The five-month House Ethics Committee investigation into Rep. David Cook followed a long, winding path through a muck of innuendo and half-truth, only to arrive at a determination that never was very far off.
In doing so, the committee alienated or at least annoyed diverse swaths of the Legislature. Complaints about the process – and the final result, an ambiguous dismissal of the complaints against Cook – came from Democrat and Republican, Cook critic and defender alike. Taken together, they represent a desire to create more clarity and consistency in the functioning of the committee, now on its third major probe in as many years.
On one end, Cook’s Republican defenders question why the committee needed so much time to arrive at what they believe was essentially a foregone conclusion: regardless of whether Cook had an affair with AnnaMarie Knorr, a former lobbyist for the Western Growers Association, it’s doubtful that the affair significantly influenced Cook’s voting record, as he was already a staunch ally of the agriculture industry.
“Why did it take how many months and how much money to know that?” said Rep. Kelly Townsend, a Mesa Republican and staunch critic of this most recent ethics probe.
Dozens of love letters indeed seemed enough to convince the committee members and investigators that Cook, a Republican rancher from Globe, led a deeply personal – if not romantic – relationship with Knorr. And there was evidence that Cook at least knew about plans in Pinal County to seize Knorr’s liened property, and may have reached out to County Sheriff Mark Lamb and others to inquire about seizure policies. And Cook indeed ran legislation that would benefit agricultural taxpayers in Knorr’s position.
But the adjacent charges were all murky, and ultimately, Rep. John Allen, a Scottsdale Republican who led the committee’s investigation, decided not to pursue action against Cook, reasoning that none of the evidence investigators gathered amounted to a violation of House rules.
“Anyone could tell them that the day the complaint was levied,” said Townsend, who has filed a records request for the committee’s spending. “If we’re going to have an annual tradition of seeing if we can dig up something, if we’re gonna have ethics complaints on members, I want to know how much it’s going to cost. I think it’s something the taxpayer needs to know.”
Townsend’s complaints are similar to those of Cook’s attorneys, who regularly aired their frustrations with the House – with which Cook’s team waged protracted battles over the probe’s scope, document production and subpoena requests.
Carmen Chenal Horne, one of Cook’s attorneys, said the Ethics Committee should have guidelines for the process.
“They have no process for an investigation. It’s whatever they want to do,” Chenal Horne said.
The House’s outside legal team, led by Ballard Spahr attorney Mark Kokanovich, exchanged frequent testy letters with Cook and Chenal Horne, badgering them to comply with overdue document requests and eventually a legislative subpoena. Chenal Horne, meanwhile, grew increasingly frustrated with the House’s reticence to respond to a public records request for the contents of the committee’s investigative file.
Adding to this grievance was the fact that Allen showed no compunction about expanding the investigation beyond the four corners of the formal complaints against Cook, assuming evidence led investigators in that direction. This meant that the final investigative report against Cook contained frequent allusions to his drinking and comportment with Capitol denizens other than Knorr.
There’s no reason why this probe can’t lead to the creation of a subcommittee to put guardrails on the committee moving forward, Chenal Horne said.
“They’re not Hitler. It’s not a totalitarian Legislature where they can do whatever they want,” she added.
House Speaker Rusty Bowers was intentional about not involving himself in the investigation, granting Allen broad discretion to lead the probe as he pleased. It’s under this discretion that Allen decided not to pursue action against Cook, despite writing him a scathing letter in which he all-but conceded that the allegation is true.
This was an issue for the Ethics Committee’s two Democrats, Reps. Kirsten Engel and Domingo Degrazia, both attorneys from Tucson.
“We left that hearing in June with the expectation that the next step would be the committee coming back together, deciding whether or not … to provide an evidentiary hearing,” Engel said. “That was the bare minimum of what we were expecting to be the next step.”
Yet, despite Allen’s report, which among other things pointed to Cook’s possibly illegal failure to comply with a legislative subpoena, the probe will not move forward.
“I did what any chairman would do; evaluate the facts that are in front of me and decide if we will hear it in the whole committee,” Allen said.
Engel said the disparity between evidence and conclusion demonstrates that “we need some actual standards to govern our ethics investigations,” not to mention the creation of a formal code of conduct, something that the House Democrats lobbied for. She said that even so, the lack of a code that specifically interdicts romantic relationships between lobbyists and lawmakers is no excuse for the investigation to fizzle out, nor is the lack of a session in which lawmakers could vote on the committee’s recommendation.
“This investigation could and should have gone forward even with what bare bones standards and processes we have in place,” Engel said.
Allen’s decision came as no surprise to Rep. T.J. Shope, who chaired the House Ethics Committee during its investigations into former Rep. David Stringer, who resigned, and Rep. Don Shooter, who the chamber expelled after multiple women came forward with allegations of sexual harassment.
“I didn’t know that any of that [Cook] stuff rose to the level of expulsion,” Shope said.
Moreover, he said, pursuing expulsion could be a foolhardy venture without a guaranteed, bipartisan 40-vote coalition willing to pull the trigger. The upcoming August primary, in which voters could very well decide to support Cook, makes that calculus even trickier, Shope said.
Still, he added, there are lessons to take from this process – for example, the issue of the committee’s subpoena power. In his letter last week, Allen says clearly that Cook failed to comply with a legislative subpoena as required by state law. Allen chose not to pursue the alleged infraction.
“Whether this conduct alone amounts to disorderly conduct is, at best, a close call,” he wrote. “And close calls probably do not merit punishment by the committee or the House.”
Shope said Allen’s disinterest in pursuing this charge leaves an open question: How much power do those legislative subpoenas actually have. Are they legally binding or simply political tools?
Shope was willing to take Stringer to court when he declined to comply with a subpoena, but ultimately the court never got to decide the degree to which the subjects of ethics complaints must comply with legislative subpoenas.
If the Legislature can’t flesh out the legal and constitutional ramifications of its rules, a string of these debacles could ensue. Eventually, Shope warned, those under investigation from the committee could decide altogether that they have no obligation to comply.
“At some point, we have to determine whether or not that subpoena is absolute,” Shope said. “I believe it is. That’s why I was prepared to go to court.”
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.”
The House Ethics Committee will not pursue any action against Rep. David Cook at least at this time, special chair Rep. John Allen announced in a letter July 8, essentially ending the months-long investigation into the embattled lawmaker without punishment.
“The complaints against … Cook raised serious allegations that this Committee was duty bound to investigate,” Allen, a Republican from Scottsdale, wrote, adding that the House’s “fair and judicious” investigation came up with findings that “are deeply troubling.” Still, Allen said Cook’s conduct doesn’t “unequivocally” amount to disorderly conduct that the House or Ethics Committee can punish.
“Therefore, at this time, I do not anticipate taking any further action on these complaints,” he wrote.
The investigation into Cook began in February, when the committee received a pair of complaints alleging that Cook had conducted a romantic affair with a lobbyist named AnnaMarie Knorr and helped secure her special favors with officials in Pinal County, namely Sheriff Mark Lamb. Those complaints surfaced after the Yellow Sheet Report published dozens of love letters that Cook authored to Knorr while she was in a medical facility.
The investigation resulted in a full report in June, followed by a series of notes and deposition transcripts that painted an unflattering portrait of Cook as an angry, emotionally volatile drinker whose legal team took multiple steps to make life harder for the investigators. And though some witnesses told investigators that Cook’s relationship with Knorr was improper, and that he very well may have convinced Lamb to call off a planned seizure of her business property, investigators were unable to definitively establish that Cook violated the House’s nebulous standards for ethics.
Cook, Knorr and Lamb have denied all allegations all along, and the lawmaker rejoiced at the news that he was free from the ordeal, though he complained that the stench of his public humiliation will be hard to wash off.
“I am glad it is over, but feel like the man who asked, ‘Now where do I go to get my reputation back?’” Cook wrote in a statement July 8. “I remain very upset that this process was concocted and then manipulated to try to do maximum damage to both me and my family and to AnnaMarie Knorr.”
Cook’s attorneys, Carmen Chenal Horne and Arizona GOP general counsel Dennis Wilenchik, have long maintained that the probe was a politically motivated fishing expedition, though they never fully explained what those supposed political motivations were. The investigative report in turn depicted Chenal Horne as uncooperative and slow to respond, even to a legislative subpoena.
“We are happy for Representative Cook that this charade has finally ended, but terribly upset that the committee went to so much trouble to prevent him from being able to publicly defend himself,” she wrote today. “As the various accused parties have repeatedly said, both verbally and in writing, there were no violations of any kind that took place, and a full and complete dismissal of the charges was incredibly long overdue.”
The committee’s Democrats, Reps. Kirsten Engel and Domingo Degrazia, both attorneys from Tucson, reacted to Allen’s decision with “anger and incredulity.”
