PHOENIX – In an email sent recently to Arizona State House members, Representative Noel Campbell of Prescott revealed that the office of House Speaker Rusty Bowers was involved in leaking information to the media, in what appears to be a deliberate attempt to do damage to State Representative David Cook. Cook has been targeted by a powerful lobbyist named Bas Aja , apparently for reasons related to ongoing disputes between Bas and his daughter, lobbyist AnnaMarie Knorr.
There have been two accusations of leaks: the first came from Bas Aja himself, who testified in court that private letters from Cook to Knorr, that had been stolen from her by her estranged husband and given to Aja, were not distributed in anonymous packages to members of the media by Aja, as most people believed. Rather, Aja told the court that he only gave the letters to Speaker Bowers and his Chief of Staff Michael Hunter. The prospect that the Speakers Office was the source of the letters provided to the media was quickly shot down by a spokesperson for the Speaker’s Office, who denied the accusation.
But Campbell disclosed to the House members that one of the documents turned up by investigators working for the House Ethics Committee was an email from Kevin Cavanaugh, one of the two complainants. It appears that Cavanaugh sought advice from the House attorney on filing a complaint, and the attorney provided him with a copy of the rules and instructions on how to file a proper complaint. Several hours later, Cavanaugh emailed him back to complain about leaks from the Speaker’s office. In his email, Cavanaugh complained that less than an hour after he had spoken with the House attorney, he was bombarded with phone calls from members of the media who wanted to know about the complaint he was filing against Cook. Cavanaugh wrote:
“I am not sure about your internal procedures, but to have a member leak such a sensitive item when I have not yet even delivered a notarized complaint does not present well for the ethics committee. I assumed the information was sent to all media after receiving calls – and later learned that the House officially characterized my information as ‘anonymous’ while another person selectively leaked to various media outlets and provided my telephone number. I would recommend looking into the issue of leaks among your members to give greater confidence in the process.”
“How can (twice) leaked information to the media be a mere coincidence?” asks Campbell, pointing the finger squarely back at the Speaker’s Office.
The House Speaker governs a very narrow 31-29 majority, and members of his own party have begun taking issue with the manner in which the House is being run. The prospect of the House Speaker or his Chief of Staff being the source for materials sent to members of the media in an effort to damage one of his own members, and to trigger an Ethics Committee investigation that the House Speaker would control, is the kind of scandal that would ordinarily take down leaders of either party.
According to one lobbyist who has been following the situation, “The members I am talking to are freaked out by all of this because they know they could be next. Cook wouldn’t be the first member targeted this way and if things don’t change it won’t be the last time they try this.”
Cook has so far weathered the storm thanks to vocal support from fellow House members and the supportive testimony of most of the other major players involved. He was initially denied the right to even offer a defense, but House Ethics Chairman John Allen recently indicated to the media that he had changed his mind and Cook would be allowed to call witness and offer a defense.