Frank called Peters onstage to deal with this unexpected turn of events. She denied that any hard drives were taken from her office “unless it happened during the raid”. Frank put his arm around Peters and told him that he had just been informed that they were “not legally allowed” to let her answer questions.
Mesa County files showed the trusted version wiped software that was used in the 2020 election. But that’s precisely what the update was designed to do. The purpose of a trusted release is to fix known system vulnerabilities and add new functionality for users. During the process, software from previous elections is overwritten, so the clerk is supposed to back up voting records and system access and activity logs beforehand. (Paper ballots are also kept for more than two years.) Robert Graham, a cybersecurity professional who was at the Lindell symposium, described the scene in Sioux Falls as “all weird nonsense.” “They’re trying to assert this thing that their listeners or the Republican masses want to believe,” he said, “and so they continue to structure reality to fit this conspiracy theory.”
In August, Jena Griswold, Democratic Colorado secretary of state, and Dan Rubinstein, Republican county attorney, announced that they had opened separate investigations into Peters and his deputy, Belinda Knisley. Griswold had much of Mesa County’s voting equipment decommissioned; a district court judge then barred Peters from overseeing Mesa County elections. The state Ethics Commission began receiving complaints alleging that Peters violated Colorado’s sixty-five dollar donation limit for public officials when she accepted flights and lodging from Lindell, and that she ran a “criminal legal defense fund” to which Lindell admitted contributing as much as eight hundred thousand dollars. (Lindell told me he had misspoken and in fact hadn’t contributed a single dollar to Peters’ fund. “I thought I put some money in,” he said. said. “But my lawyer and my accountant said, ‘No, Mike, you didn’t put in any money.'”)
On November 16, 2021, FBI agents searched the homes of Peters and Bishop. Bishop told me their digital devices were seized. In a video posted to his social media channel, Bishop said federal agents were looking for evidence of a conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Three months later, Rubinstein announced that a grand jury had been appointed to investigate the violation. That same day, Peters said she would run for re-election as county clerk. A month later, she scrapped that plan and announced on Steve Bannon’s “War Room” show that she would be running for Secretary of State instead. In doing so, she became one of at least 22 Holocaust deniers vying this year to take charge of elections in 18 states, a move widely understood as a coordinated attempt to replace unbiased election officials with government allies. Trump. To QAnon 2021-themed conference, Jim Marchant, who is now the Republican nominee for secretary of state in Nevada, said Lindell and Byrne were part of a coalition behind the effort. (Lindell and Byrne have denied this, but The America Project, an organization Byrne co-directs, has donated tens of thousands of dollars to a political action committee that backs the coalition.)
On March 8, weeks after Peters announced her candidacy for Colorado secretary of state, the grand jury indicted her and Knisley on a mixture of felonies and misdemeanors, including usurpation of identity, conspiracy to impersonate a criminal and attempts to influence officials. In the world of election deniers, it was a badge of honor. The next day, Bannon told his audience, “Tina Peters is now a national crusade. Mike Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, endorsed his candidacy. The Peters investigation has cost Mesa County more than $1 million so far, a figure that does not include costs incurred by the district attorney’s office, local law enforcement and the offices of the Attorney General and the Secretary of State of Colorado. Although Peters was not allowed into the Clerk and Recorder’s office, she continued to receive her salary of ninety-three thousand dollars. She denied any wrongdoing. (The Justice Department declined to say whether it had opened an investigation into the matter, but, so far, Bishop, Hayes, Lindell, Byrne and Watkins have not been prosecuted by the federal government for their involvement in the potential theft and distribution of the Dominion software.)
Peters’ campaign – with Bishop as his registered agent – quickly turned ugly. At a rally in Denver that drew a few hundred attendees, including Lindell, Peters said, “They’re suing me because I refuse to believe in their bogus religion of nationalized elections. So, on the left, I’m a heretic. I refuse to participate in the sin of looking away now that forensic evidence has revealed their tainted voting machines. Lindell, on his online show, posted the names and phone numbers of county commissioners and encouraged “everyone in Colorado” to call them. Commissioners then spent months responding to threats and hate mail. Peters accused Attorney General Merrick Garland of shooting him and said he promised Rubinstein “the world” in exchange for his head. She called the Colorado GOP chairman a RINO for asking him to suspend his campaign in light of the indictment. She continually tried to discredit Pam Anderson, her main rival for the GOP nomination, for being a board member of the nonpartisan Center for Technology and Civic Life, which funneled hundreds of millions of dollars in grants to local election offices across the country to facilitate voting during the pandemic. The group had received a sizable donation from Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan. “Pam and Jena are wings of the same bird,” Peters said on a radio show two weeks before the Republican primary election. “We have Soros on one side, Zuckerberg on the other.”
Her most vicious attack, perhaps, was directed against Gerald Wood, the man whose identity she allegedly stole, who was forced to appear before the grand jury. Wood said he had never worked for Mesa County and was not present when his ID card was used to obtain the files. He later told an interviewer that he thought he had been “set up from the start”. Peters claimed Wood had perjured himself and said he “would have to face it”. Some members of Wood’s social circle reportedly began calling him “Judas Jerry”. “These are people who call themselves Christians,” Wood’s wife, a pastor, said in a recent interview. “It’s been very devastating in so many ways.” (Wood could not be reached for comment.)
On June 28, when the primary votes were tallied, Peters not only lost the statewide election by more than fourteen points, but she also lost them in Mesa County. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she pulled a page from Trump’s playbook by refusing to concede, saying the election was fraudulent and demanding a recount. At first she was unsuccessful in finding the more than two hundred thousand dollars it would cost to undertake a recount and instead tried to enlist county clerks to do so. She continued to ask for donations for her recount effort and received over half a million dollars, most of it from a day she appeared on Bannon’s show. “It’s not over,” she told her followers. But, when a recount was finally conducted in early August, it confirmed the result: Peters lost to Anderson by nearly ninety thousand votes.