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Republican effort to impeach Colorado’s secretary of state fails

Jena Griswold argued former President Donald Trump should be disqualified from holding office again
Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold arrives for a House Judicial Committee hearing Tuesday as the committee considered an impeachment resolution against her by filed by Republicans. (Hart Van Denburg/CPR News)

In a historic hearing this week, the state House heard impeachment arguments against Colorado’s top election official, Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold.

Republican lawmakers argued Griswold has been too partisan in her public statements about former President Donald Trump, to the point that she has violated her office.

The resolution’s fate in the Democratic-controlled committee wasn’t in question; it failed on a party-line vote of 8-3. However, both sides saw value in giving the resolution a full public hearing. This is the first time in nearly two decades Colorado lawmakers have considered an impeachment effort.

For Republicans, the proceeding was a top priority and a chance to air their grievances that Griswold has failed to remain politically neutral and unbiased. They argued her vocal support of the Colorado State Supreme Court decision to remove former President Donald Trump from the state’s primary election ballot constitutes, “malfeasance in office for denying President Trump the right to due process of law.”

Griswold did follow the court’s instruction to place Trump on the ballot while the case was in process, and after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Colorado’s ruling, votes for Trump were counted and he won Colorado’s GOP primary.

Republican House Minority Leader Rose Pugliese of Colorado Springs was one of the main sponsors of the impeachment resolution and told the Judiciary Committee that Coloradans deserve a Secretary of State who will hold back their “personal feelings and animosity in our elections.”

“We ask you to consider what was the true purpose of the Secretary of State using her power as the chief election officer to advocate for the removal of a candidate from the election ballot,” Pugliese said Tuesday.

For Democrats, who hold a wide majority in the legislature and authorized the impeachment hearing to proceed, it was a chance to push back against election disinformation and to re-litigate Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, which was at the heart of the Colorado court case.

“We’re hurting Colorado by debating the things we saw and heard with our own eyes and ears,” said Democratic Rep. Judy Amabile of Boulder.

For her part, Secretary Griswold told CPR News she has every right as an elected official to speak out about Trump being a threat, and dismissed the impeachment effort as a political stunt.

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, center, listens to testimony during a House Judicial Committee hearing Tuesday. (Hart Van Denburg/CPR News)

“It's a sham endeavor,” Griswold said. “It's very clear that it's not a serious matter, but I'm sure they'll try to use it for their base and they'll try to use it to push out misinformation, which is a shame because again, lies (about) our elections have real world consequences.”

The legal case started when six Colorado voters sued Griswold last fall, asking a court to order her to keep Trump off the ballot because his actions around the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol made him ineligible to hold office again.

Early on, Griswold refrained from commenting on the merits of the case. In a statement responding to its filing she said, “I look forward to the Colorado Court’s substantive resolution of the issues, and am hopeful that this case will provide guidance to election officials on Trump’s eligibility as a candidate for office.”

However, when the Colorado Supreme Court concluded in December that Trump had indeed committed insurrection and should be disqualified, Griswold embraced the ruling, even after it was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I do believe states should be allowed under our constitution to bar oath-breaking insurrectionists,” she told MSNBC News.

The Republican impeachment resolution included six articles. The first accused Griswold of committing malfeasance in office by denying Trump the right to due process when she made public statements asserting he engaged in an insurrection “when he has not, in any court of law, been found guilty of engaging in the alleged insurrection on January 6, 2021.”

The second article said Griswold denied Coloradans a free and open election and violated their right to vote for their choice for president by “preventing President Trump from being listed as a candidate on Colorado's Republican primary ballot in 2024.”

Pointing out that her office followed the court's order to include Trump on the ballot, Griswold said, “This entire proceeding didn't make a lot of sense.”

“From the very beginning I said I would follow any court decision. I thought that Trump incited the insurrection, but that it was up to a court to determine whether it met the levels of the 14th Amendment,” she continued.

The third article said Griswold played partisan politics in her office “which should remain neutral and unbiased as the state's chief elections officer, by making public statements about President Trump and the Colorado Supreme Court's decision.”

The final three articles assert she acted contrary to the public interest, engaged in misconduct to disrupt the primary election, and abused the public trust and prejudiced the public's confidence in her office.

Over the course of the more than five hour hearing, each side brought forward four witnesses, with the parties given equal time to ask questions and offer opening and closing remarks.

Democrats argued Republicans were attempting to punish Griswold for exercising her right to free speech.

“You’re lashing out at the Secretary of State because she told the truth on Twitter,” said Democratic Rep. Steven Woodrow of Denver.

“I’m sorry you’re sick of seeing her on T.V. but I don’t think that rises to the level of impeachment,” said Democratic Rep. Leslie Herod of Denver.

Democratic Rep. Marc Snyder of Manitou Springs was the only Democrat on the panel to say that he personally found the state supreme court decision to be wrong, calling it “premature.”

But, Snyder concluded, “nothing I’ve heard today rises to the level of impeachment so I will not be voting for this resolution.”

To read more stories from Colorado Public Radio, visit www.cpr.org.