“Dropping the Ethics Committee’s work at this time does a disservice to the people of Arizona who expect charges of this caliber levied against a member to be thoroughly investigated and resolved,” Degrazia said in a statement.
The pair wrote that they understood there would be further hearings to decide whether or not to take action on the complaints, which they felt to be legitimate.
“I cannot understand how Rep. Allen would make this decision without any input from the committee members, who left the last committee hearing with the understanding that the committee would reconvene and consider whether to take any action on the complaints,” Engel wrote. “Moreover, his conclusion that the evidence must be ‘unequivocal’ in order for the committee to continue its investigation is found nowhere in the committee rules or precedent. It seems the strategy of Rep. Cook’s defenders to pummel the Committee members with emails proclaiming his innocence has worked. The Chair is simply dropping the matter, demonstrating that he is completely incapable of policing the potential misconduct of members.”
Allen responded that he acted within his purview.
“I did what any chairman would do; evaluate the facts that are in front of me and decide if we will hear it in the whole committee,” he said.
It’s important to note that even if Allen had chosen to recommend concrete action against Cook, there would likely have been no venue for the House to act upon that recommendation. Legislative leaders and the governor have shown little interest in calling a special session, where lawmakers could theoretically vote to expel Cook. Even if they do call a special session – or if they decided to raise the question in the next regular session – time is ticking until the August primary that will likely determine whether Cook returns to the Legislature. If the voters decide to send him back to the Capitol, overriding that popular mandate would be a difficult pill for the Legislature to swallow.
Although it ultimately let Cook off the hook, Allen’s nine-page letter doesn’t pull any punches. He points out that Cook and Knorr’s explanation of the letters – in which Cook refers to the lobbyist as his “love” and his “honey,” and in which he references the sin of coveting another man’s wife – “strain credulity” and are “implausible.” However, he wrote, without admission, it is nigh impossible to prove that an affair transpired.
“And even if such proof were available, this Committee’s role is not to monitor Representatives’ personal affairs, no matter how tawdry,” he wrote. Moreover, there’s no evidence that Cook’s relationship resulted in favorable treatment for bills that Knorr and her client – the Western Growers Association – supported. As for the allegation that Cook facilitated a bribe to Lamb in exchange for the halt of the planned seizure of Knorr’s farm in 2018, there is “no conclusive evidence of such bribery,” though there is “ample evidence that Representative Cook had intervened in the planned seizure, which was subsequently halted,” Allen’s concluding letter reads.
He called Cook’s involvement “irregular and inappropriate,” deriding his testimony as lacking credibility. However, Allen wrote, investigators could not conclude that Cook exerted pressure on county officials to save Knorr Farms.
For what it’s worth, Cook is likely not out of the woods yet – after all, Allen only concluded that he would not be taking any further action “at this time.”
The originator of the Lamb complaint, a former campaign staffer for the sheriff named Kevin Cavanaugh, wrote in his initial letter to the committee that he believed there may be an ongoing criminal investigation into Cook and Lamb’s relationship. Allen said the committee could very well consider further evidence if this were to be proven true.
And through this process, Cook managed to alienate key political allies. Bas Aja, Knorr’s father and a powerful lobbyist for the cattle industry in his own right, was a key witness against the lawmaker, as was Patrick Bray, another cattle lobbyist who last week accused Cook of threatening him for cooperating with the investigation.
“The House Ethics Committee needs to take action and quit sitting on their hands and letting such things continue,” he said at the time. “Allowing behaviors like this to be a part of this institution will only further erode it.”
The head of the House Ethics Committee is weighing whether to have full-blown hearings into the panel’s investigation of Rep. David Cook — assuming the matter gets that far.
Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, said Monday he is still reviewing both the evidence presented by outside investigators as well as the response to the charges submitted by the attorneys for the Globe Republican.
That response in particular demanded a full hearing “given the right to the fundamental protections every citizen of our country would reasonably expect to have.”
“If you don’t, then you will make the House a country club, where only those who are in the majority get to determine who sits and who doesn’t,” wrote attorneys Dennis Wilenchik and Carmen Chenal Horne. And that, they said, would override the votes of those who put Cook into office.
Allen acknowledged that there are issues to be resolved about how to handle what are the two basic complaints against Cook, one involving allegations of an affair with a lobbyist and the other about efforts to intervene on her behalf to halt the sale of some property in a tax sale.
“You take either of these complaints on a stand-alone, they probably wouldn’t have rose to an investigation at all,” Allen acknowledged.
So why proceed?
“If you take them as conjoined twins and you said, OK, there’s a real question here,” he explained
“How do we prove that question?” Allen continued. And does any answer rise to the level where it merits further investigation.
Even if the Ethics Committee decides neither charge merits further pursuit, Allen told Capitol Media Services there’s something else: Cook’s cooperation — or lack thereof — with the inquiry.
Wilenchik and Horne said Cook was “fully cooperative in the investigation.” But Allen said the evidence suggests otherwise.
For example, he said other parties in the investigation provided texts and emails they had gotten from him. But none of them, Allen said, came from Cook himself despite the subpoena.
“That’s a terrible precedent to have in the House, to say, hey, lookit, you don’t have to, when subpoenaed, do anything,” he said.
Allen said he’s not trying to build a case against Cook based solely on that issue.
“But there has to be some accounting for it,” he said.
All that leads back to the decision Allen and the Ethics Committee have to make, if they decide to go ahead with any charges, about what sort of defense Cook should be allowed to make.
Allen said there is precedent for proceeding without giving Cook the right to call witnesses of his own or cross examine those who spoke to investigators.
That involved Rep. Daniel Patterson, D-Tucson, accused in 2012 of multiple incidents of intimidating female lawmakers. He also was facing domestic violence charges based on accusations that he hit his former live-in girlfriend.
Patterson ended up quitting rather than trying to defend himself before the Ethics Committee.
But Allen conceded there are some key differences between what happened in 2012 and now, differences he said may merit giving Cook the hearing he is seeking.
Most notably, in the Patterson case, there were multiple witnesses and incidents involving Patterson. This one, Allen said, is different
In essence, the first charge against Cook stems from allegations that he had a romantic relationship with AnnaMarie Knorr who was a lobbyist with the Western Growers Association, a relationship he did not disclose.
The second is that Cook called Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb to discuss a pending sale of property in which Knorr had an interest due to unpaid taxes. There also were allegations that Cook promised to arrange campaign contribution for Lamb, but the investigative report makes no such finding.
Cook did subsequently sponsor more generic legislation making it easier for owners of agricultural property, like that owned by Knorr, to get an exemption from taxes.
The issue of how and whether Cook gets to defend himself also has raised questions from Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa.
In a Twitter post last week, Townsend said she is not condoning any behavior that is unbecoming of a legislator.
“But regardless, every legislator has the right to a fair investigation,” she wrote.
“This is setting a most dangerous precedent for future political execution,” Townsend continued. “I cannot stay silent.”
Complicating matters is that at least part of the case against Cook is based on information provided by Bas Aja, himself a long-time Capitol lobbyist and Knorr’s father who apparently has had some sort of falling-out with his daughter.
“There’s a judgment call to be made in here about the level of evidence towards these allegations,” Allen said.
The House Ethics Committee has released the two ethics complaints into Rep. David Cook that it received late Tuesday afternoon, confirming that the committee will be probing both the Globe Republican’s alleged affair with a lobbyist and his alleged involvement in a bribery scandal in Pinal County.
The publication of the complaints capped off a day in which a feeling of bewilderment set over the capitol as lawmakers digested Tuesday’s news that the committee will be investigating Cook.
Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, who has been tapped to lead the committee following the recusal of Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, is tight-lipped about the scope of the investigation. In a letter to other members of the committee, he implored them to “refrain from discussing these complaints outside of the Ethics Committee.”
He told the Capitol Times that he will follow the model set by the committee’s investigation into then-Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, last session.
“We’re going to decide how much counsel we need,” he said. “We’re gonna have to see if Mr. Cook makes a rebuttal to the allegations, which he’s entitled to do. We have to check the veracity of these claims on all accounts.”
And while he said that both complaints are “troubling,” Allen said the committee still needs to determine whether “there’s a there there.”
The first complaint comes from a constituent of David Cook’s in Legislative District Eight.
“How can Representative Cook represent my interests as a … constituent impartially when he is simultaneously involved in a compromising relationship,” writes the complainant, a woman named Janell Alewyn.
The second comes from a former employee of the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office named Kevin Cavanaugh. He accuses Cook of orchestrating a campaign contribution to Sheriff Mark Lamb in 2018 with the understanding that Lamb would stop the collection of a $140,000 debt owed by the lobbyist, a woman named AnnaMarie Knorr. Lamb has denied that anything improper occurred.
Cook declined comment on the ethics investigation.
The current members of the House Ethics Committee are Allen, Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford and Rep. Domingo Degrazia, D-Tucson.
Allen, Cobb and Degrazia are all new additions to the committee.
