PHOENIX – Rep. Liz Harris, R-Chandler, is at the center of a controversy for arranging testimony at a hearing last week last week that resulted in one witness charging, without evidence, that …
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Peoria, Gilbert GOP leaders pin hearing uproar on Chandler Republican
Scottsdale insurance agent testifies at hearing
Republican legislators are blaming each other for testimony in an election hearing last week that claimed, without evidence, that many Arizona political leaders were taking bribes from a Mexican drug cartel.
PHOENIX – Rep. Liz Harris, R-Chandler, is at the center of a controversy for arranging testimony at a hearing last week that resulted in one witness charging, without evidence, that the governor, state lawmakers and county supervisors took bribes from the Sinaloa cartel.
Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, said it was House Speaker Ben Toma, R-Peoria, who asked for permission for the joint hearing on eletions to hear presentations arranged by Harris. The Chandler Republican had lined up several witnesses who were supposed to update lawmakers on issues related to the 2022 election.
But the hearing featured Scottsdale insurance agent Jacqueline Breger who was given nearly 45 minutes to accuse dozens of officials and private citizens of taking bribes.
Petersen said Monday that he had asked that all materials be reviewed by Senate Majority Leader Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, ahead of time.
"That was not shared with him and was a surprise to the committee,'' Petersen said.
"I assure you, had he known about the report (Breger planned to present) he would not allow it to be included,'' he continued. "It was definitely not the proper venue to make such allegations nor to assess the credibility of such a statement.''
And, Petersen said: "I imagine the House will discuss how to deal with it.''
Toma said he is not soley responsible.
"So did he,'' the speaker told Capitol Media Services of Petersen's role. "We agreed to it collectively.''
And he, in turn, blamed Harris for "bad judgment'' in inviting anyone "to present unsubstantiated and defamatory allegations in a legislative forum.''
"I think Ms. Harris needs to address this,'' he said.
Harris did not return several messages seeking to interview her.
Less clear is whether the speaker will take any action against the first-term lawmaker, including his unilateral ability to remove her from the Committee on Municipal Oversight and Elections.
"We'll see,'' he said.
Toma needs the cooperation of every one of the 31 Republicans to pass the GOP agenda and did not address whether Harris will be removed from committees or otherwise disciplined.
The daylong hearing of both the House and Senate elections panels was filled with topics that have been popular with conspiracy theorists.
Presentations included the state's power over federal elections, foreign and domestic national security threats to the state's electoral system, and one titled "The county is the first line of defense, not the federal government.''
Democrats on the panels foresaw problems with what they expected to be a one-sided presentation of conspiracies and refused to attend.
"Our constituents did not send us to the Capitol to defame our elections officials, cast doubt on the security of our elections, or mislead the public,'' the three Senate Democrats said in a video statement. House Democrats later followed suit.
That left only Republicans to hear the testimony.
Breger's testimony stood out when, without any factual backing, she said the governor, several Maricopa supervisors, 12 Maricopa county superior court judges and Mesa Mayor John Giles all had taken bribes that came in the form of money laundered through a scam involving real estate deeds.
She also presented documents to the committee which listed others - including Toma - as guilty of corruption.
The closest she came to citing a source was a reference to a forthcoming book by John Thaler who has been cited by My Pillow executive and Trump follower Mike Lindell as being a forensic investigator. Thaler has claimed to have reviewed 120,000 documents to back his claims of extensive fraud.
Borrelli was at the Thursday hearing. But Petersen said he is not to blame for failing to halt the testimony at any point during its 45-plus minutes.
"He was caught off guard,'' Petersen said.
And at the end of her presentation, Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, who chairs the Senate Committee on Elections, called Breger brave for her testimony, though she said the witness should stay on the topic of elections.
By Sunday, however, Rogers was distancing herself from the whole thing - and from both Harris and Breger in particular.
"To our knowledge, none of the people named had charges filed, have proceedings pending nor had any convictions made against them,'' she said in a press release.