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Republicans outline case against Jena Griswold in hearing over impeachment resolution, Democrats say case has no basis

After five hours, the House Judiciary Committee killed the resolution on a 8-3 party line vote

  • Marissa Ventrelli and Marianne Goodland

  • Apr 10, 2024 Updated 2 hrs ago

  • Colorado Politics

LKY: At least the Republicans were able to present their case!

Republicans on Tuesday accused Colorado's top election official of "destroying" the integrity of her office during a rare impeachment hearing that rehashed many of the arguments for or against disqualifying former President Donald Trump from the state's presidential ballot.

Griswold, a Democrat, called it a "sham inquiry." 

Republicans, who pushed for the impeachment resolution, sought to put Secretary of State Jena Griswold on the defensive, accusing the Democrat of using her authority to push a partisan agenda by, among other things, publicly weighing in on the disqualification case against Trump when, they said, she should have taken a neutral position precisely because of her position.

Democrats, in turn, accused the Republicans of bringing forth a case with no basis in facts, maintaining that Griswold didn't break any law and, in fact, followed court orders. 

"She has destroyed the integrity of the office," said Rep. Ryan Armagost, R-Berthoud, one of the sponsors of the impeachment resolution against Griswold. 

In outlining the case against Griswold, Armagost argued that Griswold "improperly exercised" her authority by "inserting herself" in the case against Trump. 

Before the hearing, Griswold issued a statement that accused House Republicans of "(embracing) election conspiracies and political games."

"Every elected official should speak up about the attacks on democracy. Instead, Colorado House Republicans ignore the truth: Donald Trump engaged in insurrection and tried to steal the presidency," she said. 

After five hours, the House Judiciary Committee killed the resolution on a 8-3 party line vote.

The outcome was expected.

The impeachment hearing — House Judiciary Chair Rep. Mike Weissman of Aurora restricted the list of witnesses and carefully watched the time allotted to the speakers — was unlike almost any other at the Capitol. In addition to exchanging heated rhetoric, some of the hearing focused on Griswold's management of her office, including claims she has used her position to settle political scores with her critics. At times, Democrats tried to steer the conversation to Trump, noting the findings of a district court that he engaged in insurrection.

A divided Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Trump should be barred from the presidential ballot. The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rejected that conclusion.    

House Resolution 1006 focused on Griswold's comments supporting the Colorado Supreme Court's 4-3 decision to bar Trump from the ballot. It claimed that Griswold's statements constituted malfeasance in office, dereliction of duty, unfitness for office, and abuse of the public trust, and for that, she should be impeached.

Armagost, who presented the case against Griswold alongside Minority Leader Rose Pugliese, said the Democrat official should know that it is unlawful to remove a candidate from the ballot who has not been convicted of a crime.

Democrats pushed back. 

Rep. Steven Woodrow, D-Denver, pressed Armagost if he agreed that the Jan. 6 riot was an "insurrection," noting the impeachment resolution called it an "alleged insurrection." Armagost did not answer the question.

Woodrow also read off statistics on the injuries suffered by law enforcement during Jan. 6 insurrection. He said three separate courts had determined Trump engaged in an insurrection but noted that the ballots that went out to voters included Trump's name on it, rendering his case against Griswold moot. 

"Your allegation does not make sense," he said. 

Vice-chair Rep. Jennifer Bacon, D-Denver, noted an interview with 9News' Kyle Clark, in which Armagost indicated the purpose of the resolution was to get Republicans out to vote.

Was this just a "political game?" Bacon asked. 

Armagost, who at times said the line of questioning from Democrats veered from the subject of the resolution, replied that his response was taken out of context.

Republicans on the judiciary committee argued for the resolution. 

Rep. Gabe Evans, R-Fort Lupton, pointed out that although courts had said Trump engaged in an insurrection on Jan. 6, he has not been convicted of it.

The witnesses 

The resolution's sponsors and critics lined up witnesses to support their arguments.  

U.S. Capitol Officer Harry Dunn, who was at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, described the bomb threats, how Trump supporters stormed the Capitol and called him the "n' word, as well as how the people who rioted believed they had been called to "stop the steal" by Trump. 

"Denying what actually happened is disingenuous and a slap in the face to those who experienced it," Dunn said. 

Former District Attorney Stan Garnett said there was not enough evidence to impeach Griswold. He said he allegation of violating due process could not be sustained because that does not have to do with the public remarks of elected officials.

He said the resolution's claim that Griswold denied Coloradans the right to vote for their choice for president and prevented Trump from being listed as a candidate wasn't true —  because Trump appeared on the ballot, and won the primary and most of the state's delegates to the Republican National Convention.

"I've never seen someone impeached for stating their opinions," Garnett said, adding the jurisprudence makes it clear that elected officials don't lose their First Amendment rights and they, in fact, have an "enhanced obligation" to speak their mind because the public has a right to hear it.

Former Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Taheri testified at length about Griswold's operations of the office.

"I'm not here as a Trump supporter or to claim machines are rigged," she said. 

Politicians are playing games with elections — and that applies to both Trump and Griswold, she told the committee.

Taheri said Griswold's testimony was highly partisan.

"This has been building for many years," she said, adding Griswold had no experience in elections when she was elected to the office in 2018, the Democrat didn't care much about voting, and she hadn't bothered to vote in previous elections.

She said Griswold started off by appointing a few promising people but her entire executive team turned over in the first 13 months — and that is something that has happened repeatedly during her time in office, Taheri said. 

Griswold "has used the office to settle scores with political enemies," Taheri said, adding she hears from clerks and election workers that they don't feel safe.

It isn't about the "Big Lie," Taheri said, adding it's because they don't trust the Secretary of State. "She's not a neutral arbiter and not concerned about it."

Former state Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, said voting in favor of the resolution "will help uphold the integrity of electoral process."

"If the Secretary of State truly had the interest of the people and protecting our election system at the top of her priorities, instead of spending $4.3 million on self-promotion, she would have instead given this money to counties throughout Colorado to bolster election security for the safety of our tireless election workers," Scott said. "This would have helped increase confidence in our election system and made our election workers feel valued and appreciated."

Meanwhile, unaffiliated voter Carrie Mumma told the committee she values her independence and the ability to assess information critically.

"It's disheartening to see an elected official who is responsible for maintaining the integrity of our democratic system fail to meet our expectations," she said of Griswold.  

Former Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who was on Trump's legal team in Anderson v. Griswold, testified that Griswold has bullied her critics and engaged in "thuggish" behavior.

The turnover in the office indicates more than managerial chaos, Gessler said, adding it undermines what has made Colorado successful in elections and that's having a professional staff that remains over many years and works hard to serve the voters rather than fulfilling a political agenda.

"I have seen secretaries of state take a neutral position and keep their mouths shut," Gessler said.

That tradition has been shattered by Griswold, he added.

During Gessler's testimony, Mario Nicolais, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys in Anderson v. Griswold, posted on X that, if being a "bad" boss were a reason for firing someone, Gessler and another former secretary of state would be gone.

"The turnover is real, but not a reason for impeachment," he said Nicolais, who is an election attorney and Gessler's former law partner.

Rep. Lorena Garcia pressed Gessler, Taheri and Mumma about whether they believed the election was stolen, whether Biden won the 2020 election, and whether Jan. 6 was an insurrection.

Gessler replied the electoral college certified Biden as the winner, but answered "yes" to whether the election was stolen and "no" to whether Jan. 6 was a insurrection.

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