“Once I have a chance to review the documents, I’ll start working,” Degrazia said.
House Democrats announced Wednesday afternoon that Degrazia would replace Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-Phoenix. Rodriguez recused himself from the committee because he went on a recent junket to Mexico with Cook and other lawmakers during which he said he had general conversations about the allegations.
At the time, all that was public was the allegation of Cook’s affair. But Rodriguez said he wasn’t shocked to see new information come out.
“Nothing surprises me in Arizona politics,” he said.
Allen said that no other members of the community have had enough contact with Cook to necessitate their recusal.
“Mr. Cook and I are businesslike,” he said. “We don’t hang in the same circles, but I think I’m in good standing. No axes to grind.”
Cook continues to serve in his full capacity, even as Knorr’s employer, the Western Growers Association, has placed her on administrative leave pending an internal investigation.
There’s no reason that he should have to step back from legislative business during the investigation, said House Maj. Leader Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert. While he called the apparent love letters that Cook wrote to Knorr “inappropriate,” he said there’s no evidence that his affection for her correlated to favorable results for any legislation.
“I approached Mr. Cook about these issues,” Petersen said. “From what he said, it’s more of a he said she said.”
The 2020 session was, in some ways, the story of two scandals: one that rocked the Capitol and continued reverberating weeks after the Legislature adjourned, and one that quickly fizzled into nothing more than off-color jokes and innuendo on the campaign trail.
From the outset, the cases of Rep. David Cook and Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita appeared similar. Both stood accused of engaging in inappropriate relationships with lobbyists: Cook in a seemingly consensual affair that raised concerns about conflicts of interest, while Ugenti-Rita is alleged to have sexually harassed a female lobbyist and used her position as a powerful lawmaker to intimidate the woman.
The handling of the two cases, however, couldn’t have been more different.
Cook’s case was quickly referred to a special House ethics committee, which hired a legal team to conduct a months-long review of the Globe Republican’s conduct, a probe that continued even as the coronavirus sidelined most other legislative business. Senate Republicans, meanwhile, brushed off allegations against Ugenti-Rita as irrelevant to current Senate business because Ugenti-Rita was not a senator at the time of the alleged incidents of harassment. The allegations against her had surfaced in court documents in an ongoing legal battle between the Scottsdale Republican and former Rep. Don Shooter, who was expelled after himself facing allegations of sexual harassment.
The investigation into Cook stems largely from dozens of intimate letters he wrote to agricultural lobbyist AnnaMarie Knorr over a 45-day period in which he refers to “coveting another man’s wife” and his personal struggles with drinking and women. The Yellow Sheet Report, a sister publication of the Arizona Capitol Times, first published contents of those letters in January.
At the time, House Speaker Rusty Bowers hadn’t yet read the letters, though he said he wasn’t happy with the situation. By February 4, Bowers confirmed that the House Ethics Committee had received notarized complaints relating to Cook’s apparent affair with Knorr, and that it would investigate the matter.
One of those complaints went beyond the scope of the alleged affair, accusing Cook of having used his influence to intervene in plans for Pinal County to seize Knorr’s farm, which is in debt.
Bowers appointed Rep. John Allen, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, to lead the House Ethics Committee in this probe. Allen brought on outside attorneys from Ballard Spahr, who up until last week engaged in a lengthy investigation, gathering documents and witness testimony that culminated in a 34-page report.
In the process, the committee angered Cook and his attorneys in just about every way possible, and waged protracted battles over document discovery that went largely unresolved. Though Cook eventually sat down for an interview, the probe’s investigators had to prod him to get even a portion of the documents they requested, both through normal channels and through a legislative subpoena, the report says.
The committee also ran afoul of several other Republican lawmakers, who agreed with Cook’s attorneys that the committee was leading a politically motivated witch hunt that exceeded the scope of the lawmaker’s responsibilities and actions while in office.
Some of those same lawmakers have chafed at other committee’s investigations, notably into Rep. Don Shooter, the subject of multiple claims of sexual harassment.
But Bowers held firm, albeit quietly, in his support of Allen’s work.
“The thing I have felt most effective is to make sure that you have a process that’s treated equally of every person,” Bowers said. “If there’s a complaint, the complaint will be given serious consideration. If the complaint is not found to have merit, the committee makes that decision, and they have – there have been other complaints which the committee has not chosen to pursue, right? So, I think that there is a method that was adopted and accepted by the membership.”
But some lawmakers say the process isn’t as equitable as Bowers would claim.
“The culture down there at the legislature is that if you get sideways with the speaker, you get punished,” said Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, who has been one of Cook’s fiercest defenders.
Complaints about lawmakers are left up to the House Speaker or Senate President — and the ethics committees they appoint — to handle. And that, Townsend said, leads to investigations and disciplinary actions taken based on how leaders feel about individual lawmakers.
The House fails in not having a standard human resources department, Townsend said. She has wrestled with the House’s way of investigating ethics complaints since she and Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita first reported sexual harassment they experienced to House leadership years ago.
Bowers countered that ultimately, it’s up to that committee to run investigations, not necessarily House leadership, even while the Speaker picks the members of an Ethics Committee.
“The caucus expressed early in my desires to be speaker that they were not fully on board with how other ethics things have happened in the past,” he said. “And I said we will establish that there is an Ethics Committee, just like any committee. The committee has opportunities, powers, authorities, responsibility, but the committee will do its deal here. Not the Speaker.”
In the end, it may not matter much. Cook has until June 19 to provide a formal response to the committee. At that point, it will meet once more to vote on further action – if any. But even if the committee’s members recommend that the Legislature expel Cook, there’s currently no venue to do so.
“The reality is that the session is over, and now they can’t throw him out,” said Barry Aarons, a long-time lobbyist around the Capitol.
Even if the Legislature were to convene in a special session after the August primary, a vote to dismiss Cook would be a tough sell.
“If he wins his primary, which I think he is very capable of doing, it’d be tough to say the voters sent him back [to the Legislature] and now we send him back,” Aarons said. “For anyone who is unhappy with Rep. Cook – and I’m not one of those people – I think then options have kind of been taken off the table.”
In Ugenti-Rita’s case, those options were taken off the table long before the session ended. Shortly after the allegations against her became public, Senate Democrats called on Republicans to launch an investigation, but stopped short of filing a formal ethics complaint.
The woman who accused Ugenti-Rita hadn’t wanted her case made public in the first place, and no one else stepped forward with complaints. Senate President Karen Fann dismissed calls from Democrats to investigate — and questions from reporters about why she wasn’t launching an inquiry — by saying that the issue was being settled in a lawsuit that didn’t involve the Senate.
“We have a lot of extremely important bills that are going to affect a lot of people’s lives, and that should be the focus,” Fann said in February, nearly a week after the allegations against Ugenti-Rita became public. “To keep stirring the pot on something that is already in litigation and has already been investigated, quite honestly, I’m very saddened that that’s where the media would rather go instead of let’s talk about the policy and all the good stuff that’s going on around here.”
It’s very likely that in both cases, voters will be the ultimate judge.
The details of allegations against Ugenti-Rita are well-known in her Scottsdale-based district even if the Senate never truly acknowledged them, said her primary challenger, Scottsdale attorney Alex Kolodin. It was one of the reasons he wanted to run against her, Kolodin said.
“The people of Scottsdale and Fountain Hills, who are tremendously accomplished people, that they would have a representative who did them proud as they deserve – that’s very important,” Kolodin said.
But Sen. Frank Pratt, R-Casa Grande, who’s running for one of the seats in Cook’s district now that Rep. T.J. Shope of Coolidge is mounting a Senate run, hasn’t made hay out of the issue. Neal Carter, another challenger in the district’s House race, has gone easy on Cook on the campaign trail. In any event, the scandal hasn’t hurt Cook’s fundraising ability.
The scandal-ridden Legislature – Cook and Ugenti-Rita are only the two most recent lawmakers to get into trouble – isn’t conducive to productivity, said House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma.
“It cast a shadow on everyone,” she said. “I’m thinking that maybe that is what hindered the work that the majority was doing, or I should say, not doing – they were focusing on individual members, rather than the greater good.”
Fernandez hopes that the House will adopt a code of conduct that specifically prohibits certain behaviors.
Bowers directed the House Ethics committee to come up with a code of conduct in 2019 in the fallout of the Don Shooter scandal, though he only did so under pressure from Fernandez’s caucus. But while Democrats even drafted a code, lawmakers have never actually adopted one.
“We worked really long and very hard on it, and we presented it to the Ethics Committee and to the Speaker to no avail,” Fernandez said. “That should have been adopted, so we know where we stand, what you have to do to be a member in good standing. And if you’re not there, then you need to move on.”
