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    County Clerk Tina Peters Indicted in Colorado Voting Investigation

    The Mesa County clerk, Tina Peters, is charged with 10 counts related to tampering with voting equipment. A Republican running for secretary of state, she has promoted false claims of fraud in the 2020 election.Tina Peters, a county clerk running as a Republican for secretary of state of Colorado, was indicted Tuesday evening on 10 criminal counts related to allegations that she tampered with election equipment after the 2020 election.The indictment, which the district attorney of Mesa County, Colo., announced on Wednesday, is connected to Ms. Peters’s work as the top county election administrator, a role in which she promoted former President Donald J. Trump’s false claims that the election had been stolen. Because of Ms. Peters’s unusual scheme to interfere with voting machines, state officials “could not establish confidence in the integrity or security” of elections equipment, the indictment said.Ms. Peters’s case is a prominent example of how false theories about election fraud and Republican-led calls for “audits” of the 2020 vote count have created election-security threats involving the integrity of voting machines, software and other election equipment. And in running for secretary of state, Ms. Peters is among a group of brazenly partisan candidates who claim that Mr. Trump may have won the election and who are transforming races around the country for such once little-known offices.A grand jury indicted Ms. Peters on both felony and misdemeanor charges, including counts of attempting to influence a public servant, criminal impersonation, conspiracy to commit criminal impersonation, identity theft, first-degree official misconduct, violation of duty and failing to comply with the secretary of state.In a statement, Ms. Peters accused Democrats of using the grand jury “to formalize politically motivated accusations” against her.“Using legal muscle to indict political opponents during an election isn’t new strategy, but it’s easier to execute when you have a district attorney who despises President Trump and any constitutional conservative like myself who continues to demand all election evidence be made available to the public,” she said.The grand jury also indicted Belinda Knisley, Ms. Peters’s deputy, on six counts. A lawyer for Ms. Knisley did not respond to a request for comment.The Mesa County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday that Ms. Knisley and Ms. Peters were both in custody.The indictment focused on how passwords used to update voting machine software had been leaked online in August 2021.Beginning in April, Ms. Peters and Ms. Knisley “devised and executed a deceptive scheme which was designed 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,” according to the indictment, which linked their actions to the release of the passwords and other confidential information.Jessi Romero, the voting systems manager at the Colorado secretary of state’s office, told the grand jury that the Mesa County elections office — which Ms. Peters led as county clerk and recorder — had contacted him in April to request that members of the public be allowed to observe a software update process in person. Mr. Romero responded that this was not allowed.On May 13, according to the indictment, Ms. Knisley requested an access badge and an official email address for a “temp employee” who would represent the county on site during the software update. But that person was not an employee and had no right to be on site under state regulations, the indictment said.“Relying on the misrepresentations” of Ms. Knisley — who later said she had been acting on Ms. Peters’s instructions — Mesa County granted the person an access badge for the election building. He later returned the badge to Ms. Knisley, the indictment said.But, according to the indictment, county records show that someone used that badge to enter secure areas of the election offices on May 23, two days before the scheduled software update.A few days earlier, according to the indictment, the security cameras in the election office had been turned off at Ms. Knisley’s request.Prosecutors have previously said they believe that Ms. Peters entered a secure area of a warehouse where voting machines were stored and copied hard drives and election-management software from the machines.The indictment does not explain why prosecutors believe Ms. Peters or Ms. Knisley wanted the material.In early August, the conservative website Gateway Pundit posted passwords for the county’s election machines. Shortly afterward, the Mesa County machines’ software showed up on large monitors at a South Dakota election symposium organized by the conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell and attended by Ms. Peters.A Colorado judge stripped Ms. Peters of her duties overseeing last year’s election after a lawsuit was filed by Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat. Ms. Peters announced last month that she would run for secretary of state against Ms. Griswold.“Officials who carry out elections do so in public trust and must be held accountable when they abuse their power or position,” Ms. Griswold said in a statement on Wednesday.The indictment was announced by the Mesa County district attorney, Daniel P. Rubinstein, and the Colorado attorney general, Phil Weiser.“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,” Mr. Rubinstein and Mr. Weiser said in a statement in which they added that their offices would provide no further comment “to maintain the investigation’s impartiality.”Reid J. Epstein More

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    2020 Election Denier Will Run for Top Elections Position in Colorado

