Quayle accuses rival campaign of lying about sending spy to headquarters

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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Arizona Rep. Ben Quayle’s campaign says his Republican primary opponent’s staffers are telling lies in response to accusations that they sent a 17-year-old volunteer to spy on Quayle’s campaign headquarters in May.

“They just tried to dodge accountability for it completely and say it never happened,” said Jay Heiler, a spokesman for Quayle. “Now I don’t know how you get away with that. How do you just lie?”

In a testy phone conversation with The Daily Caller on Tuesday, Rep. David Schweikert’s spokeswoman, Rachel Semmel, called Quayle’s accusations against the campaign “ridiculous.”

But the spokeswoman refused to answer a specific question from TheDC about whether the teenage volunteer went to Quayle’s headquarters on May 17.

“I can tell you unequivocally that we do not have a spy program, nor have we ever had a spy program, nor would we condone a spy program,” Semmel wrote in a follow-up email.

“We find it reprehensible,” she added, “that the Quayle campaign continues to impune [sic] the character of a teenage girl for crass political gain.”

TheDC first reported the news in May that Quayle’s campaign believes Schweikert’s campaign sent the woman posing as a potential volunteer to its offices, presumably to obtain information about Quayle’s campaign operation. According to Quayle’s campaign, she gave a fake name and then asked for an office tour under false pretenses.

Quayle’s campaign identified the woman as Annica Benning.

When TheDC called the volunteer on Tuesday at a phone number listed on her website, another woman answered the call and then handed the phone over to Benning.

During a very brief conversation, Benning refused to answer any questions, directing TheDC to a Schweikert campaign spokesman. “I cannot comment on that,” she said.

Before hanging up, Benning said, “I just wanted to mention that you really cannot be contacting me without speaking to my parents first because I am a minor and underage.”

After that call, Schweikert’s campaign on Tuesday requested that TheDC direct all questions about Benning to them. But they have since refused to speak specifically about her duties or whether she went to Quayle’s headquarters that day.

“We are not going down the road that brings into play a teenage girl,” Schweikert spokesman Chris Baker wrote in an email. “Just not going to do it. Up until two days ago she is a teenage girl who wanted to volunteer in politics.”

Fellow Schweikert spokeswoman Semmel went even further in a phone conversation, chiding this publication for contacting Benning — whom she called an “underage volunteer” — directly to give her the opportunity to tell her side of the story.

“It’s kind of disgusting, to tell you the truth,” Semmel said.

But Heiler, Quayle’s spokesman, called Semmel’s argument “ridiculous,” saying they’re using Benning’s age to avoid questions.

“This is the person they sent over to play out this charade and try to infiltrate Ben’s campaign,” he said. “And now they’re hiding behind her age?”

The day Quayle’s campaign said Benning spied on their headquarters, they sent a staffer to Schweikert’s offices, where they found the same woman sitting at the front desk.

Heiler said the campaign learned of Benning’s name through social media. “Even though she put a fictitious name on the volunteer form, she put down her actual email address,” he said. “And so then I think the kids in our campaign found her through that email list.”

Quayle’s spokesman said he hopes local press will ask Schweikert directly about the allegations. “Nobody’s stuck a microphone or a camera on him in his public appearances and said, ‘Are you going to admit this happened or not?’”

“He shouldn’t be allowed to completely avoid responsibility for it altogether,” he added.

Both Quayle — the son of former Vice President Dan Quayle — and Schweikert are freshman Republican members of Congress now running against each other for the same seat because of redistricting. The election is Aug. 28.

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