Jan 24, 2024 - Politics

Arizona GOP chair resigning after Kari Lake recording surfaces

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - JAN. 28: Jeff DeWit, a candidate for chairman of the Republican Party of Arizona, speaks during the Republican Party of Arizona Statutory Meeting at Dream City Church on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2022 in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Jeff DeWit speaks in Scottsdale last January. Photo: Rebecca Noble for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Arizona Republican Party chair Jeff DeWit is resigning, per a statement Wednesday, after a recording surfaced in which he conveyed an offer from "very powerful people" to give Kari Lake a job in exchange for staying out of the 2024 U.S. Senate race.

Why it matters: The recording and resignation throws the state party into turmoil as it attempts to regroup after four years of tough losses, and as the paths to the presidency and Senate control could trek through Arizona.

Driving the news: DeWit called the audio posted Tuesday by DailyMail.com "selectively edited" and accused Lake of betraying his trust, in a statement issued by the AZGOP.

  • "Contrary to accusations of bribery, my discussions were transparent and intended to offer perspective, not coercion," DeWit said.
  • He said in his statement he believes Lake set him up and orchestrated the situation to gain control over the state party, and that she "crafted her performance responses" knowing that she was recording the conversation to use later "to portray herself as a hero in her own story."
  • "Since our conversation where I advised Lake to postpone her campaign and aim for the Governor's position in two years, she has been on a mission to destroy me," he said, per the statement.

The intrigue: DeWit said he was determined as of Wednesday morning to hold his position, but Lake's team threatened to release another, more damaging recording if he didn't resign.

The other side: "The tape speaks for itself ... thankfully Kari is an extremely ethical person who rejected DeWit's multiple attempts to offer her money and corporate board seats in exchange for Kari not running for public office," Lake senior advisers Caroline Wren and Garrett Ventry said in a statement to Axios.

  • They said no one from Lake's campaign "threatened or blackmailed DeWit," adding the state party "must be relieved to have his resignation.
  • "Now we can focus on getting ethical leadership and win big in 2024."

Between the lines: In his statement, DeWit said Lake was working for him at the time she recorded their conversation.

Context: In the recording, DeWit told Lake that unnamed people from "back east" wanted her to take a two-year break from politics and wanted her out of the U.S. Senate race. The DailyMail.com reported the exchange took place in March 2023.

  • In the conversation, DeWit said Lake would receive a job in exchange for the proposed "pause."
  • "Is there a number at which," DeWit said, before Lake interrupted, "I can be bought?"

Lake unequivocally rejected the offer, per the recording, telling DeWit: "I'm not going to let these people back in D.C. to tell me not to run. I'm not going to pause for two years. The battle is now. I'm offended by whoever these people are that they're trying to buy me out."

  • Lake deemed the offer an attempt to defeat former President Trump, with whom she's closely allied and campaigned for in Iowa and New Hampshire during the primaries.

Of note: A spokesperson for the Arizona attorney general's office told Axios Phoenix the office "does not comment on any pending or potential investigations" when asked whether AG Kris Mayes' team would investigate Lake's bribery allegations.

The big picture: Lake launched her Senate campaign in October and is expected to cruise to the GOP nomination. She's anticipated to face presumptive Democratic nominee U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, while Democrat-turned-independent incumbent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema hasn't announced whether she'll seek re-election.

What's next: Trump is scheduled to headline the AZGOP's Freedom Fest event on Friday in Phoenix.

  • The AZGOP's state committee is scheduled to meet Saturday.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to say the AZGOP's Freedom Fest event on Jan. 26 will be held in Phoenix, not in the town of Cave Creek.

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