    Tina Peters, the Mesa County clerk, has been stripped of her county election oversight but is seeking to oversee her state’s elections as secretary of state.A Republican county clerk in Colorado who was stripped of her responsibility of overseeing county elections is joining a growing movement of people throughout the country who spread false claims about fraud in the 2020 presidential election and want to oversee the next one.Tina Peters, the Mesa County clerk, who is facing accusations that she breached the security of voting machines, announced on Monday that she would run to be the top elections official in Colorado.At least three Republican challengers are already running to unseat the current Colorado secretary of state, Jena Griswold, a Democrat.Colorado is a purple state that President Biden won with 55 percent of the vote in 2020. The state’s primary is on June 28, and Colorado is one of 27 states whose top elections official will be on the ballot this year.In 2020, when former President Donald J. Trump and his allies sought to undo the results of the election, they focused their pressure campaign on these relatively little-known officeholders.“I am the wall between your vote and nationalized elections,” Ms. Peters said during an appearance Monday on a podcast hosted by Stephen K. Bannon, the embattled former top aide to Mr. Trump. “They are coming after me because I am standing in their way — of truth, transparency and elections held closest to the people.”Ms. Griswold, who is also the head of the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State, said in a statement on Monday that Ms. Peters was “unfit to be secretary of state and a danger to Colorado elections,” citing Ms. Peters’s attempts to discredit the results of the 2020 presidential election.Ms. Peters did not immediately respond to telephone and email messages on Monday seeking comment.Elected in 2018, Ms. Peters took office as clerk and recorder of Mesa County, in far western Colorado, in 2019. By late 2021 a Mesa County Court judge had upheld Ms. Griswold’s removing Ms. Peters from overseeing elections in the county and replacing her with an appointee.In May of last year, Ms. Peters and two other people entered a secure area of a warehouse in Mesa County where crucial election information was stored. They copied hard drives and election-management software from voting machines, the authorities said.In early August, the conservative website Gateway Pundit posted passwords for the county’s election machines. In October Ms. Peters spoke at a gathering in South Dakota of people determined to show that the 2020 election had been stolen from Mr. Trump.The gathering also featured a large screen that, at one point, showed the software from the election machines in Mesa County.Ms. Griswold said her office had concluded that the passwords leaked out when Ms. Peters enlisted a staff member to accompany her to surreptitiously record a routine voting-machine maintenance procedure. State and county officials announced last month that a grand jury was looking into allegations of tampering with Mesa County election equipment and “official misconduct.”More recently, Ms. Peters was briefly detained by the police when she obstructed efforts by officials with the local district attorney to serve a search warrant for her iPad. Ms. Peters may have used the iPad to record a court proceeding related to one of her deputies, according to Stephanie Reecy, a spokeswoman for the county.In video of the Feb. 8 encounter, taken by a bystander and posted on Twitter, Ms. Peters can be heard repeatedly saying, “Let go of me,” as officers seek to detain her. “It hurts. Let go of me,” she says, before bending her leg and raising her foot toward the officer standing behind her.An officer responds, “Do not kick,” according to body camera video posted by KJCT News 8, a local station. “Do you understand?”Ms. Peters was charged with obstructing a peace officer and obstructing government operations, according to the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office. She turned herself in to the authorities on Thursday, posted $500 bond and was released, according to county officials.“I still have the bruises on my arm where they manhandled me,” Ms. Peters told Mr. Bannon on Monday. Later she said: “I just want to say I love the people. That’s why I’m doing this.”Mr. Bannon said Ms. Peters had been targeted because of her fight against “this globalist apparatus.”“Thank you,” Ms. Peters told the host. “I’ll work hard for you guys.” More

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    Surge in Colorado Covid cases could force hospitals to ration services

    ColoradoSurge in Colorado Covid cases could force hospitals to ration servicesIncrease can be attributed in part to the almost 40% of the state population that has not been vaccinated Eric BergerThu 4 Nov 2021 06.00 EDTLast modified on Thu 4 Nov 2021 09.00 EDTEvan Faber’s 78-year-old father, Michael, has for the last three years had difficulty walking around his home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Fabers hope that a spinal surgery scheduled for late December at a local hospital will help restore his balance and motor function.But now they are worried that the hospital will have to postpone the operation.That’s because a recent surge in Covid-19 cases around the state has increased the number of unvaccinated patients needing care and prompted concerns that hospitals may have to ration services for other issues.“If you have been waiting for an elective procedure for the last 18 months and are finally scheduled – you’re vaccinated, you don’t have Covid – your procedure might still get canceled if a hospital is totally full,” said Dr Anuj Mehta, a pulmonologist with Denver Health who serves on the governor’s expert emergency epidemic response committee. “While this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated at this point – and the surges in the hospital are entirely being driven by unvaccinated folks – it is having a massive bleed-over effect on to the entire population.”There are about 1,300 patients hospitalized with Covid-19 in Colorado, according to the New York Times data; that’s the highest number since December 2020, when more than 1,900 patients were hospitalized.That number has increased by 15% over the last two weeks, the third largest increase in the country, and at a time when the national picture for the US is of a Delta variant surge that is firmly on the way down.The trend in Colorado can be attributed in part to the almost 40% of the state population that has not been vaccinated and people again gathering indoors without masks. It also shows that, despite the national downward trends of infections, regional spikes can still happen that can cause havoc in state healthcare systems.“We clearly have events taking place in Colorado, as elsewhere, that are spreading infection,” said Dr Jon Samet, an epidemiologist who directs Covid-19 modeling for the state. “I know everyone would like for it to be 2019 all over again, but that’s not the case.”The state had also not had surges on the scale of other states, said Dr Michelle Barron, senior medical director of infection prevention and control for UCHealth.Other states “had flames from the get-go, whereas we have been smoldering along this whole time, and we are finally hitting that peak of saturation and seeing flames finally,” said Barron.Thirty per cent of Colorado hospitals are anticipating a shortage in the number of intensive care unit beds and 37% are anticipating staffing shortages within the next week, according to data from the Colorado department of public health and environment.“Staffing is becoming increasingly a problem, which is true everywhere throughout the country. We are seeing healthcare workers really burned out from everything the last two years,” said Mehta. “It just raises concerns that we are pushing the limits of how many patients we can take care of. We are still taking great care of everybody” at Denver Health, “but we are filling up fast.”In response to the surge, Governor Jared Polis, a Democrat, on Sunday issued a pair of executive orders that allow the state to direct healthcare facilities to redirect patients to other centers and for the implementation of a protocol for healthcare workers to decide in an emergency who should be treated first.Mehta would also like to see the governor issue a statewide indoor mask mandate, something Polis has declined to do.“If we were to continue masking indoors, I think we would see a significant drop in transmission and hospitalization, and that would free us up to do the routine medical stuff that we do all the time,” Mehta said.Even though people who have been vaccinated against Covid face a very low risk of hospitalization, they still, of course, face other risks. The UCHealth system is seeing record number of patients with non-Covid issues, according to a spokesperson.“A year ago, most schools and businesses were virtual, and there were capacity limits on restaurants and other businesses,” Dan Weaver vice-president of communications for UCHealth stated in an email. “Now, with few people staying at home, we are seeing large numbers of traumas, other injuries, and non-Covid healthcare needs.”Even among healthy Colorado residents, the pandemic continues to affect their lives. Stephanie Danielson, a Boulder resident, had 60 children in her son and daughter’s Cub Scouts pack a year ago; there are now 10, in part because of ongoing concerns about the virus.The pack gathered for a hike in September for the first time in more than a year – and afterwards learned that a parent had tested positive for Covid.“As a leader, it felt defeating because we are trying so hard to bring back some normalcy to each other’s lives, and our very first time, we had this happen,” said Danielson, who works at Moxie Sozo, a branding agency in Boulder.Faber, the 40-year-old CEO of the company, just got a vaccine booster and said his life has not changed much because of the surge. But he continues to worry about his father, a retired restaurant owner.“Everything is so volatile, it’s a waiting game to see if [the surgery] will still happen,” said Faber. “It’s the circle of people just outside of the direct impact from Covid that are dealing” with the surge, “and I know there are more severe examples than this”.TopicsColoradoCoronavirusInfectious diseasesUS politicsVaccines and immunisationnewsReuse this content More

