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Colorado county election officials indicted by grand jury in security breach investigation

<i>McKenzie Lange/AP</i><br/>
McKenzie Lange/AP

By Jeremy Harlan, CNN

Tina Peters, the county clerk in Mesa County, Colorado, and her deputy clerk, Belinda Knisley, have been indicted by a county grand jury stemming from an election security breach investigation by local authorities.

District Attorney Dan Rubinstein announced Wednesday morning that Peters faces 10 counts, including three felony counts of attempting to influence a public servant, two felony counts of conspiracy to commit criminal impersonation, one felony count of identity theft, and misdemeanor counts for first-degree official misconduct, violation of duty and failing to comply with requirements of the Colorado secretary of state.

Knisley faces six counts, including three felony counts of attempting to influence a public servant, one felony count of conspiracy to commit criminal impersonation, and misdemeanor counts for violation of duty and failing to comply with the requirements of the secretary of state.

Warrants were issued for Peters’ and Knisley’s arrests. Both of their bonds are set at $500,000 cash only. Knisley has been booked into the Mesa County Jail, according to Mesa County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Megan Terlecky.

“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,” Rubinstein and Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said in a statement. “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.”

CNN has reached out to attorneys for Peters and Knisley for comment on the indictments. Peters has publicly asserted that the investigation was partisan and politically motivated.

The criminal investigation into the clerk’s office began after Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, accused Peters, a pro-Trump Republican, and her deputies of facilitating a security breach in May. The breach resulted in confidential voting machine logins, and forensic images of their hard drives, being published in a QAnon-affiliated Telegram channel in early August 2021, according to previous CNN reporting.

Beginning in April 2021, according to the indictment, in advance of a May 25-26, 2021, trusted build of voting machines, Peters and Knisley “devised and executed a deceptive scheme” to influence public servants, breach security protocols, exceed permissible access to voting equipment, and set in motion the eventual distribution of confidential information to unauthorized people. A “trusted build” is “the origin of the chain-of-custody for any software and firmware component of the voting system,” according to the indictment.

In a statement released after the indictment, Griswold said Peters’ actions “constituted one of the nation’s first insider threats where an official, elected to uphold free, fair, and secure selections risked the integrity of the election system in an effort to prove unfounded conspiracy theories.

“Every eligible Coloradan — Republican, Democrat, and Unaffiliated alike — has the right to make their voice heard in safe, accessible, and secure elections,” added Griswold. “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.”

Last month, Peters announced she would challenge Griswold for secretary of state in November.

On Friday, Peters is scheduled to appear in a Mesa County court on two separate charges of obstructing a peace officer and obstructing government operations when she was arrested by Grand Junction police at a local business in early February.

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