Arizona Republicans deny allegations of widespread corruption

PHOENIX (AP) – Arizona’s Republican-controlled Legislature has for years entertained a slew of unsupported theories about fraudsters manipulating election results since Donald Trump’s 2020 loss.

But lawmakers reached a limit to what they will tolerate last week, when a day-long hearing on the election ended with a presentation accusing a wide range of politicians, judges and public officials of taking bribes from a cartel of Mexican drug.

Republican leaders moved Monday to distance themselves from the claims after they came under fire over the weekend on social media, where accounts that routinely share unfounded claims of voter fraud largely covered them up. It was an embarrassment to an election fraud movement that mostly found a sympathetic, or at least tolerant, ear among Arizona’s legislative Republicans.

Speaker of the House Ben Toma and President of the Senate Warren Petersen, both Republicans, have taken the blame for the submission to Rep. Liz Harris, a newly elected Republican who led a door-to-door canvassing effort looking for evidence of fraud after the 2020 election. Her effort has drawn scrutiny from the Justice Department’s civil rights division. the United States, which warned about potential voter intimidation.

“What should have been a joint hearing to examine common sense electoral reforms devolved into a disgraceful fringe theater,” Toma said in a statement on Monday. “I am not alone in believing that it was irresponsible and bad judgment for Ms. Harris to invite a person. to present unfounded and defamatory allegations in a legislative forum.”

Harris did not respond to a request for comment.

Arizona’s Republican lawmakers have given people who claim to be election experts wide latitude to share without support o disproved claims in hearings at the Capitol. They are widely shared among right-wing media figures and bear the imprint of an official legislative process.

Last week’s hearing was just the latest in a series of similar events since the beginning of the year, although it was the first to capture such a widespread reaction.

Focus on it electoral conspiracies persisted in spite of the drubbing which the Republicans took in last year’s election. The GOP was shut out of the state’s top offices after voters rejected the Republicans they promoted electoral lies.

However, the ranks of election deniers in the Legislature grew as moderate Republicans refused to run for re-election or lost GOP primaries.

Petersen, the president of the Senate, said he agreed to allow last week’s controversial hearing at the request of Harris and Toma, adding that Majority Leader Sonny Borrelli asked to review the materials before be presented, but the allegations of corruption were not shown.

“I assure you, if I had known about the report, I would not have allowed it to be included,” Petersen said in a statement. “This was definitely not the right place to make such allegations, nor to assess the credibility of such statements.”

Even Sen. Wendy Rogers, who is deep in the national “stop the steal” movement of Trump supporters who say the election was rigged and refused to back down when it was censured by the Senate last year, this time it goes back.

“To our knowledge, none of the individuals named have had charges filed, have any prosecutions pending, nor have they had any convictions made against them,” Rogers said in a statement Sunday evening. Rogers is chairman of the Senate Elections Committee.

The allegations came at the end of a day-long hearing of the election committees in the state House and Senate, which Democrats boycotted. They were offered in a 40-minute presentation by Jacqueline Breger, a Scottsdale insurance agent, who attributed it to a report written by John Thaler, who she said was a lawyer with a background in fraud investigations.

Thaler claimed, without reliable evidence, that two women working on behalf of the Sinaloa cartel used fraudulent mortgage documents to launder money to a wide range of officials, both Republicans and Democrats. Online sleuths discovered that the women Thaler accused of facilitating the fraud were his ex-wife and mother.

Thaler has a history of filing lawsuits accusing him of wide-ranging conspiracy. A federal judge last year threw out one of his lawsuits, calling it “a delusional and fantastical narrative.”

Thaler did not respond to an email seeking comment.

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