A report released Friday by the House Ethics Committee accuses Rep. David Cook of having had an undisclosed relationship with a lobbyist, one that the investigators said is romantic.
The 34-page document prepared for the panel by outside lawyers hired to investigate the two-term Republican from Globe, also says that Cook called Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb about plans to seize property in which the lobbyist, AnnaMarie Knorr, had an interest and that Lamb subsequently called off the sale.
And it says that there is evidence of Cook’s “use of alcohol while conducting official business including a meeting at the governor’s office.”
Release of the report sets in motion a process for the committee to decide whether any of what the outside investigators found merits charges.
Cook was not allowed to speak during Friday’s meeting, either before or after the closed-door session in which committee members reviewed the findings. But they did agree to allow him to prepare a formal response, which is due this coming June 19.
Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, who chairs the panel, said if the committee decides to pursue formal charges against Cook he will be given an opportunity to testify. But Allen said Cook will not be able to present witnesses of his own or cross-examine any of the people whose statements to the investigators form the basis of the report.
The charges — and the process — drew a stinging response from attorney Dennis Wilenchik who represents Cook.
“The report is riddled with opinions that were foregone, and conclusion that are totally bereft of the reality I witnessed,” he said in a letter to committee members. “I consider the report to be little more than an unobjective hitpiece and would look forward to airing the facts, and the real issues and evidence, in a light conducive to fair discussion.”
Carmen Chenal Horne, another of Cook’s lawyers, went a step farther.
She told Capitol Media Services that the information in the report is false and that the investigators knew that to be the case. Horne said that makes the investigators liable for defamation as well as the committee members whose unanimous vote Friday made the report public.
At the center of all of this is Cook’s relationship with Knorr who had been a lobbyist for the Western Growers Association. She was fired after publication of some letters between the pair showing some sort of relationship.
The allegation is that relationship was romantic even as she was lobbying Cook on issues of interest to her employer.
“Rep. Cook never disclosed the nature of his relationship with Ms. Knorr to the House, and to this day, he has denied the same to his colleagues, his constituents, and the investigators for the House Ethics Committee,” the report says.
Wrapped up with all that is the charge that Cook contacted Lamb about the tax problems on the property in which Knorr had an interest. There was an allegation that Cook promised a campaign contribution to the sheriff if he backed off.
The investigators said it is “undisputed” that Lamb called off the scheduled seizure.
Both the issue of the relationship and the question of the land sale were raised in complaints to the Ethics Committee. But the investigators on their own reached several other conclusions.
“Rep. Cook’s own words in his letters to Ms. Knorr also reference his use of alcohol as a potential weakness,” the report states.
And then the investigators said Cook did not cooperate with the investigation and refused to comply with a subpoena issued by the committee.
Wilenchik said if Cook did anything inappropriate — and he is not saying his client did — he said these issues are “more appropriately decided by voters in a political campaign, versus those in a formal, legislative proceeding.” He said none of the issues raised deal with ethics, which is the sole charge of the committee.
“Rep. Cook has done nothing that will ever be proven to have effected his sacred role as the people’s representative,” Wilenchik wrote.
“There is no collusion, there is no bribery, there is no abuse of power,” he continued. “There is only acts of kindness, compassion and assistance to an old friend that is no one else’s business, that has been twisted and warped by an ex-husband and a father who has an agenda.”
Those last comments go to the fact that some of the accusations come from Knorr’s former spouse as well as Bas Aja, himself an agricultural lobbyist and Knorr’s father, whose relationship with his daughter had deteriorated.
Wilenchik also said the charge of an improper relationship with the lobbyist also suffers from a legal deficiency.
He pointed out that House rules require complaints against any lawmaker be made under oath based on the “personal knowledge” of the individual filing the charge. He said there is no such evidence here, saying there was a “complicated relationship involved here, which was NOT an ‘affair’ sexual or otherwise that will ever be proven.”
Horne said the problems of the report are even more basic. She said once the investigators could not prove there was a romantic relationship they decided to go down the path of saying he should have disclosed any relationship to the House.
“If there is a process by which legislators are supposed to reveal personal relationships ‘to the House’ we are not aware of them,” Horne said.
“Even if there were, being friends with a lobbyist is not improper,” she continued. “Not even dear friends.”
As to alcohol, Cook pleaded guilty last year to a charge of drunken driving and was sentenced to one day in jail. But Horne said anything beyond that is irrelevant.
“While Mr. Cook has struggled with alcohol in years past, it is one thing for someone to go out and have one drink turn into three or four,” she said. “But at no time was he a ‘day drinker’ or someone who drank at work.”