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Colorado Democrats shut down Jena Griswold impeachment attempt

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Colorado Democrats shut down Jena Griswold impeachment attempt

Apr 09, 2024 | 10:45 pm ET
By Sara Wilson
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Colorado Democrats shut down Jena Griswold impeachment attempt
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Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, speaks during a House Judiciary hearing on a resolution brought forward by Republicans to impeach her, on April 9, 2024. (Sara Wilson/Colorado Newsline)

Colorado House Democrats on Tuesday dismissed a resolution to impeach Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold.

The impeachment resolution centered on Griswold’s actions and speech around the high-profile U.S. Supreme Court case to determine whether former President Donald Trump should be disqualified from Colorado’s presidential primary ballot under a seldom-used constitutional provision.

The resolution was defeated in the House Judiciary Committee on a 8-3 party-line vote after a five-hour hearing that covered the specific grievances laid out in the resolution, as well as Griswold’s performance in office more generally.

Republicans brought the articles of impeachment to House leadership earlier this session, and the resolution containing them was introduced last week. It was sponsored by House Minority Leader Rose Pugliese, a Colorado Springs Republican, and Rep. Ryan Armagost, a Berthoud Republican.

“The Secretary of State’s highly political speech advocating for the removal of a candidate from an election ballot from her position of power, as the chief elections officer of the state, not only violate our First Amendment rights as citizens but, equally important, does not promote the confidence of a fair and impartial election process,” Pugliese said in her opening comments.

The six articles alleged that Griswold, a Democrat, improperly used her post as the state’s top election official to support a state Supreme Court decision, in the case Anderson v. Griswold, that removed Trump from the Colorado presidential primary ballot.

“The speech that is allegedly wrongdoing is me saying the truth that Donald Trump engaged in an insurrection,” Griswold, who addressed the committee, said.

“January 6 was part of a broader attempt to overthrow the will of the people. There is nothing political in me saying that,” she said. “There are not two sides of the truth. There are not two sides to what we saw at the United States Capitol on January 6.”

Four Republican and two unaffiliated Colorado voters filed a lawsuit in state district court last year to block Trump from the state’s primary ballot, citing Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which prohibits a person who “engaged in insurrection” after taking an oath to support the Constitution from holding office again — a Civil War-era clause to prevent former Confederate officials and future insurrectionists from holding office. The plaintiffs alleged that Trump’s actions around Jan. 6, 2021, when his supporters breached the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to prevent the certification of the 2020 presidential election, amounted to engaging in an insurrection.

Colorado Democrats shut down Jena Griswold impeachment attempt
Colorado Rep. Ryan Armagost, a Berthoud Republican, brought forward a resolution to impeach Secretary of State Jena Griswold, during seen during an April 9, 2024, hearing on the resolution. (Sara Wilson/Colorado Newsline)

Both the district and state Supreme Court agreed that Trump engaged in insurrection. While the district court ruled that the 14th Amendment did not apply to presidents and ordered he be placed on the ballot, the state Supreme Court overruled that and barred him.

The U.S. Supreme Court then unanimously reversed that decision in March on the basis that it is the role of Congress, not the states, to enforce that section of the 14th Amendment.

Trump’s name remained on the primary ballot in Colorado — Griswold never removed it as the case made its way through the system — and he won the Colorado primary with 64% of the vote.

Griswold was a defendant in the original case and took a neutral position in the proceeding. After the state Supreme Court ruled, she publicly supported the decision through posts on X and in statements to the media. She also filed a brief ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court’s consideration that argued Colorado should be able to exclude “ineligible insurrectionists” from its presidential ballots.

‘Political theater’

The impeachment resolution considered Tuesday alleged that Griswold denied Trump the right to due process by calling him an insurrectionist though he hadn’t been found guilty of that charge, that she prevented him from appearing on the ballot, that she acted contrary to public interest, that she disrupted the presidential primary and that she used her office to obstruct the “fair and impartial administration of justice.”

The resolution alleged malfeasance on Griswold’s part, because she played “partisan politics” as an office holder by making “public statements about President Trump and the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision.”

“She has destroyed the entity of the office by inappropriately asserting herself in the case against a presidential candidate, and thus creating distrust in her self-proclaimed impartiality,” Armagost said.

Tuesday’s proceedings were different from typical committee hearings. Instead of open public testimony, each side chose four witnesses, who had 10 minutes each to speak. The committee was allowed one hour of questioning for each panel. The committee was also granted 20 minutes of questioning to both the sponsors and Griswold after their respective opening statements.

Griswold invited Harry Dunn, a U.S Capitol police officer; Martha Tierney, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys in Anderson v. Griswold; Amanda Gonzalez, the Jefferson County clerk and recorder; and Stan Garnett, the former district attorney for Colorado’s 20th Judicial District.

The impeachment resolution sponsors called as witnesses attorney Suzanne Taheri, former Republican state lawmaker Ray Scott, independent voter Carrie Mumma and former Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who represented Trump in the 14th Amendment lawsuit.

“Nothing I’ve heard rises to the level of impeachment,” Democratic Rep. Marc Snyder of Manitou Springs said in his closing comments.

While Republicans characterized the committee hearing as an opportunity for the Legislature to exert oversight power, Democrats lambasted it as a wasteful, sham proceeding during the final month of the legislative session that hurts Coloradan’s trust in government.

“I have so much work to do for people — my constituents and the people of Colorado. And I didn’t get to do any of that for the last five hours because we’ve been engaged in political theater. And that makes me sad,” Rep. Judy Amabile, a Boulder Democrat, said.

Rep. Mike Weissman, an Aurora Democrat, called the resolution the “biggest assault on the rule of law” he has seen during his time in the Legislature.

In Colorado, the state House can impeach by majority vote, and the state Senate has the power to convict with a two-thirds majority.