A Scottsdale lawmaker who heads the House Ethics Committee is weighing whether to have full-blown hearings into the panel’s investigation of a fellow Republican legislator over allegations of an alleged love affair with a lobbyist.
Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, said last week he is still reviewing the evidence presented by outside investigators as well as the response to the charges submitted by attorneys for the Globe Rep. David Cook.
Allen acknowledged there are issues to be resolved about how to handle what are the two basic complaints against Cook – one involving allegations of an affair with a lobbyist and the other about efforts to intervene on her behalf to halt the sale of some property in a tax sale.
The first charge against Cook stems from allegations that he had a romantic relationship with AnnaMarie Knorr who was a lobbyist with the Western Growers Association, a relationship he did not disclose.
The second is that Cook called Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb to discuss a pending sale of property in which Knorr had an interest due to unpaid taxes. There also were allegations that Cook promised to arrange campaign contribution for Lamb, but the investigative report makes no such finding.
Cook subsequently sponsored more generic legislation making it easier for owners of agricultural property, like that owned by Knorr, to get a tax exemption.
Allen noted, a full hearing is “the right to the fundamental protections every citizen of our country would reasonably expect to have.’’
“If you don’t, then you will make the House a country club, where only those who are in the majority get to determine who sits and who doesn’t,’’ wrote attorneys Dennis Wilenchik and Carmen Chenal Horne.
And that, they said, would override the votes of those who put Cook into office.
But Allen said, “You take either of these complaints on a stand-alone, they probably wouldn’t have rose to an investigation at all.”
So why proceed?
“If you take them as conjoined twins and you said, OK, there’s a real question here,’’ he explained. “How do we prove that question?’’
Even if the Ethics Committee decides neither charge merits further pursuit, Allen told Capitol Media Services there’s something else: Cook’s cooperation – or lack thereof – with the inquiry.
Wilenchik and Horne said Cook was “fully cooperative in the investigation.’’ But Allen said the evidence suggests otherwise.
For example, he said other parties in the investigation provided texts and emails they received from him. But none of them, Allen said, came from Cook himself despite the subpoena.
“That’s a terrible precedent to have in the House, to say, ‘hey, lookit, you don’t have to, when subpoenaed, do anything,’’’ he said.
Allen said he’s not trying to build a case against Cook based solely on that issue.
“But there has to be some accounting for it,’’ he said.
All that leads back to the decision Allen and the Ethics Committee have to make, if they decide to go ahead with any charges, about what sort of defense Cook should be allowed to make.
Allen said there is precedent for proceeding without giving Cook the right to call witnesses or cross examine those who spoke to investigators.
That involved Rep. Daniel Patterson, D-Tucson, accused in 2012 of multiple incidents of intimidating female lawmakers. The issue of how and whether Cook gets to defend himself also has raised questions from Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa.
In a Twitter post last week, Townsend said she is not condoning any behavior that is unbecoming of a legislator.
“But regardless, every legislator has the right to a fair investigation,’’ she wrote.
“This is setting a most dangerous precedent for future political execution,’’ Townsend continued. “I cannot stay silent.’’
Complicating matters is that at least part of the case against Cook is based on information provided by Bas Aja, himself a long-time Capitol lobbyist and Knorr’s father – who apparently has had some sort of falling-out with his daughter.
“There’s a judgment call to be made in here about the level of evidence towards these allegations,’’ Allen said.