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    Jared Polis becomes first sitting governor to marry in same-sex wedding

    ColoradoJared Polis becomes first sitting governor to marry in same-sex weddingThe Colorado governor married his longtime partner of 18 years, Marlon Reis, in a traditional Jewish ceremony in Boulder Amudalat AjasaFri 17 Sep 2021 12.50 EDTLast modified on Fri 17 Sep 2021 13.03 EDTJared Polis has become the first openly gay governor in the US to marry in office.The Colorado governor and Marlon Reis, his partner of 18 years, hosted an intimate traditional-styled Jewish wedding surrounded by close friends, family and their two children, according to a news release this week.The wedding, held on the University of Colorado’s Boulder campus, held significant meaning as it marked the 18th anniversary of their first date.The Colorado governor is the first publicly LGBTQ official to get married while in office, according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund. A decade before Polis was elected governor of Colorado, he made history as the first parent in a same-sex relationship elected to the United States House of Representatives.What it’s like being America’s first openly gay governorRead more“The greatest lesson we have learned over the past 18 months is that life as we know it can change in an instant. We are thankful for the health and wellbeing of our family and friends, and the opportunity to celebrate our life together as a married couple,” Polis and Reis said in a joint statement.When Polis took office in 2018, it had been just three years since the United States supreme court made same-sex marriage legal across the country.“As I was growing up, marriage was not even in the realm of possibility,” Reis, 40, said. “And in fact, the reality was that there was a lot of misinformation out there about what could potentially happen if you came out – what opportunities would you lose, how it would negatively impact you. So for a long time, the idea of getting married, we didn’t talk about it.”Reis told the Colorado Sun that Polis proposed last winter while the couple battled Covid-19 in their Boulder home. Right before Reis was hospitalized, Polis got down on one knee.TopicsColoradoLGBT rightsUS politicsDemocratsnewsReuse this content More

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    They Seemed Like Democratic Activists. They Were Secretly Conservative Spies.

    CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The young couple posing in front of the faux Eiffel Tower at the Paris hotel in Las Vegas fit right in, two people in a sea of idealistic Democrats who had arrived in the city in February 2020 for a Democratic primary debate.Large donations to the Democratic National Committee — $10,000 each — had bought Beau Maier and Sofia LaRocca tickets to the debate. During a cocktail reception beforehand, they worked the room of party officials, rainbow donkey pins affixed to their lapels.In fact, much about them was a lie. Mr. Maier and Ms. LaRocca were part of an undercover operation by conservatives to infiltrate progressive groups, political campaigns and the offices of Democratic as well as moderate Republican elected officials during the 2020 election cycle, according to interviews and documents.Using large campaign donations and cover stories, the operatives aimed to gather dirt that could sabotage the reputations of people and organizations considered threats to a hard-right agenda advanced by President Donald J. Trump.At the center of the scheme was an unusual cast: a former British spy connected to the security contractor Erik Prince, a wealthy heiress to the Gore-Tex fortune and undercover operatives like Mr. Maier and Ms. LaRocca who used Wyoming as a base to insinuate themselves into the political fabric of this state and at least two others, Colorado and Arizona.In more than two dozen interviews and a review of federal election records, The New York Times reconstructed many of the operatives’ interactions in Wyoming and other states — mapping out their associations and likely targets — and spoke to people with whom they discussed details of their spying operation. Publicly available documents in Wyoming also tied Mr. Maier and Ms. LaRocca to an address in Cody used by the former spy, Richard Seddon.What the effort accomplished — and how much information Mr. Seddon’s operatives gathered — is unclear. Sometimes, their tactics were bumbling and amateurish. But the operation’s use of spycraft to manipulate the politics of several states over years greatly exceeds the tactics of more traditional political dirty tricks operations.It is also a sign of how ultraconservative Republicans see a deep need to install allies in various positions at the state level to gain an advantage on the electoral map. Secretaries of state, for example, play a crucial role in certifying election results every two years, and some became targets of Mr. Trump and his allies in their efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.Sofia LaRocca and Beau Maier were in Las Vegas last year for the Democratic primary debate. They had insinuated themselves into the fabric of progressive movements in the West.The campaign followed another effort engineered by Mr. Seddon. He aided a network of conservative activists trying to discredit perceived enemies of Mr. Trump inside the government, including a planned sting operation in 2018 against Mr. Trump’s national security adviser at the time, H.R. McMaster, and helping set up secret surveillance of F.B.I. employees and other government officials.Mr. Prince had set Mr. Seddon’s work in motion, recruiting him around the beginning of the Trump administration to hire former spies to train conservative activists in the basics of espionage, and send them on political sabotage missions.By the end of 2018, Mr. Seddon secured funding from the Wyoming heiress, Susan Gore, according to people familiar with her role. He recruited several former operatives from the conservative group Project Veritas, where he had worked previously, to set up the political infiltration operation in the West.Project Veritas has a history of using operatives with fake names to target liberal organizations and make secret recordings to embarrass them.The endeavor in the West appears to have had two primary goals: penetrate local and eventually national Democratic political circles for long-term intelligence gathering, and collect dirt on moderate Republicans that could be used against them in the internecine party battles being waged by Mr. Trump and his allies.Nate Martin, the head of Better Wyoming, a progressive group that was one of the operation’s targets, said he suspected that its aim was to “dig up this information and you sit on it until you really can destroy somebody.”Toward the first goal, operatives concocted cover stories and made large campaign donations to gain entree to Democratic events such as the Las Vegas debate and a Washington fund-raiser attended by Democratic lawmakers.They also took aim at the administration of the Republican governor of Wyoming, Mark Gordon, whom hard-right conservatives considered far too moderate and whose candidacy Ms. Gore had opposed in 2018. They targeted a Republican state representative, now the Wyoming speaker of the house, because of his openness to liberalizing marijuana laws — a position Ms. Gore vigorously opposes.Using her Democratic cover identity, Ms. LaRocca got a job working for a consortium of wealthy liberal donors in Wyoming — the Wyoming Investor Network, or WIN — that had decided to back some moderate Republicans. The job gave her access to valuable information.“Getting the WIN stuff is really damaging,” said Chris Bell, who worked as a political consultant for the consortium. “It’s the entire strategy. Where the money is going. What we’re doing long term.”Mr. Seddon, Mr. Maier and Ms. LaRocca did not respond to requests for comment about the operation or the campaign contributions. Cassie Craven, a lawyer for Ms. Gore, also did not respond to emails or a voice mail message seeking comment about the operation, nor did Ms. Gore herself.When The Times reached out to political activists and politicians who had come to know Mr. Maier and Ms. LaRocca, informing them of the couple’s true agenda, some said the news confirmed their own suspicions that the pair might not have been on the level. Others were stunned and said they regretted any part they had played in helping them gain entree to political circles in the West.George Durazzo Jr., a Colorado businessman and fund-raiser who coaxed the large donations from Mr. Maier and Ms. LaRocca and shepherded them around Las Vegas before the debate, said he was both angry and embarrassed. He had planned, he said, to take them to the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee before the pandemic turned it into a virtual event.“If they are indeed Benedict Arnold and Mata Hari,” he said, “I was the one who was fooled.”Mr. Maier and Ms. LaRocca volunteered at a Democratic Party fund-raiser at the Old Wilson Schoolhouse near Jackson, Wyo., in August 2019.Ryan Dorgan for The New York TimesSetting Up in WyomingMs. LaRocca first met Mr. Seddon in 2017, when he ran training for Project Veritas operatives at Mr. Prince’s family ranch in Wapiti, Wyo. Mr. Seddon taught them how to work undercover, build aliases and recruit sources. Mr. Prince, who had recruited Mr. Seddon, is the brother of Betsy DeVos, Mr. Trump’s education secretary.Mr. Maier, 36, a brawny and tattooed veteran of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division who fought in Iraq, also trained at the Prince ranch that year. His mother is a baker and was the cook at the ranch, and he is the nephew of Glenn Beck, the conservative commentator. At one point, Ms. Gore came to watch the training at the ranch.The next year, Mr. Maier and Ms. LaRocca lived in a luxury house in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington that Project Veritas rented for undercover sting operations against government officials that tried to expose “deep state” bias against Mr. Trump.The Women’s March in Cheyenne in 2019.Jacob Byk/The Wyoming Tribune Eagle, via Associated PressPeople who worked for the conservative group identified the couple and linked them to the Georgetown house. Others confirmed Ms. LaRocca was pictured on the website Project Veritas Exposed, where she was identified as “Maria.”Mr. Seddon left Project Veritas in the summer of 2018. He lured Mr. Maier, Ms. LaRocca and others to work with him in Wyoming on a new venture — one that would more closely model his time as a British intelligence officer working overseas. Mr. Seddon wanted to run a classic espionage operation in which undercover agents would burrow into organizations and potentially recruit others to help collect information. As in his days at MI-6, the goal was to spy on potential adversaries or targets without getting caught and then quietly use the information to gain an advantage. If conducted correctly, such operations can last for years.And he found someone to pay for it: Ms. Gore, the Gore-Tex heiress who for years had supported conservative and libertarian causes.Hints of Mr. Seddon’s project surfaced recently in a memoir by Cassandra Spencer, a onetime Project Veritas operative. In the book, she describes being called in June 2018 by an associate of her former colleague, Richard, who was trying to secure funding for a new initiative. The man, whom she calls Ken, told her it was a “pay for play” operation — where clients would put up money for an undercover effort.Ms. LaRocca, 28, first approached the Wyoming Democratic Party in January 2019, fresh off her attendance at the Women’s March in Cheyenne, with an offer to help raise money. Her goal, she told people, was ambitious: help “flip” one of America’s most conservative states into a reliable victory for Democratic presidential candidates — as Colorado had become over the past two decades.Mr. Seddon appears to have directed Ms. LaRocca’s outreach to the Wyoming Democratic Party as a safe first step toward building up her bona fides for future operations. Democrats in the state are vastly outnumbered, have little political clout and are eager for volunteers. Ms. LaRocca quickly declared her candidacy for vice chairwoman of the Wyoming Young Democrats, obtained a contract position at the party as a fund-raiser paid by commission and had meetings with the state party’s top two officials, Joe Barbuto and Sarah Hunt.Sarah Hunt, the executive director of the Wyoming Democratic Party.Chet Strange for The New York TimesHer behavior raised some suspicion. Ms. LaRocca and Mr. Maier lived in Fort Collins, Colo., only about 45 miles from Cheyenne, Wyoming’s capital, but their residence prompted some Democrats to ask how they planned to organize a grass-roots campaign to flip the state while living in Colorado. Ms. LaRocca told others she could not rent a home in Cheyenne because she had a dog, an implausible explanation.Ms. LaRocca had also introduced herself to party officials as Cat Debreau. She eventually told a story about why she later went by the name Sofia LaRocca: She had been the victim of an online stalker, she said, but decided to once again use her original name because the police had told her that her stalker had reformed.“Her story from the start rang very untrue,” said Nina Hebert, who at the time was the digital director for the Wyoming Democratic Party. “The police don’t call you and say, ‘Hey, your stalker is better.’”Ms. Hebert said she began to restrict Ms. LaRocca’s access to the party’s email system in the summer of 2019.At the same time, Mr. Maier was making connections of his own around the state, meeting with Democrats and Republicans on the issue of the medicinal use of marijuana, which he said was particularly valuable for war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.In August 2019, the couple volunteered at a Democratic Party fund-raiser at the Old Wilson Schoolhouse, a community center in the shadow of the Teton mountain range near Jackson. Ms. LaRocca had her picture taken with the event’s headline guest: Tom Perez, the former labor secretary and then the chairman of the Democratic National Committee.Months later, Ms. LaRocca secured a spot in a program training young progressives in the state on the basics of political and community organizing. She dashed off an email to Mr. Martin, the head of the group running the program, saying how thrilled she was to be receiving the training.During the course, she paired up with Marcie Kindred, who ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the Wyoming Legislature; Ms. LaRocca later gave $250 to her campaign. Ms. LaRocca used a picture they took together for her Facebook profile.Ms. LaRocca, left, used a picture with Marcie Kindred as her Facebook profile photo. Ms. Kindred lost a bid for a seat in the Wyoming Legislature.