Arizona State Representative Noel Campbell blasted the House Ethics Committee in an email sent to all of the House members, lamenting that the Committee itself functions unethically and targets individual members for prosecution rather than investigation.
Campbell singled out the House’s current investigation into two complaints against State Representative David Cook that Campbell calls a “witch-hunt” that has strayed far from what should have been its legitimate purpose. He described the process as utterly devoid of due process, with no rights to face one’s accusers, testimony being taken without witnesses being under oath, and without perjury worries for anyone who has an ax to grind and knowingly lies.
Campbell has served in the House for nearly eight years and has witnessed a number of Ethics investigations, including high-profile cases like Don Shooter’s and David Stringer’s, and he believes that these investigations have turned into media circuses that are “now about settling scores and satiating the media’s appetite.”
The complaints against Cook appear weak or based entirely on hearsay, with allegations that he was involved in an inappropriate relationship with a lobbyist, and a separate one claiming he offered to facilitate a bribe to the Pinal County Sheriff to assist with a tax seizure. Regarding the accusation of bribery, numerous elected officials including the Pinal County Sheriff have described it as a joke and a smear and described the person who filed the complaint as a serial accuser who has been pursuing the Sheriff for a very long time.
Regarding the allegations of an affair, the lobbyist herself spoke to the media when the story first broke and described a very different situation — one where she was dealing with a bad husband and a vindictive father, who were targeting David Cook as a way of punishing Cook and his wife Diana for standing by her side during the struggle. The lobbyist revealed that it was her own father who leaked the documents to the news media in an effort to isolate her personally from the Cooks and to force her into greater financial dependence by threatening her livelihood.
“All I can tell you is Mr. Cook and I have never had an inappropriate relationship,” Knorr said in remarks to the Arizona Republic when the story first broke. “All his family has done is supported me through one of the toughest periods of my life. They’re trying to make this into something else.”
She said her father has sided with her husband: “They don’t think I should get a divorce. They are also trying everything they can to make me feel I have to stay married.”
She said her family is “disowning me and trying to ruin me,” over her decision to end her marriage.
Knorr’s father is Bas Aja, a longtime and very powerful lobbyist at the State Capitol. One Capitol observer, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, said that Aja’s reputation had taken “a huge hit with members, most of whom can’t believe he would try to destroy his own daughter publicly like that.” But the observer believed Aja would remain a force at least in the short term because of his close and long friendship with House Speaker Rusty Bowers. “Those two are like brothers or something, and Rusty will protect Bas, and the members know that, so no one is really going to mess with Bas Aja as long as Bowers is Speaker.”
The case took another interesting twist when then House Ethics Chairman TJ Shope recused himself because he was Cook’s seatmate. Bowers appointed Cook foe John Allen as Chairman, and the committee hired the firm of Ballard Spahr to conduct the investigation, with Mark Kokanovich slated to take the lead. The Kokanovich hiring stood out to longtime elections attorney Timothy LaSota who described him as a “hyper-partisan liberal” and referred the Arizona Yellow Sheet Report to an “op-ed he authored with other federal prosecutors criticizing Rachel Mitchell for her role in the confirmation of US Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh (LINK), and a letter he co-signed, again with other former prosecutors, saying Trump should be prosecuted over the Mueller report (LINK).” LaSota was “stunned” the GOP Chairman of the Ethics Committee would hire a far-left activist if the goal was to produce an investigation that would be credible in the eyes of the GOP majority. “He’s shown himself to be first and foremost an ultra-partisan Democrat.” said LaSota of Kokanovich. Some lawmakers defended Kokanovich as a competent attorney who successfully lead the prosecution of David Stringer and forced his expulsion, but that defense seems to support Campbell’s contention in his letter to the House membership that the committee has changed from one that investigates to determine guilt or innocence, to one that presumes guilt and seeks to prosecute the accused.
Campbell’s letter is reprinted below:
My fellow House Members:
I hope this note finds you all well and safe with your families. I’m writing to share my concerns about the new direction of the House Ethics Committee process based on what I’ve seen over my years as a member of this body. I am particularly concerned over what is currently transpiring with the “investigation” of Representative David Cook.
The Ethics Committee must serve a singular important purpose: to review legitimate allegations of misconduct by members and determine whether or not any misconduct occurred. Therefore, it serves first and foremost as a fact-finding body. But sadly, as it now stands, this is only a distant memory.
More and more, the House Ethics Committee serves not as an investigative body, but as a de facto prosecutor. At considerable expense to the taxpayers, the Committee hires “outsiders” who brag about their prosecutorial backgrounds instead of their investigative backgrounds. Due process does not seem to exist in any traditional or legally recognizable form. Testimony may or may not be under oath — depending on who you are. As a result, individuals get to make inaccurate or dishonest accusations with no fear of consequence as is found in our legal system.
Likewise, discovery and the right to face one’s accusers are also absent from much of the process. None of this is healthy, remotely fair, or frankly ethical. The Committee must not measure its success merely by whether or not a member is expelled or forced to resign. A fair process must remain paramount.
The case of Representative Cook is illustrative because, according to media reports, he faces two complaints. The first is based entirely on hearsay from a lady who says she “read about him in the Yellow Sheet.” Based upon what she read, the woman claims he should now be investigated for his voting record. The second is from someone who claims Rep. Cook was facilitating bribes to the Pinal County Sheriff in return for special treatment for his friend.
These two charges should be simple enough to investigate. Answer the question if the events transpired and take appropriate disciplinary action if necessary. Instead, the Committee announced they prefer to follow this “new direction” of ethics investigation. Now, anyone with any grievance against Rep. Cook should make their way to the Committee to be heard. This makes the process more of a witch-hunt than an investigation. This bodes poorly for the House and all of its members.
This current process may not bother you because it does not affect you — yet. However, it is imperative we maintain due process because it may target you or someone you care about someday. I will not be a member of this body much longer, so I am safe from the Committee’s reach. But correcting this process should be a top priority. I sincerely urge you all to consider what needs to be fixed and then fix it.
Please understand I believe members who violate the public trust must be punished. My years in the military and law enforcement drilled this moral code into me. I also believe any just system must be blind to personal animosity and devoid of any political agenda. This is a product of my personal values and core beliefs.
Unfortunately, I believe the House Ethics Committee process has lost its way. The process — which should be about discovery and truth — is now about settling scores and satiating the media’s appetite. I have witnessed members who are targeted, or given a pass, for reasons which have nothing to do with the accusations made or their relative merit. Make your voices heard, before it devours any more of you.