Investigation of Sen. Wendy Rogers' post about Buffalo shooting to examine context, impact of message

Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, speaks at a Save America Rally prior to former president Donald Trump speaking  Jan. 15, 2022, in Florence, Ariz. The Arizona Senate voted March 1, 2022, to censure Republican Wendy Rogers, whose embrace of white nationalism and calls for violence drew bipartisan condemnation.
Ray Stern
Arizona Republic

A Senate investigation of a widely criticized social media post from Sen. Wendy Rogers will examine the context and impact of the message about the mass killing at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, a legislative lawyer said.

The Senate Ethics Committee on Wednesday kicked off its investigation into Rogers' Telegram post, which was considered by many to suggest the Buffalo was a "false flag" operation orchestrated by federal agents.

A white gunman shot 13 people and killed 10, all of whom were African American, at the Tops Friendly Markets store May 14. Officials have said the incident was a racially motivated hate crime.

The Senate voted 24-3 last week, with three members not voting, to investigate Rogers' remarks "relating to the Buffalo shooting as inappropriate of an elected official with this body." An effort by Democratic senators to expel Rogers over the post failed.

Rogers is a first-term Republican senator from Flagstaff who's endorsed by former President Donald Trump. She previously was censured by her Senate peers March 1 after she promoted hanging political enemies during an appearance at an event hosted by Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes. Rogers also threatened to destroy fellow Republicans' careers.

The Senate passed two motions Wednesday related to the investigation: One to launch it, which will result in an investigative report for the Senate, and another to give Rogers seven days to respond after the report is completed.

Rogers in hot water again: Some in GOP repudiate Sen. Wendy Rogers after comments calling for executions, attacking Ukraine's president

The committee also approved a motion related to the ongoing absence of Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, who — along with his wife, Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe — has missed nearly all of the legislative session due to concerns about exposing their newborn baby to COVID-19. Both have received excused absences from GOP leaders in the Legislature.

However, the motion doesn't mention Mendez or any other legislator by name. Instead, it directs Senate staff to research practices in other states and gather ideas on how much time must pass before a legislative seat is abandoned.

Juan Mendez.

Current law defines that as three months. Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, said he thinks that is too long. Shope filed the request with the committee. 

Finally, the committee voted to dismiss an ethics complaint about Sen. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, who was accused by a local man of helping Rep. Robert Meza, D-Phoenix, with a vague and wide-ranging conspiracy related to the man's bitter divorce. The House, in a separate action May 5, voted to put the complaint against Meza on hold unless a law enforcement agency investigates it.

Context of Rogers' post will get look

Tweet by Wendy Rogers after the Buffalo shooting.

Senate Rules Attorney Chris Kleminich said the report on Rogers will likely be ready "in a matter of weeks rather than months."

No one knows for sure what Rogers meant by her post following the shooting deaths of 10 people, which said, "Fed boy summer has started in Buffalo." Rogers hasn't answered calls to clarify the statement, only saying it was "taken completely out of context."

The investigation's first priority will be to request an interview with Rogers to help determine the context of her post, Kleminich said.

Other sources will help determine the context, he said, though the full scope of the investigation isn't yet known. Investigators will try to ascertain the impact of her post as a way of getting at the context, including reviewing the 200-plus responses to the post.

"Anything that Sen. Rogers has commented on related to the Buffalo shooting would be relevant," he said, adding that he wasn't sure if she had made other comments about the shooting.

Ethics committee chair Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, said she wasn't aware of any other posts by Rogers directly referencing the Buffalo shooting.

Part of the probe will also include seeing if Rogers attempted to use the post to raise campaign donations, Kleminich said.

Reach the reporter at rstern@arizonarepublic.com or 480-276-3237. Follow him on Twitter @raystern.

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