How Cyber Ninjas Tricked Trump Into Yet Another Election Conspiracy

The Florida-based company, which has no election audit experience, said a trove of data had been stolen. Turns out they were looking in the wrong place.
May 19, 2021, 3:00pm
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida, U.S., on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021 (Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images​)
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida, U.S., on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021 (Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Last week, Cyber Ninjas, a company with no relevant experience in running election audits, claimed that Maricopa County officials had illegally deleted databases containing voter data.

The shocking allegation was amplified on Twitter, and Arizona Senate President Karen Fann sent a letter to the officials saying they have very serious questions to answer about the lost files.

Within days, the accusation landed on the desk of former President Donald Trump, who issued a bombastic statement to his tens of millions of loyal supporters: “The entire Database of Maricopa County in Arizona has been DELETED!”

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The only problem with all this is that Cyber Ninjas was wrong, and on Tuesday they finally admitted the truth: The data was there all along; they’d just been looking in the wrong place.

“All of this, however, may be a moot point because subsequently I've been able to recover all of the deleted files and I have access to that data," Ben Cotton, the founder of CyFIR, one of the companies Cyber Ninjas has employed to help with the audit, told an Arizona Senate hearing on Tuesday.

Hammering home the point, the Republican-led Maricopa Board of Supervisors, who had lashed out at Fann and Trump’s disinformation, tweeted:

“Just want to underscore that AZ Senate’s @ArizonaAudit account accused Maricopa County of deleting files—which would be a crime—then a day after our technical letter explained they were just looking in the wrong place—all of a sudden ‘auditors’ have recovered the files.”

The claim that databases had been deleted originated from a tweet posted on May 12, three days before Trump published his statement. The tweet was posted by the official Twitter account of the audit, which is overseen by Ken Bennett, a former GOP secretary of state and the Senate's audit liaison.

Twitter/Arizona Audit

Twitter/Arizona Audit

“Breaking Update: Maricopa County deleted a directory full of election databases from the 2020 election cycle days before the election equipment was delivered to the audit," Bennett wrote in the message, which is still up and has been shared and liked almost 35,000 times. “This is spoliation of evidence!"

The same day, Fann sent a letter to Maricopa County officials insinuating that they were responsible for a litany of what she calls "serious issues" in relation to the running of the election. Not only did she mention the deleted databases, but also missing ballots, unsealed ballot bags and other suspicious things that Cyber Ninjas’ inexperienced auditors were claiming to have found.

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Fann had previously threatened the officials with jail for refusing to comply with a sweeping subpoena for all elections material.

For weeks, pro-Trump groups have been obsessed with the Arizona audit, believing that the auditors will uncover some grand fraud that will spark a domino effect in other states that will ultimately lead to the 

According to reports, Trump has also become obsessed with the audit, and so it came as little surprise when he shared the misinformation on his personal website, which is the only place he can post updates after being banned from Twitter and Facebook.

“Wow, this is unhinged,” Stephen Richer, a Republican and the Maricopa County Recorder, tweeted in response to Trump’s message. “I'm literally looking at our voter registration database on my other screen. Right now. We can't indulge these insane lies any longer. As a party. As a state. As a country.”

Trump’s endorsement of the lie emboldened his followers who are obsessively monitoring livestreams of the Arizona recount, including QAnon supporters who have been talking about the recount for weeks.

Trump’s boosting of the lie also fed into what has become the prevailing orthodoxy among Republicans: that the election was stolen.

The Republican-led Board of Supervisors in Maricopa County has stood up to these claims, saying they have conducted a perfectly fair election, following state and federal best practices. They even pointed to multiple audits that have already taken place in the county since the election that have shown nothing untoward.

In a stinging rebuke to Fann, Trump, and the wider Republican Party, the Board of Supervisors in a letter Monday said: “You have rented out the once-good name of the Arizona State Senate to grifters and con-artists. The result is that the Arizona Senate is held up to ridicule in every corner of the globe and our democracy is imperiled.”

Responding to the letter at the closed-door meeting Tuesday, Fann said she was surprised that the false accusations she leveled against election officials—claiming they had lied and cheated to disenfranchise the American people—had been taken so personally.

“This is not personal, it never should be personal,” Fann said. “I’m so disappointed and saddened at the Board of Supervisors yesterday, some of the hurtful comments that were made … This is not personal. This is about our jobs as elections officials. It is our jobs that we have to answer to our constituents, to the voters, to the taxpayers.”

The Board of Supervisors responded on Twitter, that “the subpoena, the attempt to hold the Board in contempt w/ possible jail time, and the @ArizonaAudi lie that the county deleted files, all suggest otherwise.”