Republican lawmakers distance themselves from election-related bribery accusations

Published: Monday, February 27, 2023 - 5:03pm
Updated: Tuesday, February 28, 2023 - 9:13am

Top Republican lawmakers on Monday denounced a legislative hearing that gave oxygen to dubious election conspiracies and let one woman testify, without evidence, that a host of elected officials and judges, including Gov. Katie Hobbs, took bribes from the Sinaloa drug cartel.

The woman, Gilbert insurance agent Jacqueline Breger, provided no evidence to support the outlandish claim. But video of her testimony last week before a joint hearing of House and Senate election committees, in which she even accused some members of the committee of accepting bribes, exploded on the internet over the weekend. 

At one point, “#CartelKatie” was trending on Twitter. 

It didn’t matter that there was no substance to the claims. The fact that they were presented before Republican lawmakers in their official capacity at the state Capitol — Democrats on the committees boycotted the hearing — gave the accusations enough credibility to spread.

In a statement, House Speaker Ben Toma described the hearing as “disgraceful fringe theater,” and blamed Republican Rep. Liz Harris, a newly elected election denier and QAnon promoter, for inviting Breger to testify.

“I’m not alone in believing that it was irresponsible and bad judgment for Ms. Harris to invite a person to present unsubstantiated and defamatory allegations in a legislative forum,” said Toma, who’s also Republican.

Republican Senate President Warren Petersen — who made sure in a statement to blame Toma and Harris for requesting the joint hearing in the first place — said all testimony was supposed to have been vetted by Senate GOP leaders.

The bribery accusation “was not shared” ahead of time, Petersen said.

“This was definitely not the proper venue to make such allegations, nor to assess the credibility of such statements,” Petersen added. “My senators have not engaged in such questionable behavior, nor do I believe they will in the future.”

Even Republican Sen. Wendy Rogers, one of Arizona’s most well-known and ardent election deniers, took the time late Sunday to distance herself from Breger’s claims. 

In a statement, Rogers noted that none of those Breger accused of accepting bribes “had charges filed, had prosecutions pending, nor had any convictions against them.”