Before Bowers’ tenure, then-Speaker J.D. Mesnard sought to draft a code for staff, but one never materialized following disagreements over its content with Democrats. Upon Mesnard’s departure for the Senate, it was left up to Bowers, and even though House rules say that the chamber “shall” adopt such a code, in addition to a written harassment policy, no such code was written.
The Senate similarly has no formal code of conduct. In 2018, then-Senate President Steve Yarborough never appointed members to a joint committee that set out to write a code. Appetite for a set of written rules of comportment didn’t grow in the following two years.
Bowers pushed back on the idea that the adoption of a code of ethics that specifically interdicted romantic relationships between lobbyists and lawmakers is the best path forward. Rather, he said, the simple first provision of House Rules – that the chamber may punish members for disorderly behavior – should be enough.
“And if you look in the rule book, if you just read the first page, it says what a member is required to remember about his or her deportment,” he said. “Could it be interpreted differently by different people seated on a committee or different leadership? Yes, it could. But that’s why there’s a rule book.”
Aarons agreed with Bowers that adopting a code of conduct might not help.
“As far as romantic relationships … you can prohibit it, but you have to make some decisions as to where you are going to draw the line,” he said.
Bowers said that a list of specific violations could lead to situations where lawmakers who are acting unethically get off because their cases don’t exactly match the behaviors described in a code of ethics.
“I don’t want to have periods and dashes and crossed ‘T’s’ and dotted ‘I’s’ because then you get a lawyer who says, ‘Oh, but he didn’t do exactly what that says,’” he said. “And this is not a court of law. This is the Legislature.”
The House Ethics Committee announced Wednesday morning that it will be retaining a team of outside lawyers to help investigate a Globe Republican accused of orchestrating favors for a lobbyist with whom he likely had a romantic affair.
Mark Kokanovich, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for Arizona, will lead a team of lawyers from Ballard Spahr who will assist the committee in “investigating the complaints, interviewing potential witnesses, and providing legal advice,” according to a statement from House Ethics Committee Chair Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale.
This is familiar territory for Kokanovich, who also served as a special outside counsel in the House’s investigation into Prescott Republican Rep. David Stringer under lead investigator Joe Kanefield. Kokanovich declined to speak on the record about the investigation.
The committee is investigating a pair of complaints into Rep. David Cook, who has been at the center of a growing scandal after hundreds of pages of love letters he wrote to a lobbyist for the Western Growers Association were leaked to the media. The first complaint, which comes from a constituent in his district, questions whether Cook can fairly represent her interests if he is romantically involved with a lobbyist for the agricultural industry.
Both Cook and AnnaMarie Knorr, the lobbyist in question, have insisted their relationship is platonic despite the trove of deeply intimate letters that Cook authored.
The second complaint comes from a former sheriff’s deputy and political associate of Cook’s named Kevin Cavanaugh. He alleges that Cook orchestrated a campaign donation to Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb through a third party with the understanding that Lamb would halt the seizure of property owned by Knorr and her husband, who owed more than $140,000 in taxes across various entities.
And as first reported by Arizona Family, Cook authored legislation a year after this alleged transaction that would allow county treasurers to enter into payment agreements with taxpayers for up to three years so they can pay off business debt — something that would apply to the Knorrs’ situation.
Allen said that he hasn’t yet seen the report on the bill, which Ducey signed into law in April of 2019. But he said that he won’t necessarily constrain the ethics probe to the four corners of the Cavanaugh complaint, which makes no mention of specific legislation.
“If it’s somehow tangential, we can [go beyond the complaint],” Allen said. “If it’s a clear violation of House rules, how can we unring that bell?”
Indeed, the agreement between the House and Ballard Spahr leaves quite a bit of wiggle room for the scope of the investigation.
“We have agreed that our engagement … will include an investigation of the allegations contained in complaints against Representative Cook or any other complaints or concerns that may corroborate concerns and issues raised by members or other concerning [Cook],” the engagement letter from the firm reads.
House staff was unable to provide an estimated cost of hiring outside counsel. In the agreement, the firm listed six attorneys and one paralegal whose rates range from $225 to $470 an hour.
It is unclear whether Cook has hired lawyers of his own. He has yet to begin cooperating with the investigation, which is still in its infancy.
Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include comment from Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale.
The House Ethics Committee will investigate a pair of ethics complaints filed against Rep. David Cook, a Republican from Globe who is alleged to have had a romantic affair with a lobbyist who supported legislation he sponsored on behalf of her clients.
House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, confirmed the evening of February 4 that the committee received the complaints and that an official investigation will commence.
The committee will not release the complaints to the public until its members have had time to read them, according to a statement. But a copy of one of the complaints obtained by the Arizona Capitol Times alleges that in 2018, Cook arranged a contribution to the re-election campaign of Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb with the understanding that Lamb would halt an attempt to collect a $140,000 tax debt against Anna Marie Knorr, the lobbyist with whom Cook is allegedly romantically involved. Lamb has denied this characterization.
“On Wednesday September 26, 2018 I was invited to the winery in Casa Grande by David Cook. While at the winery David Cook told me that he had instructed Lamb to stop the seizure of property which had been scheduled for (my understanding from David) earlier that day, and that Lamb would take the action in exchange for a campaign contribution arranged by Cook,” the complaint states.
The complaint was filed the afternoon of Feb. 4 by Kevin Cavanaugh, a retired police officer and frequent political candidate in Pinal County. He has mounted brief campaigns for the congressional seat in Arizona’s First Congressional District, for Pinal County Sheriff and most recently for Apache Junction Justice of the Peace. He claimed to the Capitol Times that he is friendly with Cook and had been involved politically with both Cook and Lamb.
Anybody can file an ethics complaint against a lawmaker, regardless of their personal knowledge of a situation. But the committee is not obliged to investigate those complaints, meaning that it chose to look into this allegation.
A search of Pinal County Recorder records does not show record of a lien associated with property owned by Knorr.
The committee announced it received the two ethics complaints about Cook in a press statement Tuesday evening. In the statement, House Ethics Chair Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, also announced that he would recuse himself, as he and Cook represent the same district. House Judiciary Chair Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, will take over for Shope to conduct the investigation into the ethics complaints into Cook. Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, has also received a temporary assignment to the committee.
In the complaint, Cavanaugh said he was on a conference call with Lamb and his campaign staff — Lamb had been seeking his help on the campaign, Cavanaugh claims — when the sheriff allegedly confirmed his suspicions.
Lamb denied Cavanaugh’s version of these events in a call with the Capitol Times Tuesday evening.
He said that he indeed received a call from Cook making him aware that a property in his district had tax issues associated with it and that it would be seized soon. But, Lamb said, Cook did not ask him to stop the seizure. Rather, he just asked the sheriff what the protocol was and whether he knew anything about the property — Knorr Farms — in question.
“I said I’m not aware of it, so I put a hold on it so I could come and understand it,” he said.
“The issue [Cavanaugh is] describing is an issue we worked out together as county officials,” Lamb said. “It had nothing to do with a favor. In our normal course of operations, we always want to afford any citizen the right to satisfy a tax lien.”
Lamb said that there was a fundraiser for his campaign that took place a few days after Cook called at which Knorr’s father, cattle industry lobbyist Bas Aja, offered him a donation. But Lamb said he denied the donation due to the fact that he was looking into his daughter’s tax issues.
The Yellow Sheet Report first reported in January that Cook had sent more than a hundred pages of love letters to Knorr, a lobbyist whose clients include the Western Growers Association and the Arizona Crop Protection Association. Both Cook and Knorr have denied that their relationship is anything but platonic.
However, the letters tell a different story. Cook wrote extensively of his love for Knorr, referenced extensive phone calls between the two and asked her for advice on professional matters.
Lamb denies knowing anything about the alleged relationship, though he said that he figured he would get questions after seeing media reports about Cook and Knorr.
“I would say in hindsight I knew that questions would arise based on the story,” he said.
Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include information on one of the complaints and comments from Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb.
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, the Scottsdale Republican who became the face of Arizona’s #MeToo movement when her claims led to a fellow lawmaker’s expulsion, sexually harassed a female lobbyist so severely it took a toll on the woman’s mental health and career, the lobbyist alleged in a sworn deposition.
The deposition was part of a motion filed in Maricopa County Superior Court on Jan. 31 in the defamation lawsuit and counter-lawsuit between Ugenti-Rita and former Rep. Don Shooter. The woman describes a pattern of harassment by Ugenti-Rita and her now-husband, former adviser to the governor Brian Townsend, over the summer of 2016 that led the lobbyist to believe the political power couple was trying to recruit her for a threesome. Repercussions from those unwanted advances led the woman to seek therapy, turn down job offers and miss work days, she said.
A year later, as the #MeToo movement took root in statehouses around the country, Ugenti-Rita detailed sexual harassment she encountered as a lawmaker, including suggestive comments about her body and an exposing yank on her dress at a legislative reception. After several other women, including two more lawmakers, joined her in accusing Shooter of a pattern of inappropriate behavior, the House expelled him in February 2018.
