PHOENIX — After a chief investigator of the Arizona Attorney General’s Office announced Friday that two activists behind the election conspiracy movie “2,000 Mules” never provided them promised evidence of fraud, Arizona legislators who gushed praise for the duo are silent.
Several contacted by 12News for comment since Friday have not responded.
Meanwhile, Arizona Republican candidate for Governor Kari Lake said Monday night she stands by her belief the movie is credible.
Lake stands by claims in '2,000 Mules'
Last week, Arizona Attorney General Chief Special Agent Reginald Grigsby wrote a memo to the FBI and IRS, recommending they investigate the finances of Catherine Engelbrecht and Gregg Phillips because they allegedly made false public statements, never delivered evidence of the “2,000 Mules” conspiracy, and raised “considerable sums of money” at the same time.
Engelbrecht and Phillips operate True the Vote, a Texas-based election integrity nonprofit at the center of “2,000 Mules”.
“TTV (True the Vote) is adamant it had evidence of ballot stuffing and voting fraud... despite repeated requests… True the Vote never did provide the information it purported to have in its possession,” Grigsby wrote.
He added True the Vote publicly claimed they provided the Attorney General and the FBI with data detailing an election fraud scheme, including a hard drive.
“Not only is this patently false,” Grigsby wrote, “TTV acknowledged to us during a meeting with them they had not given us the information."
On Monday night, Kari Lake said she stands by the premise of the movie, despite new revelations.
“I heard snippets from an interview today that the information (data) was given so it’s really a ‘he said, she said’,” Lake told 12News. “And I’d have to look more into it, but I still believe that 2,000 Mules was a credible movie.”
12News asked a spokesperson for Lake what “interview” she was referring to. The spokesperson has not responded.
True the Vote calls AG memo 'false'
A written response from True the Vote calls the Attorney General’s Office memo “false” and claims it amounts to retribution for “the AG’s own decision to ignore suspicious voting activity.”
True the Vote states they no longer trust the AG's Office and is willing to provide a hard drive of the data to any law enforcement agency that produces a subpoena for it.
However, back in August, Phillips and Engelbrecht are seen in a video telling a crowd in Phoenix that Chinese hackers deleted the alleged data connected to "2,000 Mules."
They announced a new website to collect video and evidence from activists and appeared to encourage followers to forget about “2,000 Mules” entirely.
“That is the end of Mules,” Phillips said.
“The end of Mules. And scene. We’re done,” Engelbrecht said.
'2,000 Mules' fueled Trump-endorsed campaigns
“2,000 Mules” claims geolocation cell phone data and surveillance videos prove nonprofit organizations had aligned with Democrats in five states, including Arizona, to pay “mules” to illegally collect and place ballots into drop boxes.
Trump-endorsed candidates Kari Lake, Mark Finchem and Abe Hamadeh repeatedly touted the movie during the primary race. Lake’s campaign hosted a viewing of the movie and even criticized news agencies for not giving the movie more attention.
“We’re going to watch the movie '2,000 Mules' which I hope that the Arizona Republic will finally open their eyes and cover what’s happening with our elections and stop acting like it’s a conspiracy theory,” Lake told a reporter in May during an interview. “Our elections were stolen from us. Our elections were corrupt.”
Lake told another interviewer the movie demonstrated people should be “arrested, prosecuted and thrown in jail.”
Five law enforcement agencies and a federal judge dispute claims by True the Vote
Not only have prosecutors never confirmed the validity of a widespread ballot harvesting scheme, but law enforcement officials have raised several questions about True the Vote’s credibility and forthrightness.
According to Grigsby’s memo, Phillips and Engelbrecht stated during a June 1 meeting they were working as informants for the Phoenix Office of the FBI and had provided that agency with the long-awaited data proving election fraud.
“We met with representatives of the Phoenix FBI office on June 8, 2022 and were informed they had met with TTV,” Grigsby wrote. “The FBI also informed us that Ms. Engelbrecht and Mr. Phillips were not informants for the FBI.”
Engelbrecht also claims in the movie that True the Vote’s geolocation techniques were used to help the Atlanta Police Department solve a cold case murder.
“In speaking with representatives of that agency, they informed us that they made an arrest in the case two weeks before TTV offered their services,” Grigsby wrote. NPR also confirmed that Atlanta Police has said True the Vote played no role in the agency's case.
True the Vote also publicly claimed their information led to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office recent prosecution of two women in San Luis for ballot harvesting.
“This is inaccurate,” Grigsby wrote.
According to news reports in Yuma, a whistleblower tipped off the Yuma County Recorder during the 2020 election. The Arizona Daily Mirror reported in May the Yuma County Sheriff confirmed the investigation had no connection to research by True the Vote.
According to the Texas Tribune, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt warned in court earlier this month he “didn’t have any confidence” in information provided by Engelbrecht and Phillips and that the nonprofit’s attorneys might be getting “played” by the two because of their contradicting statements made in court. The judge’s comments relate to a defamation and computer fraud case filed by a Michigan-based software company against True the Vote.
True the Vote also claimed credit on its website for the Los Angeles County District Attorney arresting a man accused of stealing personal identifying information of poll workers.
