SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – A state district court judge says an effort can move ahead to try and recall Cowboys for Trump founder Couy Griffin from his seat as an Otero County commissioner on accusations of using the office for personal gain.
District Court Judge Manuel Arrieta on Thursday ruled in favor of a group of recall petitioners who say Griffin had repeatedly abused his authority as a county official and should be subject to a recall election this year.
Retired military veteran Paul Sanchez and other members of the Committee to Recall Couy Griffin say he used a county office building to raise money for Cowboys for Trump and then pay off personal expenses. They also allege Griffin failed to attend commission meetings, filed for reimbursement of improper travel expenses and later accepted an envelope of cash from the leader of a business association to offset those travel expenses.
If the ruling stands or is upheld by a higher court, the recall effort next must gather an estimated 1,600 signatures in Griffin’s commission district — a figure that represents one-third of recent voters. A successful petition would trigger a special election within 90 days.
Otherwise, Griffin is up for possible re-election in 2022 for a second, four-year term.
Griffin called the allegations frivolous, baseless and politically motivated. He left the court proceedings abruptly to rejoin a county commission meeting and didn’t return.
Afterward, Griffin said he is likely to appeal the ruling — arguing that the proceedings were tilted against him by a judge initially appointed by former Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson, and that an all-Democratic state Supreme Court was unlikely to overrule the decision.
“I feel like I was just really railroaded,” said Griffin, an outspoken advocate for gun rights and strict border and immigration enforcement.
The recall petition ruling is among mounting legal challenges for Griffin, who was arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol. Griffin, who was videotaped on the steps of the Capitol but not inside, denies allegations that he knowingly entered barricaded areas of the U.S. Capitol grounds with the intent to disrupt government as Congress considered Electoral College results.
Griffin, a former restaurant owner and rodeo-style entertainer for Disney, also is appealing to a federal district court to shield from disclosure the identity of financial contributors to Cowboys for Trump. State election regulators say the group is a political committee subject to disclosure requirements.
Sanchez and other members of the Committee to Recall Couy Griffin say Griffin filed the improper travel voucher to pay for a trip to Washington for a convention of county commissioners. He says Griffin took along a horse and trailer and made detours for activities related to Cowboys for Trump, a group that has held horseback-riding parades across the country in support of President Donald Trump.
Griffin says he got approval to reimburse his drive to Washington from other county officials — and stopped in New York with his horse on Sept. 11 to honor first responders in the 2001 terrorist attacks and was ultimately invited into the White House for a conversation with Trump about New Mexico.
Sanchez said Griffin later solicited gifts from the executive director of the Alamogordo chamber of commerce to cover the travel expenses in defiance of state statutes about government conduct and political gifts. Griffin says the money was used to reimburse the county to repair the mistakes of other county officials.
Sanchez also told the judge that Griffin used the Otero County office building to produce promotional videos for Cowboys for Trump and to solicit contributions to the group that covered his personal expenses. Sanchez presented the image of a child support check for $350 signed by Griffin to his ex-wife from a Cowboys for Trump account.
Griffin said that was appropriate because Cowboys for Trump is a for-profit limited liability corporation and not a political expenditure group.
“I didn’t feel like I did anything wrong,” Griffin said. “They’re trying to say that it’s a political action committee, but that’s still on appeal.”
State prosecutors are in the midst of a criminal investigation involving Griffin, said Matt Baca, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office. The agency in February carried out a search warrant for financial records related to Griffin and Cowboys for Trump.