Independent investigators hired by the House heard the woman’s story, but did not include most of it in the report that damned Shooter. It became public on Tuesday, nearly two years to the day after his expulsion, when Shooter included her subpoenaed deposition in a defamation suit.
Ugenti-Rita declined to comment for this story.
In more than three hours of testimony on Nov. 13, the woman describes her fear of Ugenti-Rita, and her struggles to balance her personal discomfort with her professional need to maintain a good relationship with Ugenti-Rita, who she said served as a “prominent vote” for her employer’s interests and who “had a reputation of seeking retribution.”
The woman describes being intimidated by Ugenti-Rita and Townsend, and telling her bosses that she did not want to be around either of them. Ugenti-Rita even followed her into a bathroom and threatened her in December of 2018, telling her “everyone was going to find out what a liar” the woman was, she said in her deposition.
“They are both powerful people in Arizona politics, and I didn’t want them to affect any future career opportunities or harm me in any other potential way,” the woman said. “I was being strategic and I was trying to navigate the situation to the best of my ability in a time before the Me Too Movement and it was okay to come out about these sorts of things.”
TEXTS AND BODY SHOTS
The lobbyist and former Capitol staffer, who is unnamed in court documents, worked with Ugenti-Rita in the House. She said she did not feel uncomfortable around the lawmaker until June 2016, several months after she left the Legislature for a lobbying job.
The woman invited Ugenti-Rita and Townsend to drinks with her and her boyfriend, to celebrate Ugenti-Rita’s birthday and improve her relationship with Ugenti-Rita so she could better lobby for her employer, the woman said.
Townsend didn’t join, and the woman’s boyfriend was late. Earlier in the night, before the woman’s boyfriend arrived, Ugenti-Rita swiped through images of herself in lingerie while showing the woman pictures from her phone, something the lobbyist didn’t think much of at the time.
Ugenti-Rita also laid on a bar for body shots, having the lobbyist and another woman at the bar drink alcohol out of her belly button, lick salt from her stomach and suck a lime from her mouth, the woman said. Ugenti-Rita confirmed the body shots in her own sworn deposition, but said the woman asked to do them.
The next morning, the woman woke up to a text message from Townsend, her former boss at the House of Representatives who is 21 years older than her, with a photo of a naked woman, with no message and the head cropped out of the frame. The lobbyist said there was no question in her mind that the woman in the photograph was Ugenti-Rita.
“I was really distraught and freaked out,” she said in the deposition. “I didn’t know what to do.”
Over the next several weeks, Townsend sent two more photos of himself performing oral sex on a woman, the lobbyist said. One of the messages said something along the lines of “she wants to be with you,” the lobbyist said.
The third text, sent while Townsend and Ugenti-Rita were attending a National Conference of State Legislatures meeting in Chicago, included a message telling the woman she should tell Townsend if she wasn’t interested.
Scared but not wanting to ruin her relationship with the power couple, the lobbyist responded “something along the lines of, ‘Sorry, grandma goes to bed by 10:00, love you both but not like that, hope you’re having fun at NCSL,’” she told attorneys.
Ugenti-Rita confirmed in her own sworn deposition that she was the woman in the photos, and that either she or Townsend took them. But she said she didn’t know Townsend planned to send them, and she didn’t find out the woman had received those photos until after the House’s independent investigator showed them to her.
“They are just something private between him and I,” Ugenti-Rita said.
A few weeks later, while the woman and Ugenti-Rita were both attending a trade association conference in Arizona, Ugenti-Rita asked her to take a selfie to send to Townsend. Ugenti-Rita also asked if the lobbyist could tell she wasn’t wearing a bra and invited her back to the lawmaker’s hotel room multiple times.
The lobbyist deflected until Ugenti-Rita asked the lobbyist’s boss if she could “steal” her for a second. After her boss agreed, the woman reluctantly followed Ugenti-Rita back to her room. She told lawyers she was uncomfortable saying no, because Ugenti-Rita and Townsend were both in positions of power.
Ugenti-Rita lay on the couch “very provocatively,” the woman said, and invited her to spend the night — or at least stay long enough to greet Townsend when he arrived.
“I was very freaked out by the potential of Brian getting there while I was still there,” the woman said. “I felt like if Brian showed up, it would have put me in a potentially dangerous situation.”
Their interactions that evening convinced her that Ugenti-Rita knew about the lewd messages Townsend sent and that their hotel room interaction was Ugenti-Rita’s attempt to lure her into a threesome, the woman said. She texted her boss asking him to call her and give her an excuse to return to the main conference area.
Ugenti-Rita said in her deposition that the woman was “eager” to come back to her room.
“We were friends,” Ugenti-Rita said. “She had made a big effort to reach out to me quite a bit, engage with me, text me, send me pictures, say very flattering things to me, very complimentary, very friendly and had reached out the day before to see if I was going to be there because she had seen my name on a list of some sort. And I took her at her word that we were friends.”
The next day, still trying to maintain a professional relationship with Ugenti-Rita, the woman texted her and Townsend an invitation to a conference party she knew they would not be able to attend.
“She had told me her kids were going to be there that night, so I knew she wouldn’t be able to, and I was trying to settle the dust after feeling I abruptly left her room the night before,” the woman said.
The woman received one last text from Townsend shortly after that conference — an image of him having sex with a woman from behind and a message saying he would watch if she wanted to have sexual relations with just the woman in the photo. She told him she wasn’t interested and to stop messaging her.
And after that interaction, she decided not to seek a job in the governor’s office because Townsend would have been her supervisor.
The lobbyist described her experiences to an investigator hired by the House in the late fall of 2017 to investigate allegations made against Shooter, Ugenti-Rita and Sen. Rebecca Rios, who was accused of having an affair with a House staffer more than 20 years her junior who was subsequently fired.
The ethics complaint against Rios, who was House Minority Leader at the time, was dismissed as a perceived political dispute between Rios and another lawmaker.
The lobbyist told attorneys she was afraid when an investigator contacted her, because she didn’t know how the team got her name and she “didn’t want to be seen as a target” for Ugenti-Rita or Townsend. And during the investigation, she began seeing a therapist and keeping a journal.
She said she discussed the happy hour and conference, provided copies of the explicit texts and told investigators they could interview her boss. The report focused only on the text messages, relegating the conference interaction to a footnote as an “immaterial” fourth incident.
Investigators determined that Townsend acted alone in sending sexually explicit images and messages to the lobbyist.
“Ms. Ugenti-Rita unequivocally denied any knowledge of, or involvement in, the conduct,” the 2018 report read. “We found her testimony in this regard credible. She was visibly distraught, briefly lost the composure and confidence she had generally displayed during our interactions with her, expressed genuine surprise and shock, and conveyed sincere sympathy for (the woman).”
Townsend, meanwhile, cried and trembled during his interview, saying the texts would be the “death knell” of his career and his relationship with Ugenti-Rita.
His government career was already over — Townsend resigned from the governor’s office on Dec. 23, 2016, one day after he was cited for extreme drunken driving in Mesa. He pleaded guilty to the charge, and began working as a lobbyist. His final lobbying contracts ended shortly after the House investigators released their report, according to records filed with the Arizona Secretary of State.
But the relationship with Ugenti-Rita continued. The two married in December 2018.
“At that time, that happened a year and a half, almost two years prior,” Ugenti-Rita said in her deposition. “I spent a lot of time soul-searching, and there was a lot of good in our relationship, and he took responsibility. He was extremely remorseful, and we started to heal.”
Ugenti-Rita, in her own deposition, describes years of harassment from Shooter, beginning in her first House term in 2011. Her claims, all of which were previously laid out for House investigators, included Shooter showing up at her hotel room with a six pack of beer during an American Legislative Exchange Council conference, joking that he wished he were her infant when she excused herself to breastfeed and asking if she had had breast implants.
Ugenti-Rita said in her deposition she did not feel comfortable telling Shooter when she found his behavior inappropriate. Individual actions and comments came across as “unwelcoming,” “awkward” and “harassing,” and they had the most effect taken cumulatively, she said.
“I was scared,” she said in her deposition. “I didn’t know what would happen.”
Instead, she described trying to avoid him — staying away from him at events, avoiding entering other representatives’ offices if he was in there and not responding to comments he made.
And on the two occasions she did try to talk to him about how his behavior was inappropriate, Shooter brushed her off, Ugenti-Rita said.
“He just — like, it never resonates, you know,” she said. “Real joking, plays it off, you know, kind of insincere.”
The #MeToo movement allowed for an honest conversation about sexual harassment and emboldened Ugenti-Rita to speak out publicly about what she experienced in the Legislature, she said. But Shooter has continued to harass her even after his expulsion, she said in her deposition.
