Conspiracy Firm Behind Arizona Audit Defies Order to Release Behind-the-Scenes Texts

Ross D. Franklin/AP

Days before the long-delayed conclusion of an Arizona vote “audit” of the 2020 election—one that conspiracy blogs trumpeted as the “MOST TRANSPARENT AUDIT EVER”—the conspiratorial group behind the effort is fighting a court order to turn over internal documents.

Cyber Ninjas, an obscure Florida tech company with no prior elections experience, has been leading a chaotic review of Maricopa County, Arizona’s 2020 presidential election since April. The months-long effort has been a fiasco both technically (auditors caused nearly $3 million in damage to voting machines and caught COVID en masse) and politically (Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan was revealed to be an election truther who collaborated with Trump attorney Sidney Powell on voter fraud theories). In August, a judge ruled that Cyber Ninjas must turn over audit-related documents by mid-September, following a pair of public records lawsuits from the Arizona Republic and the transparency group American Oversight.

But despite the judge upholding that ruling last week, Cyber Ninjas has not complied, stating that it might release some documents after its audit report this week—and in some cases, maybe never at all.

Neither a spokesperson for Cyber Ninjas’ audit effort, nor the group’s attorney returned requests for comment on Wednesday regarding whether the group would release court-ordered documents.

In a letter to the court on Friday, the group’s lawyer, Jack Wilenchik, suggested Cyber Ninjas would turn over some documents, if it felt like it.

“I also emphasize that, while CNI [Cyber Ninjas, Inc.] intends to produce documents out of goodwill and its commitment to transparency, by sending this communication CNI does not concede the existence or scope of any involuntary legal obligation to do so,” Wilenchik’s letter read.

Wilenchick objected to the court order on two grounds: that Cyber Ninjas should not be subject to public records laws, and that Cyber Ninjas is too busy to release court-ordered records (which a judge ordered Cyber Ninjas to preserve in August).

A judge has repeatedly dismissed the first argument, stating that Cyber Ninjas has been hired by Arizona’s Republican-led Senate and is a “custodian” of public records, making it subject to public records laws.

As for Cyber Ninjas’ alleged time crunch, the group is no stranger to delays. The group was initially supposed to release its “audit” findings in mid-May. That deadline was delayed until later in the month, then again to August, when it was delayed again because three of the Cyber Ninjas had caught COVID-19. The group now says it will release its findings on Sept. 24.

Cyber Ninjas might have good reason for withholding internal documents, which include texts and emails about the audit.

From its outset, the group has displayed hard partisan leanings, with members of the “audit” team promoting voter fraud conspiracy theories and claiming to check ballots for bamboo fibers, which they claimed would indicate that a ballot had been fraudulently shipped from China. Backers of the audit, like former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne, have appeared to preview the audit’s findings even before the report’s release, with Byrne stating on Telegram last week that he thought the report would reveal that Donald Trump actually won Maricopa County. (Republican officials in Arizona and Maricopa County have verified President Joe Biden’s victory there.) Logan, meanwhile, has appeared in a voter fraud conspiracy movie, which was based on a book Byrne wrote and included interviews filmed at the audit site.

And those were Cyber Ninjas’ public statements. Behind the scenes, Logan was an even more active participant in pro-Trump conspiracy theories, promoting them on Twitter in late 2020. A new report by the Arizona Republic revealed that Logan collaborated on voter fraud theories in late 2020 with Trump lawyer Sidney Powell and former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Logan helped Powell write subpoenas in a bid to gain access to voting machines, the Republic reported.

In his letter, Wilenchick indicated that Cyber Ninjas would not release its internal communications, which might yield some of the clearest insights into the group’s approach to the controversial review.

“As with CNI’s internal communications … CNI’s private records concerning its own staff are not public records,” he wrote.

Even since Wilenchick’s letter, Cyber Ninjas’ antics have driven a rift in Maricopa County’s politics. This week, a conspiracy site released audio of a Maricopa County commissioner speaking to a pro-audit group before the review began (and subsequently fell apart). In the recording, the commissioner blasted his colleagues for their skepticism about the audit.

The commissioner announced his resignation this week after the recordings went public. In his resignation statement, he said he had subsequently become a target for conspiracy theories.

“The picture some individuals are trying to paint about a cover-up, scam and other nonsense about my colleagues and myself is simply false,” he wrote. “There was no cover-up, the election was not stolen. Biden won.”

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