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Mesa County Grand Jury Indicts Clerk Tina Peters In Election System Breach Investigation

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (CBS4) — A Mesa County grand jury has returned an indictment against Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters stemming from an investigation into allegations of election equipment tampering and official misconduct. Mesa County Deputy Clerk Belinda Knisley was also indicted in the same investigation.

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Tina Peters (credit: Mesa County)

The indictment accuses the Republican clerk of attempting to influence a public servant, criminal impersonation, and more. Mesa County District Attorney Dan Rubinstein, also a Republican, notes a grand jury returned the charges.

"They were randomly selected by the same pool that elected Tina Peters and they were chosen months before many of these things happened," he said. "It was very important to me that this be investigated by a grand jury, rather than it be me deciding whether or not there's probable cause that she committed crimes. I wanted to make sure that this was citizens."

According to Mesa County, Peters is charged with a total of 10 charges, including three counts of attempting to influence a public servant, conspiracy to commit attempting to influence a public servant, criminal impersonation, conspiracy to commit criminal impersonation, identify theft, first-degree official misconduct, violation of duty, and failing to comply with the secretary of state. Peters turned herself in to authorities at the Mesa County Detention Facility on Wednesday afternoon.

Tina Peters and Belinda Knisley
Belinda Knisley and Tina Peters (credit: KREX)

Twenty-first Judicial District Attorney Dan Rubinstein and Attorney General Phil Weiser released the following statement regarding the results of the Mesa County grand jury proceedings:

"Yesterday, the Mesa County grand jury returned an indictment after the presentation of evidence in an ongoing investigation into the alleged election system breach in Mesa County. The grand jury, randomly selected from the same pool of citizens that elected Clerk Tina Peters and chosen months before any of these alleged offenses occurred, concluded there is probable cause that Clerk Peters and Deputy Clerk Knisley committed crimes.

"A grand jury is comprised of citizens who determine whether probable cause of criminal activity has been established. Once indicted, the case must be proven in a court of law beyond a reasonable doubt.

"This investigation is ongoing, and other defendants may be charged as we learn more information. We remind everyone that these are allegations at this point and that they are presumed innocent until proven guilty."

Knisley is charged with three counts of attempting to influence a public servant, one count of conspiracy to commit attempting to influence a public servant, violation of duty, and failing to comply with the secretary of state. She turned herself into authorities at the Mesa County Detention Facility at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.

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Belinda Knisley (credit: Mesa County)

Peters is also facing charges of obstructing a peace officer and obstructing government operations after turning herself into police last month. The criminal charge relates to an iPad the Mesa County District Attorney's Office wanted to examine.

The Secretary of State's office began its investigation into allegations of election equipment tampering after finding privileged voting system information posted to conservative sites on the internet.

Griswold told CBS4, "we discovered not only passwords were released to the public all the servers and hard drives were copied."

She added that security cameras were turned off during a supervised update of the equipment and an unauthorized person was allowed into the update.

"Clerk Peters' actions in compromising voting equipment constituted the nation's first insider threat, where an election official embracing conspiracies actually jeopardized their election security trying to prove those conspiracies," Griswold said.

Griswold filed a lawsuit last month to ban Peters from overseeing the 2022 elections.

Griswold's office has asked a Mesa County judge to appoint Brandi Bantz as the new Designated Election Official for Mesa County. She's also announced her intention to appoint former Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams and current Mesa County Treasurer Sheila Reiner, both Republicans, as election supervisors to assist Bantz as needed.

That move is in direct response to Peters' refusal to confirm her intent to comply with security protocols as the chief election official in Mesa County. On Jan. 10, Griswold sent Peters an order and Certification and Attestation of Compliance, which would require Peters to certify that she would comply with election-related security protocols. Peters declined to sign the documents.

"Every eligible Coloradan – Republican, Democrat, and Unaffiliated alike – has the right to make their voice heard in safe, accessible, and secure elections. To do that, we need election administrators who are committed to following the law and election rules. Officials tasked with carrying out elections do so in public trust and must be held accountable when they abuse their power or position," said Griswold. "As Secretary of State, I will always protect Colorado's election infrastructure and Coloradans' right to vote, which means upholding election laws and rules to ensure the security and integrity of the state's elections."

In November of last year, search warrants were served to Peters after voting system information turned up on public websites as revealed earlier in 2021 by Griswold. Federal agents, as well as investigators from the attorney general and district attorney's offices, were involved in the raid on Peters' home.

Last November, Peters told CBS4's Rick Sallinger why she made copies of the voting system information, saying, "I was concerned they were going to delete important election files so I did a backup, a backup image before and after they did that."

Peters did not respond to requests for an interview on Wednesday following news of the indictment, however, she appeared this week on MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell's broadcast.

"The attacks on me have been over the top," Peters said. "I won't give up, I won't back down, I didn't raise a Navy seal for nothing; we go into the fight, not away from it."

Peters announced last month that she is running for Secretary of State in Colorado.

DA Rubinstein says he does not believe the charges will affect her ability to stay in the race.

"I don't believe there's any bar to her being a candidate, or even being in the positions that she's running for," Rubinstein said. "I think if she's convicted of election offenses, it would affect her ability to serve in any of those capacities."

Peters released the following statement Wednesday afternoon: "Using a grand jury to formalize politically-motivated accusations against candidates is tactic long employed by the Democrat Party. Using legal muscle to indict political opponents during an election isn't new strategy, but it's easier to execute when you have a district attorney who despises President Trump and any constitutional conservative like myself who continues to demand all election evidence be made available to the public. But a grand jury is one of the last cards the Democrats have to play here. They hope to influence voters enough with indictments and arrests and media drama during the primaries, to elect a weaker general election opponent for Secretary of State Jena Griswold."

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