New Mexico official involved in election standoff avoids prison in Capitol riot
An elected official who is a central figure in a New Mexico county’s refusal to certify recent election results based on debunked conspiracy theories about voting machines avoided more jail time on Friday for joining the mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol.
Couy Griffin, who founded the political group Cowboys for Trump, was sentenced to 14 days imprisonment. U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden gave Griffin credit for the 20 days he already served in jail after his arrest.
Federal prosecutors and a probation officer had both recommended a sentence of three months in prison. Griffin faced a maximum prison sentence of one year for his misdemeanor conviction.
After a trial without a jury, McFadden found Griffin guilty in March of entering a restricted area outside the Capitol during the riot on Jan. 6, 2021, but not guilty of a disorderly conduct charge. Griffin didn’t go into the building itself and wasn’t accused of engaging in any violence or destruction.
McFadden, who was nominated by President Trump, also ordered Griffin to pay a $3,000 fine and $500 in restitution and perform 60 hours of community service.
The sentencing of Griffin for his role in the riot that delayed the certification of President Biden’s victory and sent lawmakers running for their lives came the same day that Griffin’s Republican-dominated county commission faced a deadline to certify its election results.
The New Mexico secretary of state’s office has asked the state attorney general’s office to investigate the Otero County Commission for possible violations of state election and government ethics laws.
During his sentencing, Griffin claimed the commission “found major discrepancies” in an election audit. He didn’t elaborate but said, “That’s all we want, is transparency and truth.”
McFadden said he didn’t factor that situation into his sentencing of Griffin. But the judge said public officials like Griffin must be held to a higher standard.
“We need our elected officials to support this country,” McFadden said.
During the riot, Griffin shouted his unsubstantiated belief that the election was stolen from Trump, climbed a toppled fence and another barrier to access the Capitol steps and used a bullhorn to lead the throngs in prayer.
Griffin told McFadden that he only went to the Capitol to pray with others.
“My actions on Jan. 6 were the result of my faith,” he said.
McFadden said the Capitol riot was a “national embarrassment” and called it “preposterous” for Griffin to claim that he didn’t know he couldn’t be on Capitol grounds on Jan. 6.
“I’m not convinced, even a little bit,” the judge said.
Griffin and his two other colleagues on the Otero County Commission in southern New Mexico voted against certifying results from the state’s June 7 primary without raising specific concerns about discrepancies. The state Supreme Court has since ordered the conservative-leaning commission to certify the results before a statewide deadline Friday.
There is no evidence of widespread fraud or manipulation of voting equipment in the 2020 presidential election, which Trump lost to Biden. Election experts say the county’s refusal to certify results of free and fair elections threatens the democratic process.
A spokesperson for state Atty. Gen. Hector Balderas said the commission has been told it “must comply with the rule of law or we will take legal action.”
The county commission voted last week to recount ballots from the statewide primary election by hand, remove state-mandated ballot drop boxes that facilitate absentee voting and discontinue the use of Dominion vote tabulation machines in the general election. Republican Otero County Clerk Robyn Holmes says those instructions would break the law and she won’t do any of it.
A day after the Capitol siege, Griffin made a social media video expressing his intention to return to Washington and talking about the prospect of holding a gun rights rally on the Capitol steps, saying “there’s gonna be blood running out of that building.”
“But at the end of the day, you mark my word, we will plant our flag on the desk of [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi and [Sen.] Chuck Schumer and Donald J. Trump if it boils down to it,” Griffin said.
At least 21 riot defendants have pleaded guilty to a single count of the same misdemeanor charge that Griffin was convicted of by the judge. Judges have handed down prison sentences ranging from 10 days to three months in 14 of those cases, according to an AP review of court records.
Prosecutors said Griffin has shown a lack of contrition for his actions during the attack. Griffin bragged at a county commission meeting about violating orders from police to stay out of the restricted area, has spread conspiracy theories about what happened on Jan. 6 and has made social media posts that questioned the conclusions of the judge overseeing his case, prosecutors said.
Defense attorney Nicholas Smith maintained Griffin is remorseful and believes he received a fair trial.
But the judge said Griffin’s lack of remorse and apparent disdain for the criminal justice system is “very concerning.”
Griffin is one of the few riot defendants who isn’t accused of entering the Capitol building or engaging in any violent or destructive behavior.
More than 800 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Jan. 6 riot. Over 300 of them have pleaded guilty and nearly 200 have been sentenced.
Kunzelman reported from Washington and Billeaud from Phoenix. Associated Press writer Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, N.M., contributed to this report.
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