Ethics Committee says Liz Harris damaged the integrity of the House, should be punished
The panel unanimously rejected her testimony that she did nothing wrong and didn’t know about wild conspiracies beforehand
Republican state Rep. Liz Harris engaged in disorderly conduct, violating rules of the Arizona House of Representatives and “damaging the institutional integrity of the House,” the House Committee on Ethics announced Tuesday.
The panel said the full House of Representatives should determine what disciplinary measures to take against her. Legislative rules give the body wide latitude to punish members, including censuring or even expelling them.
Harris faced the House Ethics Committee on March 30, after Democrats asked for her to be formally censured for inviting real estate agent Jacqueline Breger to a Feb. 23 joint House and Senate elections committee meeting. In her testimony, Breger accused numerous local and state officials, including members of the legislature, of involvement in a money laundering scheme that involved a Mexican drug cartel and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
The Ethics Committee unanimously found that Harris engaged in disorderly conduct in violation of House rules.
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Harris did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Arizona Mirror.
Breger provided no proof of her wild and unfounded allegations, but that didn’t stop them from spreading like wildfire, fueled by fringe conservative media.
While Harris claimed during the Ethics Committee hearing that no criminal allegations were made during Breger’s Feb. 23 presentation, the panel rejected that claim, finding that the legislative record contradicted Harris’s testimony.
The committee also rejected Harris’s testimony that she was not aware that Breger would make criminal allegations during her presentation, citing text messages between Harris and Breger before the meeting that indicated the opposite. The committee specifically highlighted a text exchange between Harris and Breger as they were working to come up with a name for Breger’s presentation.
“We are trying to think of something that won’t raise a red flag,” Breger wrote to Harris in a text message.
The committee also noted that Harris discovered Breger through a press release about an upcoming book release by John Thaler, Breger’s boyfriend. The book, which was a point of focus during the election committee presentation, highlights the supposed housing deed money laundering scheme, along with allegations of bribery.
The Ethics Committee also found that Harris’s warning to Breger prior to her presentation that she was not to impugn any member of the legislature or bring up any religious institution meant that she knew Breger intended to make allegations against members of the legislature and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
“In other words, that Representative Harris believed it necessary to make those requests of Breger suggests that she—at the very least—had reason to believe that they could be included in the presentation,” the Ethics Committee wrote in its report.
In addition, the committee found that Harris “took steps to avoid compliance with internal House deadlines, which required disclosure of Breger’s presentation in advance” of the elections committee meeting. Harris told Breger that all electronic presentations would have to be sent to House Speaker Ben Toma by the day prior to the presentation, so Harris advised her to pass out paper handouts instead.
Toma was one of the legislators listed in those handouts as being involved in bribery and the housing deed scheme.
“Representative Harris’s inconsistent testimony leads the Committee to believe that she had a more detailed understanding of Breger’s presentation than she led the Joint Elections Committee to believe, and that Representative Harris had hoped to avoid providing the presentation to House leadership before the hearing,” the Ethics Committee wrote in its report.
“The committee finds that Representative Harris was not surprised or upset by Breger’s testimony and rejects Representative Harris’s testimony to the contrary,” the committee wrote in its report. “Representative Harris wrote that she knew that the Joint Elections Committee would shut down the presentation, and that doing so took the committee ‘longer than [she] thought’ it would. These messages show that not only was Representative Harris not taken by surprise by the presentation or ‘shocked’ by the inclusion of the table naming persons alleged to have accepted bribes, but that she expected the precise reception that it received.”
The Ethics Committee then found that, as the primary organizer of the Joint Elections Committee Meeting, and the acting vice chair of the committee during Breger’s presentation, Harris “violated the inherent obligation to protect the integrity of the House.”
The Ethics Committee pointed out that Harris didn’t try to stop Breger as she made unfounded allegations on Feb. 23, but that it was Republican Sen. Ken Bennett who finally stopped Breger and accused her of impugning members of the legislature.
“The absence of any action or reaction by Representative Harris further undermines her testimony that she was oblivious of what Breger would present,” the Ethics Committee wrote.
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