(The Center Square) – Arizona State Rep. Liz Harris faced the House Ethics Committee on Thursday over her decision to call a witness to an election hearing in which many lawmakers were falsely accused of being tied to the Sinaloa Cartel. While no ruling was made, committee Chairman Joseph Chaplik said they're examining the evidence to ultimately decide on retribution for Harris, if any.
"As a House member, Representative Harris is entitled to due process, and today's meeting of the Committee satisfied that constitutional guarantee," he said in a statement after the hearing. "For now, the Committee has adjourned to allow the members to fully review the evidence and deliberate."
As previously reported, Scottsdale insurance agent Jacqueline Breger spoke to the Senate Elections and House Municipal Oversight & Elections committees on Feb. 23. Speaking on behalf of her boyfriend, John Thaler of Scottsdale, Breger presented a conspiracy that tied the Sinaloa Cartel to a money laundering operation that implicated some of Harris' fellow lawmakers, law enforcement, judges, religious institutions and other state officials. When asked, Breger indicated Harris invited her.
The complaint was filed earlier this month by Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton. The Tucson Democrat said in her complaint that Harris is guilty of disorderly conduct.
"I watched the video of the Joint Committee testimony in shock," Stahl Hamilton said. "I simply cannot understand how Representative Harris could have concluded that it would be appropriate to invite Ms. Breger to testify and spread such blatant falsehoods."
Stahl Hamilton said allowing Breger to testify before legislative members gave the allegations the appearance of credibility.
Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, repeatedly asked if Harris and Breger were "pre-coordinating" before the hearing to give the presentation, citing text messages among other evidence presented.
"Rep. Grantham, absolutely positively 100% no," Harris said, stressing that she didn't know Breger would present that content in her presentation.
Records provided by legislative staff indicate Harris and Breger texted each other before the hearing. In one instance, Harris said the presentation Breger planned would have to be submitted to House Speaker Ben Toma, who was implicated in the claims.
"For that reason, I am suggesting handouts on day of...Agree?" Harris texted.
"Perfect!" Breger replied.
Chaplik asked if Harris believed that the hearing was an "appropriate" setting to accuse others of criminal activity, to which Harris said that she does not "believe" those types of allegations were made and if they were, it wouldn't be the appropriate setting.
Toward the end of the first open session, Harris said that what happened did not meet the bar for "disorderly conduct" outlined in the complaint.