the Senate Chamber inside the Capitol in Washington. Chansley’s lawyer says that he reached out White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows about a possible pardon on behalf of the Arizona man, acknowledging it might be a reach but that “there’s nothing to lose.” (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
FILE – In this Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 file photo, supporters of President Donald Trump, including Jacob Chansley, center with fur hat, are confronted by Capitol Police officers outside the Senate Chamber inside the Capitol in Washington. Chansley’s lawyer says that he reached out White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows about a possible pardon on behalf of the Arizona man, acknowledging it might be a reach but that “there’s nothing to lose.” (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

“These weren’t idiots,” he said. “The name-calling is inappropriate, people making fun of him because of his shamanism.”

That said, Chansley’s appearance might also play into his defense.

“If you think my client could lead a coup, I’m going to suggest to you that the guy in horns with fur and the bare chest and the megaphone, he’s not the guy,” Watkins said. “People aren’t going to be following him. My German shepherd would stand a better chance of successfully leading people in a coup than my guy in the horns.”

Chansley faces counts of civil disorder, obstruction of an official proceeding, entering and remaining in a restricted building, disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building, violent entry and disorderly conduct in a Capitol building and parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol building. He was originally detained in his home state of Arizona and is being moved to Washington, D.C., where Watkins has been licensed since 1986.

Watkins said Chansley reached out to him for help. The St. Louis lawyer’s take-no-prisoners legal tactics and never say “no comment” media strategy have given him a national profile. He has represented former Major League Baseball player Jack Clark in a defamation suit against St. Louis Cardinals great Albert Pujols and a teenager sued by The North Face after creating a parody brand called “The South Butt.”

In 2018, he represented the ex-husband of the woman with whom then-Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens was involved, which sparked the investigations that ultimately led to Greitens’ resignation. Most recently, Watkins briefly represented fellow attorneys Mark and Patricia McCloskey after their armed argument with protestors outside their home in St. Louis made national news.

“I am a pompous, egotistical, self-centered, expensive lawyer who believes my presence on this Earth is known well enough by those who need me to have them figure out how to get ahold of me,” Watkins said.

The case in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia is U.S. v. Chansley, 1:21-cr-00003.