“True the Vote is honored to have played a small role in what must have been a wide ranging and complex investigation,” the organization wrote in a news release.
According to the Texas Tribune, a spokesperson from the LA County District Attorney said the office received no information from True the Vote related to the investigation.
AZ Senators and Representatives praised True the Vote
Arizona state lawmakers hosted a presentation by Phillips and Engelbrecht during a May 31st hearing at the state Legislature. In retrospect, Phillips and Engelbrecht seemed to be treated like celebrities but misled lawmakers.
During the hearing, the room erupted in applause several times while they spoke.
“We know there are those who seek to destroy this republic, this way of life,” said Sen. Kelly Townsend of Apache Junction, during the opening prayer of the hearing. “We thank you for those who bring this information to us and may it be used according to your will.”
True the Vote falsely assured lawmakers they gave data to FBI, Attorney General
Phillips and Engelbrecht spent about an hour discussing the conspiracy theory of “organized ballot trafficking”, their past alleged accomplishments, and their alleged techniques for proving election fraud.
Phillips spoke convincingly and authoritatively while describing how he built “patterns of life” of alleged mules with digital footprints. He talks about hesitating to “unmask” individuals who have assisted in their investigation.
Participants in the meeting were Republican Senators Townsend, Sine Kerr, Rick Gray, Nancy Barto, and Republican Representatives Shawnna Bolick, Walt Blackman, Tim Dunn, and Quang Nguyen.
At one point, Townsend asked Phillips and Engelbrecht if they were able to disclose which nonprofits around the country were allegedly participating in the mass fraud.
“We would love to put that list out,” Engelbrecht said. “But we also need law enforcement to do their jobs.” Engelbrecht suggested that revealing the groups would hinder ongoing investigations.
Representative Quang Nguyen asked if they had shared their allegedly damning geolocation evidence with the Attorney General’s Office.
Phillips said he personally met with three members of the Attorney General’s Office the previous year.
“There seems to be a bit of controversy amongst us. We just received a letter today saying they don’t have it (the information) because we never gave it to them,” Phillips said. “I don’t want to get into a verbal fistfight about whether I gave them the disk or not. I’m pretty sure I did. They’re pretty sure I didn’t. They’ll get another copy of it.”
Representative Nguyen asked if Phillips would follow-up with Nguyen the following day and confirm he provided the data to the Attorney General’s Office.
Phillips hesitated and said because he had already given the data to the FBI he wasn’t sure how the FBI would want him to proceed.
“The answer is probably,” Phillips said.
According to Grigsby’s memo, Phillips and Engelbrecht assured investigators they had geolocation data showing 243 “mules” in Arizona involved in ballot harvesting. Grigsby describes being strung along by Phillips and Engelbrecht over several weeks with assurances they would provide the data. It never came.
Instead, they only provided “an audio recording and video of an interview of a person from San Luis who was alleging ballot harvesting.”
12News requested an interview with Representative Nguyen but has not received a response.
'2,000 Mules' influenced proposed legislation
Phillips and Engelbrecht also recommended legislators ban machine tabulators, ban mail-in balloting and resort to a one-day only election.
Representative Bolick boasted that between the state Senate and House, more than 100 “election integrity” bills had been introduced.
“We’re doing our fair share to make sure our elections are secure with the information you provided us, and some folks in this room even know I have driven by drop boxes in different counties, taken pictures and even done videos at this point,” Bolick said.
Bolick asked Phillips and Engelbrecht if they could assist her to sway two lawmakers holding out on voting “yes” on bills to ban ballot drop boxes or require “real-time video surveillance” on all ballot drop boxes.
Calling skeptics of '2,000 Mules' terrorists
Referring to articles debunking the movie, Phillips called reporters "terrorists" during the hearing at the Arizona capitol.
“These articles are being written by journalistic terrorists,” Phillips said.
At that moment, Bolick asked Phillips to repeat his comment.
“I just wanted to make sure everybody heard that,” Bolick said.
Meanwhile, Kari Lake, who was in attendance at the May hearing and sitting behind Phillips, could be seen demonstrating the silent “applause” gesture.
'The harm of what’s happening is real'
Dr. John Carlson of the Recovering Truth Project at ASU examines how misinformation impacts democracy. Carlson says the false claims made by the "2,000 Mules" creators have largely achieved their objective because politicians who espoused the conspiracy benefitted.
“They are doing it to fundraise. They are doing it to try to get political power, to show they are part of an identity or tribe,” Carlson said. “The harm of what’s happening is real. It’s undermining trust in institutions. Its undermining people’s belief in what’s truth and what’s reality.”
Film was roundly debunked by news outlets
Credible fact-checking organizations and even former Trump Attorney General Bill Barr did not take the film very seriously.
Shortly after the film’s release in early May, news outlets including the Associate Press largely questioned the movie’s premise, and pointed out it never actually shows one example of the alleged scheme (video of a “mule” returning to the same drop box or going to multiple drop boxes). The film relied heavily on geolocation mapping data True the Vote said they purchased.
“True the Vote has the largest store of election intelligence for the 2020 elections in the world,” Phillips claims at one point in the movie.
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