Jeff DeWit, the chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, announced his resignation from party leadership Wednesday after a recording was made public that appeared to show DeWit attempting to entice Republican Kari Lake to sit out the 2024 election for the state’s U.S. Senate seat.
The release of the recording came days before former president Donald Trump was scheduled to headline a fundraiser for the state party and as thousands of party activists will gather for an annual meeting that will help shape the party’s direction.
The publication of the recording and DeWit’s resignation mark major challenges for a state Republican Party already trying to bounce back from years of tough election losses. And what happens politically in Arizona, a swing state, could have broader consequences for both the presidency and the Senate majority in 2024.
In the recording, published by the Daily Mail on Tuesday, DeWit tries to dissuade Lake, who lost the gubernatorial election in Arizona in 2022 and has served as a surrogate for Trump in this election cycle, from seeking a Senate seat in 2024. He suggests she instead run for governor again in 2026.
“There are very powerful people who want to keep you out. … But they’re willing to put their money where their mouth is in a big way. So, this conversation never happened,” DeWit says in the recording.
He later continues, “So the ask I got today from back East was: ‘Is there any companies out there or something that could just put her on the payroll to keep her out?’ ”
Lake responds, “This is about defeating Trump and I think that’s a bad, bad thing for our country.”
In another portion of the exchange, DeWit says: “Just say, is there a number at which-” to which Lake interjects: “I can be bought? That’s what it’s about.”
“You can take a pause for a couple of years. You can go right back to what you’re doing,” DeWit continues. But Lake repeatedly rebuffs his offers, saying it was “not about money. It’s about our country.”
DeWit, in a statement Wednesday, accused Lake of releasing a “selectively edited audio recording” of a one-on-one conversation that took place more than 10 months ago inside Lake’s home. He also claimed that he received an ultimatum from Lake’s team to resign Wednesday “or face the release of a new, more damaging recording.” The recording that was made public, he said, “is not only taken out of context but also undermines the integrity of private discussions critical for party leadership.” He also states that he was employing Lake at his private company when the conversation occurred.
“The ethical breach in her recording of our conversation, while Lake was my employee, raises serious legal and moral concerns. This act of recording was not just a betrayal of trust but also a violation of the fiduciary responsibilities of an employee. Contrary to accusations of bribery, my discussions were transparent and intended to offer perspective, not coercion,” DeWit said.
DeWit accused Lake, who launched her Senate campaign last October, of being “on a mission” to destroy him since he advised her to postpone the congressional bid and aim for the governorship.
“I said things I regret, but I realize when hearing Lake’s recording that I was set up,” said DeWit, who became chair of the party in January 2023. “I believe she orchestrated this entire situation to have control over the state party, and it is obvious from the recording that she crafted her performance responses … (to) portray herself as a hero in her own story.”
Lake’s campaign called the recording an attempt to bribe the Senate candidate, adding in a statement that Lake “rejected DeWit’s multiple attempts to offer her money and corporate board seats in exchange for Kari not running for public office.”
The campaign also denied threatening or blackmailing DeWit, stating, “It is unfortunate that Dewit hasn’t recognized how unethical his behavior was and still hasn’t apologized to Arizona Republicans. 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.”
DeWit’s exit marks the second time in less than a month that a Republican Party state chair has left their position after being embroiled in a scandal.
Florida’s Republican Party removed its chairman, Christian Ziegler, from his job earlier this month. Ziegler is accused of raping a woman who had previously engaged in a three-way tryst with him and his wife, Bridget. Christian Ziegler denied the allegations and resisted calls for him to step down. Sarasota police are investigating the incident but have not yet filed charges.
Yvonne Wingett Sanchez contributed to this report from Phoenix.