“It was kind of odd she put it on Facebook,” Ms. Kindred said. “We weren’t really that close. Now it makes total sense. She was playing the long game, trying to be my friend in the hopes of me getting into the legislature.”Ms. LaRocca also told Ms. Kindred that she wanted to work on the campaign of Karlee Provenza, a police reform advocate who ultimately won a seat in the legislature in one of a few Democratic districts in the state.She and Mr. Maier eventually began going on double dates with Ms. Provenza and Mr. Martin, the head of Better Wyoming who was then her fiancé and is now her husband.Over dinner one night at Sushi Jeju in Fort Collins, Ms. LaRocca and Mr. Maier made a big announcement: They, too, were engaged. Ms. LaRocca flashed a large diamond ring. Mr. Maier paid for dinner.But the relationship began taking strange turns. Months later, meeting with Ms. Provenza and Mr. Martin in Laramie, Mr. Maier told them to turn off their phones.He then proposed a plan to target Republicans — using some of his contacts who could befriend politicians and dig up dirt on them. Mr. Maier said he had friends in military intelligence who could run background checks on people and suggested he had been on a “kill squad” while serving in Iraq.“This is the tip of the iceberg in terms of what they can do,” Mr. Martin recalled Mr. Maier saying, adding that the conversation danced around who would fund the operation.A Wyoming state representative, Karlee Provenza, and her husband, Nate Martin, went on double dates with Ms. LaRocca and Mr. Maier.Chet Strange for The New York TimesDuring the meeting, Mr. Maier described the purpose of the operation, saying they would collect the damaging material and hold it quietly until the person they targeted mattered — a philosophy that seemed to reflect Mr. Seddon’s view on long-term infiltration efforts.Mr. Maier had brought intelligence reports that appeared to be drawn mostly from public records. One was about the Wyoming attorney general, Bridget Hill, Mr. Martin said.Why Mr. Maier proposed this operation is unclear.“We knew something was fishy, but we couldn’t prove it,” Mr. Martin said.Weeks later, Mr. Martin and a colleague hosted an advocacy training event at a library in Laramie County. Mr. Martin was secretly videotaped, in what appears to be a sting operation tied to Mr. Seddon’s project.Shortly afterward, a video clip appeared on a now-defunct website, showing Mr. Martin declaring that he had voted in the Republican primary race. The video’s publication served as an attempt to expose alliances between progressives and moderate Republicans.Mr. Martin said he immediately suspected it was recorded by a woman who had attended the event and approached him afterward, claiming that her name was Beth Price and that she was from Michigan. The woman, whose real name is Alexandra Pollack of Grand Ledge, Mich., acknowledged in a brief interview that she was in Wyoming at the time but declined to answer questions about what she was doing there, saying she had a nondisclosure agreement. Ms. Kindred, who had attended the Laramie event, recognized Ms. Pollack from a photo on her LinkedIn profile.Ms. Pollack lived not far from Ms. LaRocca in Maryland when they were younger, and both are around the same age. She did not respond to an email asking whether she knew Ms. LaRocca.Ms. LaRocca and Mr. Maier attended the debate in Las Vegas in February 2020.Calla Kessler/The New York TimesDonations, Then AccessDemocrats across the country began 2020 with twin goals: ensuring that Mr. Trump was defeated, and pouring energy into key congressional races that could flip the Senate and keep the House in Democratic hands.Achieving those goals meant raising millions of dollars, and the large checks written by Mr. Maier and Ms. LaRocca opened doors for them into elite political circles.In February, Mr. Durazzo, the Colorado fund-raiser, secured a pledge of $10,000 each from the couple to the Democratic National Committee. “We are all vulnerable to charm and hefty contributions,” he said later. “Ten thousand bucks, you definitely have me by the ears.”Within days, they were in Las Vegas for the Democratic presidential debate, schmoozing with committee staff members and other donors during a party beforehand.Before submitting their names to be cleared by security for the Democratic National Committee events in Las Vegas, Mr. Durazzo said he asked Mr. Maier whether any “surprises” might come up. Mr. Maier revealed that he was the nephew of Mr. Beck but said he did not share his uncle’s politics.He said: “I’m a supporter of your causes,” Mr. Durazzo recalled.George Durazzo Jr., a Colorado businessman and fund-raiser, secured a pledge of $10,000 each from the couple to the Democratic National Committee. Chet Strange for The New York TimesSeparately, Mr. Maier gave $1,250 to the campaign of Jena Griswold, a rising Democratic star in Colorado, for her re-election bid as secretary of state. The donation gained him and Ms. LaRocca an invitation to a Washington, D.C., fund-raiser, where they met Ms. Griswold.A $2,000 donation to the campaign of Mark Kelly, then a candidate in Arizona for a U.S. Senate seat, got the couple on a committee for an April fund-raiser. The next month, Mr. Maier gave $6,000 to the Wyoming Democratic Party.It was not clear where they got the money to make a flurry of generous campaign donations. Under federal law, it is illegal to make campaign donations at the behest of another person, then get reimbursed. So-called straw donations have been at the center of numerous federal investigations.“Sometimes when you’re looking at patterns of contributions, you start to see people with relatively limited resources making sizable political contributions,” said Brendan Fischer, the director of federal reform at the Campaign Legal Center and an expert on campaign finance law. “That can be a red flag.”The operatives also took aim at Gov. Mark Gordon of Wyoming, whom hard-right conservatives considered too moderate.Josh Galemore/The Casper Star-Tribune, via Associated PressA Wealthy Conservative DonorWyoming is a rural state with a small population, a place where cities are separated by hours of open highway, vast prairies and jagged mountains. Statewide political campaigns can be won on a shoestring budget.In this political environment, Ms. Gore has long been a mysterious yet influential figure — quietly using her large fortune to ensure the supremacy of conservative causes.She was one of several children to inherit the wealth of her father, who helped invent the waterproof fabric that came to be known as Gore-Tex.After getting a divorce in 1981, she joined the Transcendental Meditation movement, according to court documents in Delaware, but she became gravely ill and left the movement to convalesce in monasteries for three years. In a bizarre turn two decades later, she tried to adopt her former husband in an attempt to increase their children’s share of the family inheritance.Susan Gore, an heiress to the Gore-Tex fortune, has backed conservative causes and been a force in Wyoming politics since she moved to the state in the 1990s.Dan Cepeda/Casper Star-TribuneShe has been a force in Wyoming politics since she moved to the state in the 1990s. In 2008, she established Wyoming Liberty Group, a nonprofit in Cheyenne that pushes libertarian and conservative causes.In 2018, Ms. Gore opposed the candidacy of Mr. Gordon to become Wyoming governor. His main opponent in the Republican primary was Mr. Friess, the wealthy investor who was also a Project Veritas donor. Both Mr. Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. had endorsed Mr. Friess, with the president posting on Twitter that “he will be a fantastic Governor! Strong on Crime, Borders & 2nd Amendment.”Mr. Friess lost, in part because a large number of Democrats switched parties to vote for Mr. Gordon. The outcome embittered Mr. Friess and his allies, who saw Mr. Gordon’s victory as part of a worrying trend of creeping progressivism in the state — and believed too many Republicans were part of that trend.Mr. Friess died last month at age 81.2020 StrategyWith months to go before the 2020 election, the biggest political fights in Wyoming were in the Republican Party, between hard-right candidates and more moderate politicians battling to represent the party in November.Mr. Trump was eager to make all elections something of a referendum on his leadership, and in Wyoming, the battle lines hardened between the Trump loyalists and the candidates the right wing of the party derided as “RINOs,” or “Republicans in name only.”Given the barren political landscape for Democrats, a consortium of wealthy liberal donors — the Wyoming Investor Network — made the strategic decision to quietly support certain Republican moderates. One regular donor to WIN is Elizabeth Storer, a Jackson millionaire and granddaughter of George Storer, who amassed a fortune in the radio and television industry.By hiring Ms. LaRocca, the consortium put her in a position that gave her valuable intelligence about which Republican candidates the group was supporting with independent advertising. She took notes during a board meeting and had access to the complete list of the candidates WIN supported.Mr. Maier began making contacts in the offices of moderate Republican legislators and befriended Eric Barlow, now the Wyoming speaker of the house. He told Mr. Barlow that he was passionate about the medicinal uses of marijuana, and the men met several times — including once when Mr. Maier and Ms. LaRocca had dinner at Mr. Barlow’s ranch.In an interview, Mr. Barlow, a retired veterinarian who said he was open to decriminalizing marijuana and allowing it for medical use, labeled himself a “practical Republican.”“For some people, that’s a RINO,” he said.Mr. Barlow said that he believed he had met Ms. Gore only once, but that she usually gave money to his Republican primary opponents every election cycle.Ms. LaRocca and Mr. Maier at a fund-raiser.Mr. Maier and Ms. LaRocca often told her colleagues that they were committed to upending the political dynamics in the Mountain West — saying that even a deeply conservative state like Wyoming could eventually turn liberal. Ms. LaRocca said she wanted to continue working at the Wyoming Investor Network and other progressive groups.But then, right before the November election, Mr. Maier and Ms. LaRocca disappeared. On Oct. 21, she wrote an email to her boss saying that she had to leave the country. “I have a family emergency and am going to Venezuela as my grandmother is gravely ill,” she wrote.Others she had worked with — and befriended — over two years said they had not heard from her in months.“She kind of dropped off the face of the earth,” said Ms. Hunt, the executive director of the Wyoming Democratic Party.In fact, the couple never left the area. Mr. Maier and Mr. Seddon have also been working together on a business venture importing ammunition from overseas, according to a business document linking the two men that was obtained by The Times.Last week, Ms. LaRocca and Mr. Maier married in Big Horn, Wyo. Mr. Beck, the conservative commentator and Mr. Maier’s uncle, delivered a wedding toast.Kitty Bennett More

