PHOENIX — The chairman of the House Ethics Committee wants to drop further investigation into the conduct of Rep. David Cook.
In a letter Wednesday to other members of the panel, Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, said he was “deeply troubled’’ by the findings of investigators about the conduct of the Globe Republican as well as actions he took after the investigation was announced.
But Allen said what Cook did does not clearly constitute “the sort of disorderly behavior punishable under the House Rules and ... the Arizona Constitution.’’ So he is recommending that the full committee dismiss the charges.
Cook said he was glad of the outcome, calling the committee investigation “bogus.’’
“If there were any real questions about this being a little more than a political hit job, the committee waited and waited until the day that primary election ballots drop in the mail before trying to trash my reputation one more time through negative press coverage,’’ Cook said. “Then they bolted for the door.’’
In reaching the conclusion that no further action is appropriate, Allen said it is impossible, absent an admission, to prove Cook was having an affair with lobbyist AnnaMarie Knorr of the Western Growers Association. And he said both have denied one existed.
“And even if such proof were available, this committee’s role is not to monitor representatives’ personal affairs, no matter how tawdry,’’ he said.
Knorr is also a member of the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board.
Allen said personal relationships do cross a line when they affect a lawmaker’s conduct in office. But here, too, he said, there is nothing to go on.
“There is no conclusive evidence, for example, that Rep. Cook conducted himself differently on his assigned committees than he would have except for his relationship with Ms. Knorr,’’ Allen wrote. “Nor is there conclusive evidence that, but for that relationship, Rep. Cook would not have sponsored the bill he did.’’
Democratic members of the House Ethics Committee reacted with anger and incredulity to Allen’s announcement.
“Dropping the Ethics Committee’s work at this time does a disservice to the people of Arizona who expect charges of this caliber levied against a member to be thoroughly investigated and resolved,” said Rep. Domingo DeGrazia, D-Tucson.
Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson said she was shocked at Allen’s decision.
“I cannot understand how Rep. Allen would make this decision without any input from the committee members, who left the last committee hearing with the understanding that the committee would reconvene and consider whether to take any action on the complaints,” she said in a statement. “Moreover, his conclusion that the evidence must be ‘unequivocal’ in order for the committee to continue its investigation is found nowhere in the committee rules or precedent.”
Engel said Cook’s defenders pummeled the committee members with emails proclaiming his innocence. “The chair is simply dropping the matter, demonstrating that he is completely incapable of policing the potential misconduct of members.”
A second complaint alleged that Cook, on Knorr’s behalf, exerted political pressure on Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb to avert a tax seizure of property in which she had an interest, and that he also arranged a campaign donation in exchange for Lamb doing so.
“The investigation turned up no conclusive evidence of such bribery,’’ Allen wrote.
He did say there was “ample evidence’’ that Cook intervened in the seizure which was subsequently halted. Allen said there is a House rule that bars lawmakers from knowingly using information not available to the public for anyone’s financial benefit.
“Rep. Cook’s involvement in the matter was, at a minimum, irregular and inappropriate, and much of his testimony about that conduct lacks credibility,’’ Allen said. “But the known facts provide no clear answer whether Rep. Cook actually violated that rule.’’
Allen also said that allegations that Cook behaved in a threatening manner due to his use of alcohol were not proven by evidence. And even if they were, he said, none of this amounts to disorderly behavior subjecting Cook to sanctions.
The same is true, Allen said, of charges that Cook did not cooperate with investigators.
One issue that arose after the investigation started deals with a threat that Patrick Bray, a lobbyist for the Arizona Cattle Feeders Association who was interviewed by investigators, said Cook made against him regarding a cattle-grazing arrangement that Bray has with the owner of the Rainbow Ranch.
“This raises extremely serious concerns,’’ Allen said. And he said that it “demonstrates exceedingly poor judgment.’’
But here, too, he said, it is unclear that any of this violates House rules.
Cook is engaged in a three-way battle in the Republican primary to keep one of the two House seats for Legislative District 8 that he represents. The other candidates are incumbent Frank Pratt of Casa Grande and challenger Neal Carter of San Tan Valley. The district includes part of Casa Grande, Eloy, Coolidge, Florence, Superior and southern Gila County.
At least one of them will be elected. The Democrats are offering only one candidate: Sharon Girard of Eloy.
Cook said the evidence shows the investigation “originated with an embittered ex-husband (of Knorr) and his father-in-law (Knorr’s father)’’ Bas Aja, who is a lobbyist for the Cattle Growers.