PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona Republican Party Chairman Jeff DeWit resigned Wednesday after he could be heard in a leaked recording offering a job and asking U.S. Senate candidate Kari Lake 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.
“There are very powerful people that want to keep you out,” DeWit tells Lake in what he described as a “selectively edited” recording. “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 said.
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 2026. He was employing Lake at his private company at the time, he said, and they'd had “many conversations where I was looking out for her financial interests.”
“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's senior advisers, Garrett Ventry and Caroline Wren, said in a statement that “no one from the Kari Lake campaign threatened or blackmailed DeWit.”
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, first published by the Daily Mail, 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.
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.