Republicans condemn 'disgraceful' bribery allegations, but blame each other for their airing
Wild and unsubstantiated allegations made in a hearing last week that dozens of elected officials, including state lawmakers, are secretly on the payroll of a Mexican drug cartel have roiled the legislature.
While top Republicans have denounced the allegations as “disgraceful” and an “embarrassment,” no one is taking responsibility. Instead, leaders are blaming each other and a freshman GOP legislator who supposedly organized the day’s agenda.
Senate President Warren Peterson said that the day-long joint hearing of the House and Senate election committees on Feb. 23 was the work of Rep. Liz Harris, a freshman Republican and prominent election conspiracy theorist who has deep ties to QAnon. The joint hearing was requested by both Harris and House Speaker Ben Toma, he said.
The Senate, Petersen said, was unaware that the final speaker of the day would allege that Gov. Katie Hobbs, several Maricopa County Supervisors, a dozen Maricopa County Superior Court judges and the mayor of Mesa were taking bribes from the Sinaloa drug cartel in the form of money laundered through a housing deed scam. Nor did they know she would accuse the lawmakers listening to her of being in on the scam.
“Liz Harris requested a joint hearing where she could present. We agreed,” Petersen told the Arizona Mirror. “Liz put the presentation together. (Sen. Sonny) Borrelli asked to review it. What he reviewed did not include what is in question.”
Had Borrelli, a Republican from Lake Havasu who sits on the Senate Elections Committee, known about the report that Gilbert insurance agent Jacqueline Breger was planning to discuss in her testimony, “he would not have allowed it to be included,” Petersen told other media in a written statement.
But a spokesman for the House of Representatives Republican caucus attempted to shift the blame away from Toma to the Senate.
“Why was the meeting held in the Senate and chaired by a senator?” spokesman Andrew Wilder told a journalist from Axios.
Petersen swiftly responded on Twitter, noting that the joint hearing was held in the Senate because Toma “requested it.” And the meeting was co-chaired by a Republican from each legislative chamber, he noted.
Toma, for his part, sought to place all of the blame for Breger’s testimony on Harris.
“What should have been a joint hearing to examine commonsense election reforms devolved into disgraceful fringe theater,” House Speaker Ben Toma, R-Peoria, said in a statement. “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.”
Harris is a prominent election denier and conspiracy theorist who runs a website devoted to baseless 2020 election fraud conspiracies. In 2021, she conducted a flawed canvass of the 2020 election in Maricopa County in an attempt to prove voter “fraud.”
She is also closely aligned with QAnon. In posts on Facebook, Harris has shared the QAnon slogan, and has also appeared on a number of QAnon internat programs, often promoting her work in Maricopa County, which was done alongside other well-known election deniers associated with the QAnon conspiracy theory. And when Ron Watkins, the man many believe to be the person posting as Q, moved to Arizona, Harris owned the property that Watkins was registered to vote at.
Frequent election denier and committee chair Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, has also spoken out about the allegations made in the hearing as well, saying that the hearing was “not the appropriate venue to discuss what could potentially be criminal activity.”
In her presentation, Breger also claimed that the bribery scheme also included election fraud, but did not include any evidence to back up her claim. A file circulating online and reviewed by the Arizona Mirror purporting to have the evidence did not connect any elected officials to the Sinaloa drug cartel or any bribery schemes.
Breger did not provide any evidence during the committee to back up her claims except to point to a soon-to-be-released book by John Thaler, a Valley attorney and her boyfriend. During the committee meeting, Breger repeatedly mentioned a woman who had tipped Thaler off to the supposed racketeering scheme, but she failed to mention that woman was Thaler’s ex-wife, who he claims kidnapped their son.
Thaler, whose law license has been suspended in Arizona, also is currently facing class 5 felony charges related to fleeing from the Tempe Police Department due to multiple warrants related to domestic violence charges.
Rogers’ statement has not sat well with her loyal fans who have seen her saying that the committee was not an appropriate venue showing that she is “compromised.”
“Wendy, you must be compromised,” a user said on Rogers’ Telegram channel, adding that it was the “only conclusion.” Another added that due to the corruption revealed that revolution had become “inevitable.”
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.