Did AZ Auditors Really 'Backtrack' on Claim Files Were Deleted, as AP Reported?


The Associated Press reported Tuesday that the Arizona auditors backtracked on their claim that election files were deleted, but that’s not what was said.

The AP’s headline reads, “Arizona auditors backtrack, say no election data destroyed.”

“The claim of deleted databases was amplified by former President Donald Trump and his supporters, who believe conspiracy theories about election irregularities,” the report said.

Let’s review the facts.

At a special meeting held Tuesday by Arizona state Senate President Karen Fann and Senate Judiciary Chairman Warren Petersen to get an update on the audit of Maricopa County votes in the November general election, Ben Cotton, founder of CyFIR LLC, testified that the files were in fact deleted, but he was able to recover them.

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He did not “backtrack” on his assertion that the files were missing.

“In the course of your analysis of the EMS [election management system] server, did you determine that the database directory had been deleted?” Petersen asked.

“I did,” Cotton answered and then offered further background information.

He directly addressed the Maricopa Board of Supervisors’ explanation offered in Monday letter to Fann that the alleged missing directory was due to the system being shut down before it was delivered to the Senate auditors or that the auditors had set the wrong search parameters.

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“We follow a very strict forensics acquisition process in which we don’t turn on a system if it’s delivered to us in a powered-off state” before making a copy of the drive, Cotton told Petersen.

He added, “We produce a bit-for-bit forensics copy of that particular drive.”

Cotton recounted that he discovered the missing file directory while reviewing the master file table.

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The MFT, he explained, is a “record of all of the directories and the files that are contained in that partition and a pointing — and a pointer to where that data resides on the hard drive.”

The database directory from the D drive of the machine “EMSPrimary” had been deleted, he confirmed.

“In the course of performing that MFT discovery, I discovered a MFT that clearly indicated that the database directory was deleted from that server,” Cotton said.

He then told Petersen he was able to successfully recover the files.

“All of this, however, may be a moot point because subsequently, I’ve been able to recover all of those deleted files, and I have access to that data,” Cotton said.

Petersen followed up by asking whether the cyberexpert had everything he needed.

“I have the information that I need from the recovery efforts of the data,” Cotton said.

That one sentence was the only portion of Cotton’s testimony the AP story contained.

When one watches the entire exchange, it is clear Cotton did not “backtrack.”

The AP might have relied on a tweet from the Arizona audit’s account last week that said the files were deleted, which amounted to a “spoliation of evidence.”

In other words, the news organization characterized that phrasing to mean the auditors were saying the files were completely destroyed.

Whether the auditors were able to recover the files or not, it still would be tampering with or spoiling the evidence if the files were in fact deleted.

Maricopa County suggested in a tweet following Cotton’s testimony that the files were neither deleted nor recovered, but the auditors were “looking in the wrong place.”

According to an Arizona Daily Independent report in March, Cotton and his firm have significant experience and skills in cyber investigations.

He “discovered the Office of Personnel Management breach in 2015. CyFIR was also instrumental in the largest individual bank fraud investigation in the history of the IMF [International Monetary Fund].”

So CyFIR is not a small-town player.

In a Wednesday statement, Cotton reiterated the databases directory “WAS deleted” and said his team was “performing data continuity checks to ensure that the recovered databases are usable.”

Petersen tweeted in response to Cotton’s statement the “media got it way wrong” regarding their coverage of his testimony.

The AP story — like much of the coverage of the Arizona audit from the establishment media — was negative.

It’s reminiscent of the coverage former President Donald Trump received during his entire four years in office.

The AP should report it straight. The auditors did not back down from the assertion that files were deleted, and it’s just playing word games to say they did.

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Randy DeSoto has written more than 2,000 articles for The Western Journal since he joined the company in 2015. He is a graduate of West Point and Regent University School of Law. He is the author of the book "We Hold These Truths" and screenwriter of the political documentary "I Want Your Money."
Randy DeSoto is the senior staff writer for The Western Journal. He wrote and was the assistant producer of the documentary film "I Want Your Money" about the perils of Big Government, comparing the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. Randy is the author of the book "We Hold These Truths," which addresses how leaders have appealed to beliefs found in the Declaration of Independence at defining moments in our nation's history. He has been published in several political sites and newspapers.

Randy graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point with a BS in political science and Regent University School of Law with a juris doctorate.
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Graduated dean's list from West Point
United States Military Academy at West Point, Regent University School of Law
Books Written
We Hold These Truths
Professional Memberships
Virginia and Pennsylvania state bars
Phoenix, Arizona
Languages Spoken
Topics of Expertise
Politics, Entertainment, Faith