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Head of Arizona GOP resigns after seeming to try to bribe Kari Lake to skip U.S. Senate race

By Ben Giles
Published: Wednesday, January 24, 2024 - 12:18pm
Updated: Thursday, January 25, 2024 - 10:48am

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Gage Skidmore/CC BY 2.0
Kari Lake (left) and Jeff DeWit

The chair of the Arizona Republican Party resigned Wednesday following the release of a surreptitiously-recorded conversation in which he tried to bribe failed gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake to stay out of this year’s U.S. Senate race.

A 10-minute audio recording, published by the Daily Mail of London on Tuesday, revealed a conversation between Lake and Arizona Republican Party Chair Jeff DeWit. In it, Lake is offered various deals – to be put on a company payroll, or financial compensation — in exchange for taking “a pause for a couple of years” from running for public office.

“There are very powerful people who want to keep you out, and what they’re willing to do is put their money where their mouth is in a big way,” DeWit said.

It’s not illegal, or unheard of, for top party officials to attempt to clear the field of unfavorable candidates in order to pave the way for a preferred alternative. In this circumstance, DeWit raised concerns about Lake’s ability to fundraise enough money to win the U.S. Senate race, as well as former President Donald Trump’s ability to win another election – and by association, Lake’s own electability.

“I’m not even sure Trump can win again,” DeWit said. “I don’t know that he can win.”

But DeWit also appeared well aware of the optics of attempting to buy off Lake. In the recording, he repeatedly cast himself as a messenger for powerful people “back east” and asked for Lake’s discretion.

“This conversation never happened,” DeWit said.

“If you say no, which is fine, it’s your choice, don’t tell people,” he added.

In a statement released Wednesday, DeWit characterized the conversation as “an open, unguarded exchange between friends” that Lake recorded in a violation of his trust. He also said the audio recording provided to the Daily Mail was “selectively edited.” By his own characterization, DeWit was advising Lake to postpone her U.S. Senate campaign and instead focus on running for governor again in 2026.

“It was a suggestion made in good faith, believing it could benefit both her future prospects and the party’s overall strategy,” DeWit said. “The release of our conversation by Lake confirms a disturbing tendency to exploit private interactions for personal gain.”

DeWit went on to raise concerns that Lake may have a trove of secret recordings from conversations with other GOP officials, including Trump.

Lake made it clear she has more recordings of conversations with DeWit — in his statement, DeWit said Lake issued an ultimatum for him to resign Wednesday or “face the release of new, more damaging recordings.”

Lake publicly called for DeWit’s resignation on Tuesday, telling KTAR that the audio was “reprehensible.” On Wednesday, two top advisors to Lake issued a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter, denying that anyone from her campaign “threatened or blackmailed DeWit.”

The leak of the conversation, which the Daily Mail reported took place in March 2023, comes ahead of a crucial juncture for DeWit and the state Republican Party. Trump will headline a fundraising rally for the Arizona GOP on Friday, the eve of the party’s annual organizing meeting on Saturday.

The party will now have to choose a successor for DeWit, whose tenure as party chair has been marred by financial struggles following repeated statewide losses for the Republican Party under the previous chair, Kelli Ward.

Lake is the leading candidate to win the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, having already secured Trump’s endorsement when she announced her candidacy last fall. Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego is vying for his own party’s nomination, while it remains unclear if incumbent Sen. Krysten Sinema — a former Democrat turned independent – will run for reelection.

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