Williams campaign seeks criminal probe in El Paso County Congressional race

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Republican state Rep. Dave Williams.

Update September 30, 2022: The El Paso County district attorney's office released the conclusion of its investigation, finding there wasn't enough evidence to substantiate the claims Williams' made in his complaint and declining to move forward with a criminal case.

Republican State Rep. Dave Williams said Congressman Doug Lamborn is making false claims about him in a political ad and is asking the District Attorney in El Paso County to investigate.

Williams, the first Latino elected to House District 15, is one of three Republicans running against Lamborn for the GOP nomination in the 5th congressional district. The district includes Colorado Springs and its suburbs.

In a letter sent on Friday, June 10, to District Attorney Michael Allen in the 4th Judicial District, Williams alleges that Lamborn’s campaign violated a Colorado law that makes it a crime to knowingly make false statements in political campaigns….“designed to affect the vote on any issue submitted to the electors at any election or relating to any candidate for election to public office.” 

“We have received information from the Williams campaign. That information is under review,” said Howard Black, the Director of Communications for Colorado’s Fourth Judicial District.

The Lamborn campaign did not return a message seeking comment. 

Williams alleges that ads running on television and radio that claim Williams was fired by former President Donald Trump's Colorado campaign and that he introduced a bill at the statehouse to divert dollars from traffic violation funds away from local police to help “pro-abortion groups like Planned Parenthood and groups supporting defund the police like “Black Lives Matter” are lies. 

Williams said the bill would have allowed people with minor traffic violations to pay those fees to a charitable organization. “Nowhere in this bill was Planned Parenthood or Black Lives Matter mentioned or included in the proposed language. My proposed bill did not fund, propose to fund, or create an avenue to fund Planned Parenthood or Black Lives Matter by diverting dollars away from Law Enforcement.”

Williams said he never received a paycheck or accepted an official title from the Trump Administration or campaign so it’s impossible to be fired. El Paso County GOP Chair Vickie Tonkins, a Williams ally, said she appointed Williams to be the county’s representative to the Trump campaign.

In an email she sent to Lamborn, Tonkins said the ad was false “He was NEVER ‘FIRED’. In fact, he was designated to meet President Trump at the airport when our President did a rally at the World Arena.” That rally was in February of 2020. 

But Brian Seitchik, the Trump campaign’s 2020 regional director, said Williams was fired from a volunteer position in June. 

“Dave Williams is one of the most selfish politicians I've ever encountered. And that says something,” he told CPR News. “He was fired from a volunteer position with the campaign for abusing his title.” Seitchik went on to say that Williams did not help the Trump campaign recruit volunteers or grow their base of support. 

“Dave was not interested in any of that. All he cared about was media opportunities.” 

Republican political consultant Tyler Sandberg, who is not affiliated with the primary in Colorado’s 5th congressional district, said while it’s common for candidates to complain about ads they believe are false or misleading, escalating it to a District Attorney’s office is rare. 

“And going back to the beginning of the founder's time, pretty awful things were said about candidates, and what one candidate says about another, the courts are not going to step in, absolutely not on a criminal level,” said Sandberg.  “But not even at a civil level. Courts are going to let candidates make their cases and say what they want about themselves and their opponents.”

He said he thinks elevating concerns about Lamborn’s ad is an unserious campaign strategy for Williams. 

“Voters don't care, like step up, like you're running for office, grow thicker skin. Don’t whine about it. We're here trying to pay our bills and barely able to keep the lights on,” he said.

The Colorado Judicial Department did not immediately have access to information on whether such a claim in Colorado has ever moved forward.

Late last month a Denver District Court ruled against Williams on a separate legal matter related to his campaign. Williams had sued to have the phrase “Let’s Go Brandon” appear as his name on the primary ballot. The phrase is a slur against President Biden and Williams argued it was his nickname. Candidates in Colorado are allowed to use nicknames on the ballot, but the Judge said it was a slogan, and that the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office acted appropriately in denying Williams’ request. 

Votes will be tabulated June 28 and ballots should be arriving in homes this week. The district has a 20 point Republican edge so the winner of the primary race is expected to win this fall.

CPR’s Caitlyn Kim contributed to this report.