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Arizona GOP Chairman Jeff DeWit resigns after leaked tape showed him floating a job for Kari Lake to skip Senate race

How Democrats plan to keep the Senate in 2024
How Democrats plan to keep the Senate in 2024 06:26

Arizona Republican Party Chairman Jeff DeWit resigned Wednesday after he could be heard in a leaked recording offering a job to U.S. Senate candidate Kari Lake and asking her to name a price that would keep her out of politics.

DeWit's departure shakes up the Republican Party in a battleground state that will feature prominently in the battle for control of the White House and the U.S. Senate in the November election.

At the time of the recording last March, Lake was waging an unsuccessful court fight challenging her loss in the 2022 race for Arizona governor and gearing up for a U.S. Senate campaign. Meanwhile, Republicans in Washington, bruised by a disappointing showing in the midterms, were talking openly about plans to seek GOP Senate nominees who would be more viable in general elections.

What DeWit said on the Kari Lake recording

"There are very powerful people that want to keep you out," DeWit tells Lake in what he described as a "selectively edited" recording, first published by The Daily Mail. "But they're willing to put their money where their mouth is in a big way."

He did not say who asked him to approach Lake but said they were "back East." He asks her repeatedly not to tell anyone about the conversation.

"Is there a number at which—" DeWit asks at one point, before Lake interjects: "I can be bought?"

In a statement announcing his resignation, DeWit said he had planned to fight to keep his job until Lake's team gave him an ultimatum to resign or she would release another, more damaging recording.

"I am truly unsure of its contents, but considering our numerous past open conversations as friends, I have decided not to take the risk," DeWit wrote.

Jeff DeWit speaks during a Republican Party of Arizona meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona, on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2022.
Jeff DeWit speaks during a Republican Party of Arizona meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona, on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2022. Rebecca Noble for The Washington Post via Getty Images

He said he didn't intend to bribe Lake but was offering candid advice for her to sit out the Senate race and run again for governor in 2028.

"Our relationship was based on friendship, and the conversation that is now being scrutinized was an open, unguarded exchange between friends in the living room of her house," DeWit said. "I genuinely believed I was offering a helpful perspective to someone I considered a friend."

Lake, a former television news anchor, has a penchant for weaponizing recordings of her confrontations.

She routinely wears a small microphone during her public appearances while her husband, a former news photographer, records her interactions with supporters, critics, the press and anyone else she encounters. She sometimes posts videos of confrontational encounters on social media.

A Twitter account associated with Lake's campaign published a video of her attorney talking on speakerphone with a lawyer for Maricopa County as Lake claimed the county stole the 2022 race for Arizona governor from her. Courts have repeatedly rejected her claims of fraud.

Yet even as Lake delivered campaign-style talking points for an audience not in the room, DeWit did not seem to catch on that he was being recorded.

The recording was leaked days before former President Donald Trump is scheduled to appear at a fundraiser for the Arizona GOP, which is in desperate need of cash, and the party's annual state committee meeting.

Without naming her visitor, Lake has repeatedly described the meeting in her public appearances, using it to bolster her image as an outsider shaking up a corrupt establishment.

Lake's Senate campaign said the recording "speaks for itself: The Arizona GOP Chairman Jeff DeWit attempted to bribe Kari Lake."

"It is unfortunate that Dewit hasn't recognized how unethical his behavior was and still hasn't apologized to Arizona Republicans," the campaign said in a statement. "DeWit's false claims are just par for the course. The Arizona GOP must be relieved to have his resignation. Now we can focus on getting ethical leadership and win big in 2024."

Kari Lake attends the Trump campaign's Iowa caucus watch party in Des Moines on Monday, Jan. 15, 2024.
Kari Lake attends the Trump campaign's Iowa caucus watch party in Des Moines on Monday, Jan. 15, 2024.  Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

DeWit went down swinging, blasting Lake's "disturbing tendency to to exploit private interactions for personal gain," which he said is concerning given the amount of time Lake spends with Trump.

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

DeWit was chief operating officer for Trump's 2016 and 2020 campaigns and chief financial officer at NASA during the Trump presidency. He was seen as a trusted and experienced operative who could bridge the bitter divide between Trump loyalists and old guard Republicans in Arizona, many of whom were brought into the party by the late Sen. John McCain.

Before that, he was Arizona's elected state treasurer.

Late Tuesday, Lake told reporters at Trump's New Hampshire primary victory party that DeWit must step down.

"We can't have somebody who's corrupt and compromised running the Republican Party," she said.

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