A government ethics watchdog filed a lawsuit alleging that a New Mexico county commissioner violated his oath to uphold the Constitution when he stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Citing the 14th Amendment’s proscriptions against insurrectionists, the watchdog demands that he be barred from holding office again.
Couy Griffin, an outspoken Donald Trump supporter and founder of the group “Cowboys for Trump,” has served as commissioner of Otero County, New Mexico, since 2018. He was arrested in January of 2021, after being recorded standing with a megaphone over the crowd that would ultimately overwhelm police and swarm the Capitol building, temporarily stopping Congress from certifying Joe Biden‘s win in the 2020 presidential election.
He was later charged with two misdemeanors, and he is currently standing trial in the District of D.C., in the second Jan. 6-related case to make it to this phase.
Griffin was also seen using a metal barricade as a ladder to access Capitol grounds. Prosecutors said Griffin made multiple statements indicating he planned to return to D.C. after Jan. 6, possibly with weapons, to go after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) announced its lawsuit on Monday, in the middle of Griffin’s bench trial before U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden, a Trump appointee. Griffin eschewed his right to a trial by jury in deep blue Washington, D.C.
According to the lawsuit, filed on behalf of two residents of Otero County, Griffin violated the oath he took to uphold the Constitution when he joined the pro-Trump mob at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“Defendant participated in, encouraged, and promoted the January 6, 2021 attack on the United States Capitol and is presently facing federal criminal charges for his actions that day,” the complaint says.
The lawsuit specifically cites the “disqualification clause” of the 14th Amendment, which says:
No person shall . . . hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.
Calling Griffin an “outspoken participant in the violent and illegal acts” that took place on Jan. 6, the lawsuit says that Griffin took to social media on Jan. 7 and “explained that January 6th was merely the beginning of what he called a ‘revolution.’ He promised that he and other insurrectionists would use guns and violence to accomplish their goals, which could end with ‘blood running out’ of the Capitol.”
Griffin also allegedly spoke about his participation on Jan. 6 at an Otero County Commission meeting on Jan. 6, “using the meeting as an opportunity to broadcast his actions and support for the insurrectionists’ cause.”
He admitted that he knowingly breached the security barricades Capitol Police had put into place to protect the Capitol perimeter, stating ‘there was some fencing up and they were saying you could not go any further because this was being reserved for Joe Biden and his inauguration. Well, you tell a million Trump supporters that . . . , pretty soon that crowd just pushed through.’
At the same meeting, Defendant described plans to return to the Capitol on January 20, 2021 for President Elect Biden’s inauguration and stated that, this time, he would bring firearms: ‘I am going to leave either tonight or tomorrow. I’ve got a .357 Henry big boy rifle . . . that I got in the trunk of my car, and I’ve got a .357 single action revolver . . . that I will have underneath the front seat on my right side. And I will embrace my Second Amendment, I will keep my right to bear arms, my vehicle is an extension of my home in regard to the constitution law, and I have a right to have those firearms in my car.’
“Defendant both engaged in the January 6th insurrection and gave aid or comfort to insurrectionists seeking to prevent the constitutionally-mandated counting of electoral votes,” the lawsuit alleges, noting that Griffin “traveled across the country to participate in a demonstration the purpose of which was to stop, impede, and delay the constitutionally-mandated process of counting electoral votes and, in turn, the certification of Joe Biden’s election as President.”
Alleging that Griffin “personally contributed to the overwhelming of law enforcement,” the lawsuit also says he “relished in the violent attack on the heart of American democracy and later threatened further such attacks unless the insurrectionists’ false and debunked claims of election fraud were addressed.”
“Defendant also voluntarily aided the insurrectionists by assuming a leadership role in the crowd, addressing them with a bullhorn, and documenting and promoting the events on social media,” the complaint says, adding:
Amid the assault on the Capitol, Defendant positioned himself as a spokesman for the insurrectionists’ cause, stating ‘the people are showing that they’ve had enough. People are ready for fair and legal elections, or this is what you are going to get, you’re going to get more of it.’ Defendant’s organization, Cowboys for Trump, then tweeted the video to the account’s 62,300 followers, with the text “#Cowboys for Trump fighting till the end!” The video garnered at least 7,186 views. This was promotional content glorifying a violent insurrection against the United States, obtained through unlawful means and broadcast to thousands. With this social-media promotion, Defendant voluntarily aided the insurrection by personally broadcasting its message and contributing things useful to the insurrectionists’ cause.
“Couy Griffin breached the Capitol grounds on January 6th as part of an organized effort to halt the certification of a free and fair election. Under the Constitution, those office holders who, like Griffin, violated their oath by participating in or aiding an insurrection, must be barred from public office,” CREW President Noah Bookbinder said in the press release. “Couy Griffin has used his public platform to spread the false narrative that the election was stolen from Donald Trump and to defend the attack on our Capitol. His actions on January 6th were part of and contributed to an insurrection, and his tenure in government continues to be a threat to our democracy. It’s time for Couy Griffin to be removed from office.”
According to the Washington Post, Griffin has said he will not run for re-election, although he has maintained his innocence since his arrest. His fellow county commissioners have previously called for his resignation.
Read the complaint and view the exhibits, via CREW, below.
[Images via CREW legal filing.]
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