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After seeming to bribe Senate hopeful Kari Lake not to run, Arizona GOP chair resigns

Arizona Republican U.S. senate candidate Kari Lake, arrives for an evening rally with Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump, during the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary on Tuesday.
David Goldman
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AP
Arizona Republican U.S. senate candidate Kari Lake, arrives for an evening rally with Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump, during the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary on Tuesday.

The head of the Arizona Republican Party resigned Wednesday following the release of a surreptitiously recorded conversation of him seemingly trying to bribe 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, a Trump loyalist who unsuccessfully ran for governor of Arizona in 2022, and Arizona Republican Party Chair Jeff DeWit. In it, DeWit appears to offers Lake 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 the audio recording, 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, a MAGA firebrand with a national profile. 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 this file photo, former Arizona State Treasurer Jeff DeWit steps into an elevator at Trump Tower on Nov. 15, 2016, in New York. Arizona Republicans selected DeWit to be the party's chairman in 2023. On Wednesday, he resigned amid a seeming bribery scandal with Republican U.S. senate candidate Kari Lake.
Carolyn Kaster / AP
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AP
In this file photo, former Arizona state Treasurer Jeff DeWit steps into an elevator at Trump Tower in New York on Nov. 15, 2016. Arizona Republicans selected DeWit to be the party's chairman in 2023. On Wednesday, he resigned amid a seeming bribery scandal with Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kari Lake.

In a statement released Wednesday, DeWit accused Lake of being the Daily Mail's unidentified source. He denied he attempted to bribe Lake, and instead characterized the conversation as "an open, unguarded exchange between friends" that Lake recorded in a violation of his trust.

DeWit 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.

"I question how effective a United States Senator can be when they cannot be trusted to engage in private and confidential conversations," he said.

In this file photo from 2022, then-Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, right, speaks as former President Donald Trump listens during a rally in Oct. 2022, in Mesa, Ariz.
Matt York / AP
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AP
In this file photo from 2022, then-Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, right, speaks as former President Donald Trump listens during a rally in Oct. 2022, in Mesa, Ariz.

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."

A spokesperson for Lake's U.S. Senate campaign could not immediately be reached for comment. Lake, who has denied that she was the Daily Mail's source, publicly called for DeWit's resignation on Tuesday, telling KTAR that the audio was "reprehensible."

The leak of the conversation, which the Daily Mail reported took place in March 2023, comes ahead of a crucial juncture for the Arizona 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, whosetenure 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 in Arizona, 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.

Copyright 2024 KJZZ

Corrected: January 23, 2024 at 9:00 PM PST
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Kari Lake unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2024. She ran in 2022.
Ben Giles