Republican legislative leadership expressed heavy criticism toward a freshman lawmaker for inviting a speaker who made unfounded allegations of bribery against several elected and appointed officials.
In a joint legislative election hearing on Feb. 23, Rep. Liz Harris, R-Chandler, invited Scottsdale insurance agent Jacqueline Breger to present about “activities impacting Arizona’s elections integrity.” Breger proceeded to accuse officials of taking bribes using false mortgages, election rigging and money laundering.
Breger said she was hired as a principal investigator by John Thaler with the Harris/Thaler Law Firm. Thaler is suspended from practicing law, according to the State Bar of Arizona and Breger was speaking on behalf of his findings. According to both of their Facebook pages, the two are also in a relationship.
None of Thaler’s claims have any credible evidence and many GOP lawmakers have called Breger’s testimony irresponsible and inappropriate. Senate President Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, said in a Monday statement that Senate Majority Leader Sonny Borelli, R-Lake Havasu City, requested to review all materials prior to the hearing.
“The report in question was not shared with him and was a surprise to the whole committee. I assure you, had he known about the report, he would not have allowed it to be included. This was definitely not the proper venue to make such allegations, nor to assess the credibility of such statements,” Petersen said in the statement.
Those accused of partaking in corruption activities include Gov. Katie Hobbs, Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, Speaker of the House Ben Toma, R-Peoria; independent U.S. Sen. Krysten Sinema, and U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz, among many more that hold local offices. Thaler’s ex-wife is also mentioned prominently as being involved in illegal activities in the documents Breger presented to the committee.
Petersen also said in his statement that Toma and Harris had requested the special elections hearing, but Toma also appears to be unhappy with Harris.
“What should have been a joint hearing to examine commonsense election reforms devolved into disgraceful fringe theater. I’m not alone in believing that it was irresponsible and bad judgement for Ms. Harris to invite a person to present unsubstantiated and defamatory allegations in a legislative forum,” Toma said in a statement texted to reporters on Monday.
Petersen continued in his statement to defend his caucus and shifted responsibility of the matter to the House.
“My senators have not engaged in such questionable behavior, nor do I believe they will in the future. I imagine the House is discussing how to address this situation with Rep. Harris,” he said.
But no Republican on the committee stopped Breger from speaking until more than 40 minutes had passed, when Sen. Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, called for a point of order and said the hearing was not the appropriate place to hear such accusations. Committee Chairwoman Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, called Breger “brave” after her testimony.
Rogers was appointed by Petersen and has allowed numerous speakers to discuss alleged fraud with the 2020 and 2022 elections throughout the legislative session. She appeared to change her opinion of Breger on Sunday night in a statement posted through Senate Republicans Communications, while making it clear that Breger was invited by Harris.
“Any claims as serious as those presented to us should have been immediately turned in to Arizona law enforcement officials and not brought before the Legislature. This was not the appropriate venue to discuss what could potentially be criminal activity,” Rogers said. “To our knowledge, none of the people named had charges filed, have prosecutions pending, nor had any convictions made against them,” she continued.
Senate President Pro Tempore T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, suggested an ethics complaint could be filed in the House against Harris.
“By all means, the House should definitely hold Rep. Harris to account. As the former Chairman of the House Ethics Committee, I would be calling for it if I were still there,” Shope wrote in a tweet.
Jennifer Wright, the former assistant attorney general who headed the Election Integrity Unit of the office under previous Attorney General Mark Brnovich, further debunked Thaler’s accusations on Monday. She said in a statement that Thaler claimed to have been in contact with her, but she never was nor had any of his claims been presented to Brnovich’s office.
“Mr. Thaler lied about having interacted with me. If he is willing to lie about that, what else is he willing to lie about,” Wright said in her statement.
Democrats on the committee didn’t attend the hearing and refused to participate in platforming debunked election fraud accusations.
“What happened in the joint elections committee last Thursday was an embarrassment to this entire body,” House Minority Leader Andrés Cano, D-Tucson, said Monday on the House floor. “Our Democratic members made a group decision not to take part in that sham of a hearing and I have to say, we’re feeling pretty good about that decision today.”