FBI searches Mesa County clerk Tina Peters’ home in election security breach investigation

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Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
A ballot drop box outside the Mesa County Clerk and Recorder’s offices in Grand Junction on Thursday, August 26, 2021.

The investigation into a security breach of Mesa County's Dominion election equipment and the Republican Clerk, Tina Peters’ role in it took a step forward Tuesday, when the FBI searched four locations connected with the case. 

Mesa County District  Attorney Dan Rubenstein confirmed the searches were tied to potential criminal activity by employees of the Mesa County Clerk and Recorder's Office and others associated with those employees. 

“Investigators with the 21st Judicial District Attorney’s Office (Mesa County, Colorado) and the Colorado Attorney General’s Office assisted in the operations. No arrests were made,” stated Rubenstein in an email. 

Tina Peters' Campaign Website

The Tina Peters Legal Defense Fund confirmed that her house and those of several friends were searched Tuesday, calling the action a “level of weaponization of the Justice Department we haven’t seen since the McCarthy era.” 

The Fund’s statement to CPR claimed “large teams of heavily armed federal agents, using a battering ram to break down doors, raided the homes of Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters and several of her friends and colleagues, mostly elderly women in their mid 60s.”

However, District Attorney Dan Rubinstein and Attorney General Phil Weiser refuted the claim that the searches involved a significant use of force and emphasized that they were legally authorized by a judge.

“At no time was force used on Ms. Peters or her home. Ms. Peters was allowed to move around her home and fix herself breakfast while agents gathered items before departing,.” said a joint statement from their offices.  

Peters is accused of allowing an unauthorized person to make copies of election equipment hard drives. That data was eventually released on the internet by people who believe the 2020 election was stolen, leading the state to decertify all of Mesa County’s election machines.

Further legal trouble

The searches came on the same day Colorado's Independent Ethics Commission said it will investigate allegations that Peters accepted gifts above the legal limit for elected officials. 

The founder of the MyPillow company, Mike Lindell, who is a staunch advocate for election fraud conspiracies, has claimed he provided security and housing for Peters for several weeks because she faced threats after news of the security breach became public. Colorado law forbids elected officials from accepting gifts with a value greater than $65.

If the ethics complaint is sustained, Peters could be fined.  

“I hope the IEC’s efforts commence quickly,” said Anne Landman, a Mesa county resident and blogger who filed the complaint. “Tina has 30 days to respond and I’m interested to know what she has to say.” 

A separate lawsuit on behalf of the state’s elections division is also pending against Peters, alleging she failed to register her candidate committee for reelection next fall, despite collecting donations.

The complaint notes she has not filed any financial disclosure forms for her campaign committee or for her legal defense fund, standwithtina.org.

“She needs to sit down and come clean on a lot of the stuff and she can fix a lot of these charges,” said Scott Beilfuss who filed the original complaint with the Colorado Secretary of state. He’s the vice-chair of the Mesa County Democratic Party. 

“This is a story you couldn't make up, it's a crazy story that continues to grow every day,” Beilfuss told CPR News.

Candidates who fail to file their disclosures are generally required to catch up on paperwork and potentially have to pay a fine.

Peters has been embroiled in controversy since news of the security breach became public in early August.  A judge barred her from overseeing the 2021 election after she admitted in court filings that she gave an unauthorized person — who her office originally claimed was an employee, and who she now says was a consultant — access to Mesa County’s election equipment hard drives. 

“It's the rare case that the facts are not disputed,” said DA Rubenstein. “I think there are some facts which will be disputed, but the vast majority of them will come down to whether or not Tina had the authority to do these things. She certainly believes and has claimed that she has the authority to do all sorts of things on behalf of the constituents who elected her.” 

Peters recently told CPR News that she stands by her decisions and was trying to preserve records in order to better analyze how Colorado conducts election system updates. 

“My job is to listen to the people that I serve,” she said. “I don't care if you're Democrat, Republican, Unaffiliated, Libertarian, Green Party. I don't care what affiliation you are. Everyone should be concerned. If there is something going on with these voting systems and tabulators, everyone should be.”

Mesa’s county commissioners have repeatedly expressed their belief the 2020 election was conducted fairly, and said the ongoing controversy will end up costing the county more than $1 million. 

“We had full faith and confidence in the Dominion machines and the software (and) still to this day have seen no data that would indicate there was any fraudulent activities on behalf of the Dominion machines in our elections,” said Commissioner Janet Rowland, a Republican. 

As part of its efforts to reassure voters about the validity of the 2021 election results, the county will begin a hand count later this month. It also plans to re-run ballots through machines made by Clear Ballot, Dominion’s competitor, and make ballot images available online.

Last year, Mesa County’s required audit of its paper ballot showed no irregularities with the 2020 election results.