“He has said derogatory and graphic things to me— about me, excuse me, to other members,” she said. “He has been a part of making sure everyone associated with me in my private life, in my work life know about the pictures. He has weaponized them. And it feels like a virtual rape over and over again.”
Shooter’s attorneys questioned Ugenti-Rita at length about the parallels between her discomfort around Shooter and the woman’s unease with Ugenti-Rita. The two situations are different, Ugenti-Rita insisted.
“Hers is predicated on her thinking I did something I did not do,” Ugenti-Rita said.
Ugenti-Rita said she was not necessarily in a position of power over the lobbyist, because most of the bills the lobbyist worked on went through a committee other than the one Ugenti-Rita chaired.
She confirmed that she did stop the woman near a bathroom in December 2018 to call her a liar. It was not an act of intimidation or retaliation, Ugenti-Rita said
“[It probably] would have been best if I didn’t, but I saw her out of the blue coming out of the bathroom and in light of her saying I had sent photos that I did not, I said she was lying,” Ugenti-Rita said.
The House investigators’ final report led to Shooter’s expulsion, cleared Ugenti-Rita and did not contain any information about the allegations against Rios.
Shooter responded to the report’s release by reading a letter on the floor of the House describing the woman’s story. Although he did not use her name, she soon heard about the letter from former coworkers at the House who suspected it was about her.
Shooter’s letter was a “violation,” and “embarrassing,” the woman said. After its release, then-House Speaker J.D. Mesnard called her, on speaker in a room with several other House employees, to ask about the letter.
“It was intimidating to be on that line,” she said. “Not every day the Speaker wants to talk to you. And I didn’t know a lot of the people in the room, who had previously been coworkers. So it was embarrassing to be in that situation, and uncomfortable.”
She feared that the letter, and Shooter continuing to question why he was expelled and Ugenti-Rita was not, would lead to her own identity being released and hurt her future career and reputation.
Her testimony is critical to a pair of civil lawsuits Shooter filed — one a lawsuit against the state and Mesnard alleging that his constitutional rights to due process were violated, and one a countersuit filed against Ugenti-Rita for defamation after she sued Shooter.
In the case against Mesnard, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Theodore Campagnolo, a Democrat appointed by Gov. Doug Ducey, rejected Shooter’s claims in a Dec. 24 ruling that his rights were violated when the state House voted to oust him in early 2018. That case is still active, but a U.S. District judge threw out similar federal claims in June.
The woman refused to participate in the litigation until she received a formal subpoena, and told attorneys she was worried about attending her deposition because Ugenti-Rita could be there.
The depositions filed Jan. 31 are the second trove of documents detailing inappropriate relationships between lobbyists and lawmakers to be released during the first few weeks of the legislative session.
A series of intimate letters Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, wrote to Western Growers Association lobbyist AnnaMarie Knorr were shared with reporters last month, raising questions about whether Cook gave preferential treatment to Knorr’s clients.
Knorr has been placed on indefinite leave from the Western Growers Association as it investigates the letters. Cook, like Ugenti-Rita in the Senate, continues to vote on behalf of the people of Arizona. -Yellow Sheet Report editor Hank Stephenson contributed to this article.
A Republican lawmaker sent nearly 100 pages of intimate letters to an agriculture lobbyist, shedding light on an apparent love affair that has put one of them at the center of controversy and the other under formal investigation by her employer.
Although both deny having a romantic relationship, the letters show the deep affection Rep. David Cook has for AnnaMarie Knorr, a lobbyist with the Western Growers Association, and his intimate familiarity with her personal life, raising the spectre of a potential conflict of interest.
While it’s natural for Cook, a rancher from Globe, to sponsor and vote for legislation benefiting agricultural interests and the Growers Association, his letters create questions whether he remains objective in his capacity as a state representative, or whether the groups Knorr works for receive preferential treatment from Cook.
In the letters, Cook talked at length both about his affection for Knorr and also about state business.
“I deeply love you, and on many occasions I find myself trying to protect me from being hurt by having these deep feelings for you,” he wrote in one letter.
In another section, he mentions a fundraiser he attended. He speculates that Knorr’s father, powerful cattle industry lobbyist Bas Aja, did not contribute to the group holding the fundraiser “because of you.”
House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, told the Arizona Capitol Times that although he was aware of the rumors swirling around Knorr’s and Cook’s apparent affair, he did not have enough information to offer a specific comment.
He said that he hadn’t read the letters, though he wasn’t happy with the situation.
“If you ask me if I like it, I don’t like it at all,” he said.
Bowers said he hasn’t launched any kind of formal inquiry into the matter but will do his own investigation before deciding if any formal action is necessary, noting he has yet to talk to Cook about the allegations.
“I’m going to investigate it. To come to some opinion, I need to read letters. I need to know – is there a background to this? What’s the situation in its entirety?” he said.
Cook has not been removed from any of his committee assignments and is still voting on legislation. That’s a stark contrast to how the Western Growers Association has handled matters on its end.
Dave Puglia, executive vice president of the Western Growers Assn, said in a written statement that his organization is “aware of the allegations of professional misconduct by one of our employees,” and that the organization placed Knorr on administrative leave pending an investigation.
The group said Knorr has denied the allegations.
“Western Growers holds itself and its employees to the highest standards of professional conduct. We are also committed to the fundamental notions of fairness and due process. Therefore, Ms. Knorr has been placed on administrative leave pending our investigation into the matter. We will have no further comment while the investigation is pending,” Puglia said.
Cook has been the prime sponsor of several bills Knorr backed on behalf of her clients, and she contributed $455 to Cook’s campaigns in 2018 and this year.
Cook started writing the signed and handwritten love letters to Knorr after she took time off from work to focus on her health last fall.
Although Cook initially denied knowing anything about the letters, he eventually insisted that his relationship with Knorr is purely platonic.
“OK, all I can say is my friends, when I’ve needed help, have been there to help me. And I will be there to help my friends in whatever struggle they’re going through,” Cook told Capitol Times’ sister publication, Yellow Sheet Report, which first broke the news of the letters.
Knorr has not returned multiple calls seeking comment, but the Arizona Republic later reported that Knorr said their relationship was not inappropriate and that she and Cook are the subject of a smear campaign by her husband and her father, who she said didn’t want her to end her marriage.
Aja didn’t respond to the Republic’s attempt to get his side of the story, but told the Yellow Sheet Report that’s not what it’s about.
“We want to limit the exposure to very bad influences in her life. As a father, my primary concern is my daughter and the family, not the state Capitol,” he said in a text message.
Cook was arrested for drunk driving in December 2018 with a blood alcohol content of nearly twice the legal limit. He pleaded guilty to DUI after prosecutors agreed to drop the extreme DUI charge. As part of that plea deal, Cook attended a court-mandated substance abuse treatment program.
Aja makes several appearances in Cook’s letters to Knorr, including one passage where Cook laments that Aja is trying to keep them apart.
“Last night I could not stand it anymore and answered your dad’s text. The one where he said not to text, email or call you. I replied ‘What ever you think – you should never have stopped trusting me.’ The truth is, he never did. I was and am just a tool to him – to be used. But that’s OK,” Cook wrote.
Some letters were adorned with sketches and hearts, even a portion of a crossword puzzle he drew for her. In others, he talked about work, legislation, water policy and the Drought Contingency Plan, interspersed with romantic passages.
In one section, he references a trip he wanted to take with other lawmakers in a helicopter owned by Salt River Project to see highway traffic as part of his plan to secure funding for the North-South Pinal Corridor, asking Knorr for advice on who else to invite on the ride.
The House has no formal rules prohibiting relationships between lawmakers and lobbyists. But lobbyists must obey two sets of rules, according to veteran Arizona lobbyist Barry Aarons, the written rules and the unwritten.
On one hand, they have to follow the law, which means there are limits on the exchange of goods, cash or favors between a lobbyist and a legislator. On the other hand, lobbyists are also “governed by unwritten rules of propriety and optics,” he said.
This means that lobbyists have to be conscious of their relationships with lawmakers so as not to create the perception of improper behavior or a conflict of interest.
Aarons quoted former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, who, when asked to define obscenity, answered: “I know it when I see it.”
He hesitated to speak directly on the Cook allegations, though he pointed out there is no evidence of either party exchanging sex for favors.
“Do I have lawmakers I consider friends? Yes,” he said. “Have I written them 100 letters? Of course not.”
Female lobbyists in particular must deal with a perception, however unearned, that they’ll engage in inappropriate relationships with lawmakers, said Amy Love, a longtime Supreme Court lobbyist who now works in communications.
“I always thought it was best not to go to lunch, not to go to drinks,” she said. “Even with the great lengths I went to, there were still rumors that were completely untrue.”
This is the third major, public scandal involving a House Republican in as many years. In 2018, the House voted to expel then-Rep. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, after several women came forward with allegations of sexual harassment against him. The next year, Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, resigned after refusing to cooperate with an ethics probe into 1983 charges that he molested two young boys while living in Maryland.