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    Colorado man suspected in wife’s death allegedly voted for Trump in her name

    A Colorado man suspected in the death of his wife, who disappeared on Mother’s Day last year, is also accused of submitting a fraudulent vote on her behalf for Donald Trump in November’s presidential election, court documents show.Barry Morphew told investigators he mailed the ballot on behalf of his wife, Suzanne Morphew, to help Trump win, saying “all these other guys are cheating” and that he thought his wife would have voted for Trump anyway, according to an arrest warrant affidavit signed by a judge in Chaffee county.Trump and his supporters in the Republican party claim Joe Biden won the White House through mass electoral fraud – a lie repeatedly thrown out of court.In December, the Washington Post reported that “only a handful of cases” of actual voter fraud had “resulted in criminal charges alleging wrongdoing”.Some of the charges, it said, were “against Republican voters aiming to help Trump … including a man charged with trying to cast a ballot in Pennsylvania for the president in the name of his deceased mother”.In Colorado, Morphew, 53, faces possible first-degree murder and other charges in connection with the disappearance of Suzanne Morphew on 10 May last year. He was arrested on 5 May and is being held in connection with that case.Morphew posted a widely viewed video on Facebook pleading for his wife’s safe return shortly after she disappeared.Authorities say the arrest was the result of an investigation that has failed to find Suzanne Morphew’s body. After conducting more than 135 searches across Colorado and interviewing 400 people in multiple states, investigators believe she is dead but have not found her body, the Chaffee county sheriff, John Spezze, has said.An arrest affidavit by an Chaffee county sheriff’s detective sergeant, Claudette Hysjulien, says the county clerk’s office received a suspicious mail ballot in Suzanne Chaffee’s name in October.Sheriff’s investigators saw the ballot, which had been mailed by the state to Suzanne Chaffee, lacked Suzanne’s signature, as required by law. Barry Morphew had signed it as a witness.Morphew was interviewed by two FBI agents about the ballot in April. Asked why he sent it, he told the agents, “Just because I wanted Trump to win,” according to the affidavit. “I just thought, give him another vote.”Asked if he knew it was illegal to send someone else’s ballot, Morphew replied: “I didn’t know you couldn’t do that for your spouse.”The affidavit says Morphew faces two new counts: felony forgery and misdemeanor ballot fraud. On Friday, Morphew was being advised of the new charges in Chaffee county district court. More

