Scott Gessler responds to ethics complaint with new details on death threats, his spending
On Wednesday, we reported on a disturbing phone call made to Secretary of State Scott Gessler, in which a man said he knew where the Republican lived and wanted to kill him. We now have information about a second violent threat -- specific details of which are outlined in Gessler's formal response to the Independent Ethics Commission, which is investigating his alleged misuse of public dollars. The full e-mail threat is on view below.
The threats made against Gessler, the state's chief election officer, and the investigations into how he has spent state money both date back to August, when the Secretary of State traveled to Florida, where he attended a Republican National Lawyers' Association event and then the Republican National Convention in Tampa to support Mitt Romney.
Colorado Ethics Watch, a watchdog group that has closely scrutinized the Secretary of State, obtained information about how he funded that trip through Open Records requests and then argued that he broke the law by using government money for a trip that was for his own personal, partisan activities. Those accusations led to an ethics inquiry by the Independent Ethics Commission and a criminal investigation by the Denver District Attorney, both of which were announced just before Election Day.
Late yesterday afternoon, Gessler's attorneys filed a lengthy response to the Independent Ethics Commission, a day before the deadline. This is the first time that Gessler, who has always said he is innocent but not gotten into specifics, has formally offered a thorough, written account of why, from his perspective, he has not broken any laws.
So what does this investigation have to do with the threats against Gessler?
Two separate death threats were made while Gessler was in Florida on the trip in question -- and once he learned of the second one, which we outlined in great detail on Wednesday, he and his staff decided he needed to fly home early for safety reasons. That contributed to his expenses, which the DA's office and the Independent Ethics Commission, or IEC, are both scrutinizing.
In the filing, full version on view below, Gessler also argues that his spending practices have always been within the boundaries of the law.
But first, the details of the e-mail threat, which was sent on August 23 -- four days before the angry phone call from a man who said he knew where Gessler lived.
It is still part of an open Colorado Bureau of Investigation case.
Here's the e-mail in full, which is included in his official filing (warning: graphic and profane language):
Although you are part of a cabal, with Ohio & Florida, to suppress and steal voting rights you are in the crosshairs of the media: you are being watched and we are going to be watching the punk-ass Republic CONnies that will try to intimidate and harass voters. You are going to be captured on video wherever you drag your racist, unAmerican Republic Party offal.
I know pieces of shit like you sleep very well at night because your parents were mentally-ill enough to neglect teaching the basic precepts of fairness, freedom, civility and general tolerance. You, obviously, are a DSM-3 addled sociopath that would -- had you your druthers -- impose theocracy under some delusional aegis of "founding fathers federalism."
So getting your fat, white pink fingers into the cunts and uteruses of ALL women -- clearly a little-dicked inadequacy that led to misogyny (I'm sure you can't stand that women will fuck whomever they want, whenever they want it, and wherever the urge strikes them: fuck your paternalistic, radical-mongering jay-zoos, who you follow when self-serving while quoting millenia-old ravings of people who barely used the wheel!) Here's what I earnestly and gladly wish upon you: that your daughter/s or wife or other female family member get raped -- either "forcibly & legitimately" or otherwise -- and then that yoy get to watch the barbarism of forcing them to incubate an abomination that certainly scars their psyche for life.
But they won't have to: you cannot intimidate the American voter with your feckless little Truther (and most likely birther, too) co-conpirators. We -- meaning America -- are watching you and your egregious unAmerican strategems to rob this country of its basic building block of democracy. No Florida, no Ohio, now no Colorodo, and NO WAY.
-- Member of a watchdog group that will be watching and doging your felonious assaults on voting.
The e-mail came exactly one week after Gessler sent out letters to nearly 4,000 registered voters asking that they prove their citizenship or remove themselves from the voter rolls -- a key part of the Secretary of State's efforts to prevent fraud. The letters were part of Gessler's controversial anti-fraud crusade, and his critics, including Ethics Watch, accused the Secretary of State of embarking on a wild goose chase that had the potential to intimidate legitimate voters.
The response to the IEC also includes internal e-mails within the Secretary of State's office, in which several high-ranking staff members discuss the seriousness of the threats and communicate with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation about them. This, according to Gessler's filings, makes it clear that he needed to come home early -- a move for which his office paid $422.
The filing says:
Two violent threats in rapid succession - a serious, specific, local telephone threat, possibly linked to an earlier email threat of violence against the Secretary's family - caused great alarm. Heightening the alarm was the sudden, unusual nature of these threats. Indeed, prior to the two threats, the Secretary had never received a single death threat during 17 months in office.
An expenditure to respond to threats, his attorneys argue, is appropriate.
While these threats have gotten a lot of attention and will likely continue to as the investigations continue, they are only one piece of the puzzle. Ethics Watch has repeatedly said that the early flight home doesn't change Gessler's other spending choices, which it charges could amount to corruption and criminality.
Gessler's legal team says that his "actions were legal, proper, and fully within any applicable ethical standards." In its complaint, Ethics Watch says state law mandates that funds be used "for official state business purposes only."
Gessler receives $5,000 in discretionary funds each year and, the filing says, "for expenditure in pursuance of official business as each elected official sees fit."
Some have interpreted official business to include parties, clothing, receptions and more, his attorneys argue, noting that the Republican National Lawyers' Association trip involved election law, which is pertinent to his the duties of his office. Gessler also participated on a panel called "The Department of Justice, the Role of the States, and Voter ID," the filing notes.
In response to separate accusations that Gessler may have embezzled or misreported $117.99 that remained in his discretionary fund at the end of of the 2012 fiscal year, his attorneys argue that there are many expenses above that amount for which he has not sought reimbursements, such as his cell phone bill. The filing provides a lengthy list of expenses that he never reimbursed.
And, echoing Gessler's frequent comments on the matter, the filing presents Ethics Watch as an attack group with a vendetta against Gessler:
Accordingly, this Commission should dismiss the Complaint because [Ethics Watch]...seeks to manipulate the Commission's proceedings as part of a partisan, political campaign against the Secretary.
Luis Toro, director of Ethics Watch, says he hasn't received the entire response and hasn't had a chance to review it thoroughly yet. But he tells us that while he is very sensitive to the threats that Gessler has faced, but that doesn't excuse improper spending.
"Of course we sympathize with all public officials who receive those types of threats and it's all too common and completely unacceptable," he says, but adds, "That's $400 of the picture.... That's what it is. It certainly doesn't retroactively justify him going out to partisan political events in the first place."
On arguments that the Republican lawyers event was official business, Toro says that it was a personal trip -- which is what makes it inappropriate. "If you hold office parties, that's for the office. I think that would be perfectly reasonable," he adds.
But Toro does not think the discretionary fund should be used for clothing.
And he adds that "the fact that other people have abused the funds in the past" does not make it okay.
As for accusations that this is just a partisan political attack, Toro responses: "To make it about the complaining party is really just an attempt to silence whistleblowers."
Here's the official response to the IEC. Response to Complaint
Here's a separate filing, which is a motion to dismiss. Motion to Dismiss
Here are exhibits in this case, which include internal e-mails and more. Exhibits
More from our Politics archive: "Tom Tancredo offers his own Colorado Compact on Immigration Fairness"
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