Secretary of State Scott Gessler has faced a lot of pushback for his efforts to identify immigrants who are illegally on Colorado's voter rolls. But over the summer, those criticisms escalated to a new level when he received multiple violent threats, some targeting his family. Through an Open Records request, we now have new details on one disturbing phone call and the subsequent investigation -- and more information is expected this week.
While the threats took place over the summer -- and death threats toward politicians are not all that uncommon -- these cases have a lot of significance now and will continue to be important in the coming months.
Because Gessler, a Republican and the state's chief election officer, is currently the focus of criminal and ethics investigations, both the result of complaints from Colorado Ethics Watch, a watchdog group that has closely scrutinized Gessler on a number of issues. Based on open records requests it filed with the Secretary of State's office, in October Ethics Watch alleged that Gessler had misused state funds for travels outside the scope of his office.
Scott Gessler in his office on Election Day.
The accusations concerned a trip to Florida in August, when Gessler went to an election law-training event with the Republican National Lawyers Association and then continued on to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, where Mitt Romney got the official nomination. So Gessler was on the other side of the country when he first got news of threats made against him and his family -- threats that required him to come home early, he and his team say.
And so the threats have become a part of the investigations into his alleged misuse of funds. His attorneys will be filing a response to the Independent Ethics Commission this week, when it's possible more details will emerge about the threats and how they affected his travels. Gessler has repeatedly said that he is an innocent and that he welcomes any review of his spending.
So what do we know about these cases?
Through a records request with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, we know that there was an e-mail threat made and reported on August 24, followed by a separate phone threat on August 28. The first case is still an open investigation and involves a law enforcement agency outside of Colorado; there are no more details available (although Gessler's chief of staff, who has been handling these matters, tells us that the e-mail threat was more violent, and specifically targeted his family).
With the phone threat, we have a good amount of detail, which is all below in the official CBI report (and included in this week's Off Limits column). What we don't know, however, is the identity of the person who made the threats -- and that's because the case is closed and the Denver District Attorney's office (which happens to be in the process of investigating Gessler over his alleged misuse of funds) decided not to prosecute. A spokeswoman tells us that the DA's office reviewed the case, but because there were no actual laws broken, there won't be any prosecution.
According to the CBI report, someone called the election line on August 28 and began ranting to an administrative assistant about the nearly 4,000 letters that Gessler's office had sent to suspected non-citizens asking them to prove their citizenship or remove themselves from the voter rolls. Critics charged that those letters, part of Gessler's campaign against voter fraud, amounted to a wild goose chase that would intimidate legal voters.
Gessler has repeatedly said he is just trying to prevent people who shouldn't be voting from casting ballots.
Minerva Padron, the staffer who took the call, is quoted in the CBI report:
A male voice came on the line and the individual said he wanted to talk to someone about the letter's the Secretary Gessler sent to 4,000. I told him I would try to help and that was the last thing I said. He was upset and had a lot to say so I let him vent. He said he had called before and wanted to see the list, but was told he could not. He said something to the effect, You know why, because the letters were not sent to 4,000 people. He continued making comments about the Republican Party and how they were not going to exist soon. He mentioned something about the tea party and called Republicans a bunch of whack jobs. He said Republicans should be shot in the head and that way maybe they would learn. I don't remember what he said they needed to learn. I don't remember much else, except, before he disconnected the call he said, people know where the Secretary's family lives. At this point I though I better let someone know about the call.
CBI traced the call to a Colorado man who, it turns out, has a history of these kinds of outbursts. In 2011, he'd left a message at the office of Republican congressman Doug Lamborn, saying he deserved a bullet in the head, according to the report.
After the call to Gessler's office, CBI agents went to the suspect's Denver home, where he admitted that he'd made the call and had intended it to be threatening, the report says.
He told investigators that he did threaten "to put a bullet in his head." But the man said he never intended to actually injure Gessler, and he doesn't have any firearms, according to the CBI.
Secretary of State Scott Gessler addressing reporters earlier this year.
"I've warned him! I can't control him!" the man's wife reportedly told agents.
The man told CBI investigators that he never wanted to break the law in the first place, then repeatedly stated: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.... They were just words."
As he prepared to leave, the agent told the man that the CBI was also investigating an e-mail threat. Before the agent could even finish his sentence, the report says, the man "loudly" stated, "I only threaten people by phone, not on the computer! On the computer is where the cook's are!"
Officials believe that second threat came from a different party.
Here's the full CBI report, with redactions. CBI
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