And while Cook’s 2018 DUI was overshadowed by more salacious stories about Stringer, House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez said it also damaged the House’s ability to work. Fernandez, D-Yuma, said she considers Cook’s behavior “sophomoric,” but that whether he should resign over it is a decision he’ll have to make.
“Since I’ve been here, it was Shooter and Stringer, and then Cook and now Cook again. I gotta tell you, and I’m not acting like Pollyanna because I am not Pollyanna, this puts a real dark cloud over the session already,” said Fernandez. “We were all very excited about coming back.”
Julia Shumway and Dillon Rosenblatt contributed to the reporting of this story.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated from its original form to include more information as well as quotes from House Speaker Rusty Bowers, Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, lobbyist Barry Aarons and former lobbyist Amy Love.
The House Ethics investigation into Republican state Rep. David Cook has been not-so-quietly chugging along, even as the Legislature as a whole sits in suspended animation while the House and Senate work out their differences and decide on a timeline for ending the session.
Cook sat down May 14 for his first interview with the probe’s lawyers, a team led by Ballard Spahr attorney Mark Kokanovich. He came into the session with added firepower, having hired Arizona GOP general counsel Dennis Wilenchik, a veteran political attorney, to attend the interview.
The interview comes on the heels of a letter from Cook’s wife Diana, reiterating the family’s belief that the probe amounts to a witch hunt furthered by bad actors. And now, one of those actors – a private investigator of indeterminate backing who has been investigating Cook – said he’s filing an ethics complaint of his own out of concerns that the House isn’t taking the probe seriously enough.
Wilenchik said he’s not representing Cook on behalf of the GOP; rather, he sees Cook as a man falsely accused of “irrelevant” indiscretions by his political enemies, he said May 13.
“Based on what I’ve reviewed, I don’t see any basis for the probe at all,” Wilenchik said.
As a refresher: the pair of complaints submitted to the House Ethics Committee allege that Cook had a romantic relationship with an agricultural lobbyist named AnnaMarie Knorr, a family friend, and that Cook used his position in eastern Arizona politics to help Knorr and her family get out of paying taxes on business property.
The first complaint came from a woman claiming to be a constituent who read media reports about hundreds of pages of what appear to be love letters between Cook and Knorr, though she has no direct knowledge of the case. The second came from a Pinal County politico named Kevin Cavanaugh who claims to know that Cook worked with Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb to help Knorr get out of paying off debt owed on her land under the guise of a policy change.
“This was private correspondence between two people,” Wilenchik said, asserting that nothing in the letters proves the two had a sexual relationship. Both deny that it was anything more than platonic.
The interview May 14 caps off what’s been something of a bizarre two weeks for the probe. On May 5, Cook forwarded to his fellow lawmakers a letter he said was authored by his wife, Diana, alleging harassment by a series of private investigators – the most recent complaint from Cook’s side about the conduct of those looking into his private affairs.
In the email, Diana Cook writes that the family is being “incessantly stalked” by private investigators working for either the House Ethics Committee’s lawyers or “the lousy husband or father” of lobbyist AnnaMarie Knorr.
Diana Cook details a handful of interactions with suspected and confirmed private investigators, including an episode where she claims that one attempted to climb a wall to a home the Cooks own in Mesa, and another time where a private investigator allegedly claimed to be a police officer and flashed his gun to Cook.
The same two cars have been following the family around, she said, leading the family to call the police on multiple occasions. “Welcome to life these days for the Cooks…” she wrote in the letter.
Cook sent the Yellow Sheet Report, a sister publication of the Arizona Capitol Times, several photos of what he says are the cars stalking him and his family, along with a photo of a Maricopa County Sheriff’s deputy’s business card with a report number on it, though he said he doesn’t yet have the actual report.
Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, who leads the House probe, denied that he’s part of some “big conspiracy” involving sneaking around private residences or carrying guns.
“I have no interest in peering over anybody’s fences,” Allen said. “All I want them to do is provide the information I ask for.”
Allen said the committee hasn’t directly hired any private investigators, though he didn’t know whether the same could be said for the outside legal counsel the committee has retained. Kokanovich wouldn’t confirm whether his team has hired private investigators, though it seems clear they did. In the House Ethics Committee’s investigation into former Rep. David Stringer, the probe brought on a P.I. named Swain Granieri.
Cook said that he got a voicemail from Granieri earlier in the year while traveling in Mexico, and shared a screenshot of the voicemail transcription with the Capitol Times. He has no evidence of Granieri doing anything more than leaving a cordial voicemail.
But it appears he’s not the only private investigator on the case, and it’s unclear who’s footing the bill for the others.
Cook said that on May 10 he saw police pulling over a car in his Globe neighborhood that he recognized.
“I thought, ‘Son of a butt, man, that’s that damn car where the guy was trying to jump my fence in Mesa.’ Sure as sh*t, it was the same license plate,” he said.
He approached police and told his story, he said, and police told him the man identified himself as a private investigator. The PI, former cop Jax Atwell, gave police a copy of his business card, which police shared with Cook and he shared with the Capitol Times.
Atwell confirmed he’s investigating Cook, though he declined to reveal the name of his client or share much else – other than that what he claims is a major development in the case is coming down the pike.
Atwell is a burly, tattooed investigator with an eye for the limelight who has starred in a History Channel docu-series called Missing in Alaska, among other programs. The nature of the role he’s playing is, like much else, unclear.
“I don’t know what they’re doing or who’s paying them but they’re wasting their damn time and money,” Cook said. “I hope it’s not our [tax] money.”
Since news broke of their apparent romance, the fates of Rep. David Cook and lobbyist AnnaMarie Knorr have diverged.
Cook, a Republican from Globe, has continued to serve on committees, to vote on legislation and to testify on bills he has authored, even as the House Ethics Committee probes two separate complaints about his conduct.
Knorr, on the other hand, was placed on administrative leave by her employer, the Western Growers’ Association, pending an investigation into whether her alleged relationship with Cook presented ethical violations.
That investigation commenced almost immediately after dozens of love letters Cook wrote to Knorr surfaced in the media, whereas leadership in the House took no official action until a pair of complaints materialized two weeks after the initial news reports.
Cook and Knorr have maintained that their relationship is proper, and platonic. Regardless, the fact that one is on leave while the other remains in the public eye highlights the different standards between the Legislature — where lawmakers have balked at adopting a code of conduct — and private sector firms, where experts say written expectations on proper interpersonal relationships are near universal.
“The culture in political environments is one that would never fly in a corporate or professional environment,” said Jonathan Lockwood, a GOP political consultant who has worked in statehouses in Oregon and Colorado. “There’s cozy relationships. There’s long hours. There’s all of these events with alcohol.”
While the House eventually launched an investigation into Cook — both into whether his relationship with Knorr represents a conflict of interest and whether he had helped her get out of paying back taxes — Republicans in the Senate continue to bury allegations that Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita sexually harassed a lobbyist and threatened the woman for speaking out.
Just as Cook and Knorr have faced disparate consequences, the divergent treatment of allegations in each chamber shows the lack of uniform policy governing interpersonal relationships in the Legislature. In one body, the House Ethics Committee’s investigation, if slow to start, is building steam.
And in the other, while Democrats in the Senate have called for an investigation into newly public allegations that Ugenti-Rita and her now-husband pressured a female lobbyist to join them for sex, Republican leaders including Senate President Karen Fann dismissed the allegations as old, already-investigated incidents.
“If anybody has any new complaint, if there’s a victim that says, ‘I have been harmed in some way,’ which is something new since a member was here at the Senate, I will gladly open up an investigation or send it to the Ethics Committee,” said Fann, R-Prescott.
‘WE’RE ALL ADULTS HERE’
Lobbyists straddle a divide between the private and public spheres.
In the corporate world, companies routinely adopt statements of ethics and clear-cut policies on how to handle conflicts of interest, workplace harassment and retaliation. Kyla Latrice, a Tennessee-based consultant who develops those written policies for clients, said having those procedures written down, read and signed by employees protects both companies and employees.
“The company and individuals can be protected, and it also sets a tone of a corporate culture,” Latrice said. “You have to teach them how to behave so people know how to be ethical.”
These policies protect the company from liability and ensure a healthy workplace, and they apply virtually everywhere.
“Every employer in Arizona should have an anti-harassment policy, particularly when it comes to sexual harassment,” said Jill Chasson, an employment lawyer with Coppersmith Brockelman.
But on the other side of the public-private sector divide, the Senate and House both lack codes of conduct, though drafts have been proposed. Both chambers have workplace harassment policies, and Fann said there’s no need to add more standards.
The chambers adopted sexual harassment policies in the fallout of Ugenti-Rita’s 2017 accusations against then-Rep. Don Shooter. At the time, Ugenti-Rita told TheArizona Republic the policy wouldn’t matter until both chambers adopted uniform policies and procedures for handling harassment.