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    Why Georgia's Voting Laws Are Not Like Colorado's

    After Major League Baseball announced recently that it would move the All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver in protest of new voting restrictions in Georgia, numerous prominent Republicans accused it of hypocrisy.“Georgia has 17 days of in-person early voting, including two optional Sundays; Colorado has 15,” Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia told Fox News. “So what I’m being told, they also have a photo ID requirement. So it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.”Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina made a similar argument in a widely circulated post on Twitter.But while the 15-day and 17-day numbers are accurate, the overall comparison is not. Here are four key differences between Colorado’s and Georgia’s systems.In Colorado, every registered voter receives a mail ballot by default.In Georgia, people who want to vote by mail must apply, and the new law more than halves the time they have to do that: Previously, they could apply as much as 180 days before an election, but now no more than 78 days before. Georgia also forbids officials to send voters an absentee ballot application unless they request it.In Colorado, when residents apply for a driver’s license, they are automatically registered to vote. And if they aren’t registered through that process, they can register separately anytime, including on Election Day.In Georgia, all prospective voters must complete a registration form, and the deadline is a month before Election Day.In Colorado, only newly registered voters have to provide identification with their mail-in ballot; for subsequent elections, all that’s required is their signature. And contrary to Mr. Kemp’s statement, there is no photo requirement: Voters can use a birth certificate, a naturalization document, a Medicare or Medicaid card, a utility bill, a bank statement, a paycheck or another government document that shows their name and address.In Georgia, only photo identification is acceptable for regular mail-in ballots, and it has to be one of six specific types. The requirement will apply to everyone who votes by mail, not just to newly registered voters as in Colorado.In Colorado, there were 368 ballot drop boxes last year across the state’s 64 counties, not just in government buildings but also at schools, parks, libraries, businesses and more. Boxes were open 24 hours a day.In Georgia, the new law requires at least one drop box in each of the 159 counties. (Mr. Kemp and other officials note that before the pandemic, Georgia didn’t have drop boxes at all.) The boxes will be only at registrars’ and absentee ballot clerks’ offices or inside early-voting sites, and open during limited hours.In 2020, Colorado had the second-highest turnout rate in the country: 76.4 percent of eligible voters, behind only Minnesota, according to data compiled by the United States Elections Project. Georgia was 26th, with a turnout rate of 67.7 percent of eligible voters. More

