County administrators in Colorado have opened an investigation into an election official after employees complained she was pressuring them not to cooperate with a joint local, state and federal criminal investigation into an election system security breach discovered last month, a source told CNN.
Deputy clerk Belinda Knisley of the Mesa County Clerk and Recorders office has been placed on paid administrative leave due to a “confidential personnel matter,” CNN previously reported. A source in the Mesa County government tells CNN that the “confidential personnel matter” refers to an open county human resources investigation in which Knisley is accused of pressuring fellow clerk employees — her subordinates — not to cooperate with the criminal investigation into the breach.
When Knisley caught wind of the HR investigation, the source said that Knisley also then pressured employees not to cooperate with it.
Knisley was arrested on Wednesday, charged with felony burglary and misdemeanor cyber crime. As part of her bail conditions, Knisley agreed to have no contact with any clerk employees.
Authorities filed a motion to quash a warrant for Knisley that had been outstanding last week, after she agreed to turn herself in on Wednesday. In that motion, District Attorney Dan Rubinstein wrote that, despite being placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into her allegedly creating a hostile work environment for clerk employees, she had been in contact with the employees, “in a manner that is intimidating to them, despite the pending investigation and her leave.” But prosecutors said that she had since assured her counsel that she would have no contact with the employees.
Knisley’s attorney and the US Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to CNN requests for comment.
Rubinstein told CNN in a statement that he was “unable to comment further,” because of the charges filed against Knisley on Wednesday. The Mesa County Commissioners told CNN in a statement they “cannot comment on this confidential personnel matter.”
The FBI and the Colorado Attorney General both declined to comment.
The criminal investigation into the clerk’s office began after Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, accused Republican Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters — as well as the office itself — of facilitating a security breach in May. The breach resulted in confidential voting machine logins, and forensic images of their hard drives, being published in a QAnon-affiliated Telegram channel in early August.
The district attorney launched the investigation last month, and it’s since been joined by the Colorado Attorney General and FBI.
Court documents filed by the district attorney allege she went to the Mesa County Clerk’s office on August 25, despite being told not to be on the premises because of an active HR investigation in which she “engaged in inappropriate, unprofessional conduct in the workplace.” While at the office on August 25, court documents allege that she used Peters’ logins to access the county computer system and attempt to print documents.
Knisley had already been in hot water with the Colorado secretary of state over the security breach; Griswold revoked Knisley’s election supervisory duties because of it, alleging that Knisley helped facilitate the breach by misrepresented a non-employee’s role and employment status at a software update of election equipment event in May.
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