House rules require the speaker of the House to create a code of conduct for House staff and state that House members must adopt a written code of conduct and harassment policy for themselves. The Senate’s rules lack those requirements.
In 2018, after Shooter’s expulsion, the two chambers created a joint committee to develop a code of conduct. But the Senate didn’t appoint members, and nothing came of the committee’s work.
“We have policies,” Fann said. “We have sexual harassment policies. You know, we’re all adults here.”
Trusting lawmakers to act like adults isn’t enough, said Diane Stegmeier, founder of the Ohio-based nonprofit organization Project WHEN (Workplace Harassment Ends Now). Project WHEN researches workplace harassment and provides resources for companies to prevent it.
“Adults act like children sometime or they act like teenagers sometime,” Stegmeier said. “What we’re finding is being specific creates the culture that you can’t twist around the words and say, ‘I didn’t know that’ or ‘I didn’t think it meant that.’”
And even if the two chambers had adopted codes of conduct, it takes more than a written policy to ensure a healthy organizational culture, Chasson said.
“The best preventative measure is to have a workplace culture that is based on respect and professionalism and treating each other with kindness,” she said. “And it has to be supported and modeled by leadership.”
Moreover, a sexual harassment policy doesn’t cover improper relationships that are ostensibly consensual, as is the case with Cook and Knorr. While conflict of interest policies in corporate workplaces are not as universal as harassment policies, many businesses have policies that govern interpersonal relationships between employees both in and out of the office, Chasson said.
The lobbyist-lawmaker relationship, while not the same as a boss-employee relationship, does present an inherent imbalance of power. In corporate America, it’s perhaps best mirrored by the relationship a salesperson has with a client or vendor.
Conflict of interest policies both ensure potential employees don’t favor one client over another as a result of a personal relationship and that mutual discomfort is avoided if the relationship goes sour.
“Employers have an obligation,” Chasson said.
Thus far, the only forceful Republican condemnation of Ugenti-Rita’s alleged behavior came from former Rep. Adam Kwasman, who filed to challenge her in her Senate primary this year.
“If this were the private sector — if she worked for me, she wouldn’t have lasted a single day [after the scandal broke],” Kwasman said. “She works for us, the voters of LD23. She forgot that she’s an employee, not a superior.”
But this is where the incongruence between corporate and public life is crucial. Ugenti-Rita and Cook are not employees of the Legislature — they’re elected officials who take up temporary residence at the Capitol at the behest of their constituents.
“This system is so much different,” said Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, who is leading the House’s investigation of Cook. “We are independently elected. You are a franchise of your voters, not of the House. We have mechanisms to overcome those elections, [which] are not the same as employment.”
In an ideal corporate environment, there are multiple channels through which potential victims can file complaints, Chasson said. Investigators interview the relevant parties, review and analyze evidence and “follow the facts where they lead you,” she said.
Then they must determine what the company’s liability is, which depends on whether the misbehavior occurred between two peers, a supervisor and subordinate or an employee and someone outside the company.
The Legislature’s process is similar. When Cook was arrested for a DUI in 2018, House leadership quickly removed him from his committee assignments. And the current ethics probe is following a model similar to the one Chasson describes.
But the point remains: Knorr is on leave, while Cook is still at work. And while neither are afforded the same due process that a suspect in a criminal investigation would have, Allen said one of the realities of an ethics investigation in the Legislature is that the subject of a probe remains at work unless it’s in the public’s interest to suspend them. After all, Cook works for the voters, not for House Speaker Rusty Bowers or Chief of Staff Michael Hunter.
STIRRING THE POT
A lack of clear and consistent policies between the two chambers also means Cook faces an investigation for an alleged consensual relationship while Ugenti-Rita, who allegedly made nonconsensual advances toward a lobbyist, remains free from scrutiny.
Senate Democrats who want an investigation into Ugenti-Rita say that she clearly violated the Senate’s sexual harassment policy, but they must find new allegations to push the issue.
Part of the lobbyist’s story — that Ugenti-Rita’s husband, Brian Townsend, a former adviser to Gov. Doug Ducey, sent her nude photos of Ugenti-Rita engaged in sexual activity — was included in a 2018 report produced by a team hired by the House of Representatives to investigate alleged harassment by Ugenti-Rita and Shooter.
Other details – including that Ugenti-Rita had the lobbyist do body shots off her, that she invited the lobbyist to her hotel room at a conference and urged her to stay the night and that she accosted the woman in a public restroom to call her a liar after the House investigation – only came out in a sworn deposition the woman provided under subpoena to Shooter’s defense attorneys for a defamation case Ugenti-Rita filed against him.
Although that House investigation did not appear to include those allegations, and although the bathroom incident happened after Ugenti-Rita had been elected to the Senate but before she was sworn in, Fann considers the matter dead.
“To keep stirring the pot on something that is already in litigation and has already been investigated, quite honestly, I’m very saddened that that’s where the media would rather go instead of, ‘Let’s talk about the policy and all the good stuff that’s going on around here,’” she said.
Yellow Sheet Report editor Hank Stephenson contributed to this report.
Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously stated Senate President Karen Fann voted for the expulsion of former Rep. Don Shooter. Fann was not a member of the House at the time of the vote in February 2018 and did not vote for the expulsion.
A second subpoena has been issued in the House Ethics probe into Rep. David Cook, an embattled Globe Republican who’s the subject of a pair of ethics complaints filed earlier in the year.
This new subpoena, filed even as the committee says its first document request remains unfulfilled, is an effort to acquire Cook’s phone and text records. Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, who’s leading the investigation, told the Arizona Capitol Times that he hopes the phone records can illuminate both Cook’s alleged affair with an agricultural lobbyist named AnnaMarie Knorr and a second allegation that he used his status to help Knorr and her family get out of paying back taxes on business property.
It’s the latest effort to compel Cook to hand over records relevant to the case. Allen issued the first subpoena last week, though he was mum as to its contents. What’s certain is that the committee’s attempts at producing documents have rubbed Cook and his counsel the wrong way.
Carmen Chenal, who’s representing Cook, didn’t have a specific response to the request for phone records, as that subpoena likely went to Cook’s phone company, not her. But she disputes that her client hasn’t complied with the investigation’s requests overall.
“His attorney believes that he is complying and we don’t,” Allen said.
At issue is whether a stack of documents that Cook delivered to the committee early in the investigation satisfies that first subpoena. Last week, Chenal told reporters that Cook had already handed over almost 160 pages of information. She’s now saying that he in fact gave the committee closer to 1,170 pages, chalking the difference up to a counting error — that she had meant to say around 160 individual documents that span almost 1,170 pages.
But Allen said the information Chenal is referencing documents that the House already had handy, such as communications on the lawmaker’s House email account or other public testimony. In short, he’s not satisfied.
“Much of that stuff came from us,” he said.
And he said the clock is ticking, as the deadline to comply with the subpoena has already passed — though he wouldn’t commit to any punitive steps.
This is frustrating to Chenal, who said she’s doing her best to comply with the subpoena even though she believes that the documents Cook handed over should be satisfactory.
She said there’s been a delay because she’s having to match certain pages with certain elements of the subpoena — work she says the House should be doing, not her.
“I’ve been telling the attorney, pages one to 11 deal with Bas [Aja], pages 12 to 20 deal with AnnaMarie [Knorr] … It’s a very tedious job. To put it bluntly, we have already responded to the subpoena,” she said.
Bas refers to Bas Aja, a powerful lobbyist for the cattle industry who also happens to be Knorr’s father. Aja has something of a mysterious role in the matter.
Both Knorr and Cook have denied having a romantic relationship, despite hundreds of pages of what appear to be love letters from the lawmaker to the lobbyist. Aja makes several appearances in the letters, including in one notable line when Cook accuses him of betrayal.
“I texted your dad saying how he stabbed me in the back and it is OK – but that he is hiding from the truth,” one page reads.
Knorr told the Arizona Republic in January that Aja and her husband are attempting to smear her and Cook, an effort to force her to stay in a troubled marriage. She’s since left her lobbying shop, the Western Growers Association, following an internal investigation.
The ethics probe into Cook has accelerated even as the legislative session is stuck in COVID-19 purgatory. And now Chenal is threatening to take the committee to court — a claim she first made last week — if it doesn’t reveal what’s in its investigative file.
She wants to know what ammunition the committee has before she lets her client sit down for an interview, something she said she’s prepared to do in the first or second week of May. This is standard practice in a courtroom, but the House isn’t governed by any rules that demand the committee release its documents prior to the completion of an investigation.
She filed a public records request for that information that the committee has heretofore rebuffed. Now, she’s willing to get a judge to force their hand.
“They don’t want to give us anything,” she said. “It’s not fair. I don’t care that their rules don’t say you’re supposed to do that. It’s just what’s done.”
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