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    Biden urges gun reform after Colorado shooting: 'Don't wait another minute'

    After recording a year with the lowest level of public mass shootings in more than a decade, the US suffered its second such incident in less than a week on Monday night with a shooting at a Colorado grocery store that killed 10, including one police officer.Joe Biden addressed the shooting on Tuesday, calling for swift legislation to be passed, and once again lowering the White House flag to half-staff after he had called for it to be lowered after last week’s mass shooting in Atlanta.The president called on Congress to close the loopholes in the background checks system and to once again ban assault weapons. He specifically urged the Senate to pass the two background checks bills that the House approved earlier this month.“I don’t need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take commonsense steps that will save lives in the future,” Biden said. “This is not and should not be a partisan issue. It is an American issue.”It is unclear whether the bills can make it through the evenly divided Senate, given Republicans’ general opposition to gun restrictions.Asked whether Biden was considering executive action to address gun violence, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said the president was considering a number of options.“There’s an ongoing process, and I think we feel we have to work on multiple channels at the same time,” Psaki said.Gun safety advocates including Barack Obama also called for immediate action by Congress to address the resurgent national epidemic as the country emerges from a year of lockdowns and social distancing sparked by the coronavirus pandemics.In remarks at the White House, Biden called for a new ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and said the Senate “should immediately pass” legislation to close loopholes in the background checks system for the purchase of guns.The Republican minority in the Senate is highly likely to block any action on gun control. Nonetheless, senators on the Democratic side echoed Biden’s call to action.This is not and should not be a partisan issue. It is an American issue“This is the moment to make our stand. NOW,” tweeted Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut, where a shooter killed 26 people at an elementary school in 2012.A male suspect was arrested at the scene, a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colorado. He was named on Tuesday, as were the 10 victims.“This is a tragedy and a nightmare for Boulder county, and in response, we have cooperation and assistance from local, state and federal authorities,” said the Boulder county district attorney, Michael Dougherty.The Colorado attack brought the week’s death toll from mass public shootings to 18, after a gunman killed eight people at three Atlanta-area spas last Tuesday. Six of those victims were women of Asian descent, and that attack produced a national demand for reckoning with discrimination and violence directed at Asian Americans.While racist scapegoating by Donald Trump and others sparked thousands of attacks against Asian Americans during America’s pandemic year, 2020 was an unusually quiet one for mass public shootings, according to a database maintained by the Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University.There were 10 such shootings in 2018 and nine in 2019, according to the database, which tracks public incidents in which at least four people died, not including the shooter.The US suffered only two such incidents in 2020 – both at the start of the year, before the spread of the coronavirus led to local economic and school shutdowns and related restrictions.Gun sales surged during the pandemic, leading to fears of a return of mass gun violence after coronavirus restrictions eased. Those fears appear to have been fulfilled already.“We have had a horrific year as a country, as a world,” Colorado’s state senate majority leader, Stephen Fenberg, a Democrat, told MSNBC. “It had finally started to feel like things are getting back to ‘normal’. And, unfortunately, we are reminded that that includes mass shootings.”The police officer killed in the Colorado store attack, Eric Talley, 51, the father of seven children, was the first to respond to reports of shots fired at the store, authorities said.The attack came just days after a judge blocked Boulder from enforcing a two-year-old ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines in the city.“The court has determined that only Colorado state (or federal) law can prohibit the possession, sale and transfer of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines,” wrote the county judge, Andrew Hartman, according to the Denver Post.While no state is untouched by mass shootings, Colorado has had an especially difficult history of such incidents, beginning with an attack on students at a high school in Columbine in 1999 that killed 13. In Aurora in 2012, a gunman fired at a crowd watching a Batman movie, killing 12 and wounding 58.As previously scheduled, the Senate judiciary committee held a hearing Tuesday on “constitutional and common sense steps to reduce gun violence”. Gun safety legislation has failed to gain traction in Congress despite wide public agreement about certain safeguards such as universal background checks.“To save lives and end these senseless killings, we need more than thoughts and prayers – we need federal action on gun safety from the Senate, and we need it now,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “That work begins with this hearing, and we cannot rest until we pass background checks into law.”Murphy, who does not sit on that committee but who mounted a nearly 15-hour filibuster on the Senate floor in 2016 to advance gun safety legislation after 49 people died in a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Florida, called on colleagues to finally address gun violence.Murphy invoked Monday’s shooting in Boulder, a mass shooting at a Florida high school in 2018 that killed 17 and the mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.“No more Newtowns. No more Parklands. No more Boulders,” he tweeted. “Now – we make our stand.” More