A Trump-appointed federal judge on Friday rejected claims from a US Capitol riot defendant that he had been “selectively charged” because he is a supporter of former President Donald Trump.
Federal Judge Trevor McFadden shot down that accusation and upheld the criminal charges against Couy Griffin, a county commissioner from New Mexico who founded the “Cowboys for Trump” group and was featured in a recent CNN documentary about the January 6 insurrection.
The judge also rejected Griffin’s technical arguments about the federal trespassing statutes that the Justice Department used to prosecute him and hundreds of other riot suspects. The ruling could influence other judges who are considering similar challenges regarding the trespassing law.
In a written ruling, McFadden said Griffin “comes up short on providing the ‘clear evidence’ required” to demonstrate that he had been improperly charged because of his political beliefs. The judge also said there are legitimate reasons why the Justice Department would want to prosecute Griffin, even though other rioters who were near him haven’t been charged yet.
“(Prosecutors) could rationally forgo federal prosecution as to most trespassers while deciding that Griffin’s leadership role in the crowd, position as an elected official, and more blatant conduct at the scene merited him different treatment,” McFadden wrote in his 14-page ruling.
McFadden also pushed back on an argument that Griffin had made, which has become popular in right-wing circles, that the January 6 rioters are being treated worse than the liberal protesters who were arrested on Capitol grounds during the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
“This is not a basis to dismiss the charges,” McFadden wrote, though he added that he could consider Griffin’s comparisons with the Kavanaugh protesters if Griffin’s case reaches sentencing.
The Justice Department charged Griffin in January, before Trump left office. Prosecutors wanted to keep him in jail before trial, arguing that he is too dangerous and citing his past comments that “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.” He was released in February. Griffin has pleaded not guilty.
On January 6, he climbed up a wall and breached the Capitol’s patio, near the staging that was being prepared for President Joe Biden’s inauguration. Griffin is not accused of entering the Capitol, but it’s still illegal to breach the restricted area around the Capitol complex.
His “Cowboys for Trump” group landed him an appearance on Fox News and a meeting with Trump in the Oval Office. But back in New Mexico, he is facing a recall effort by activists who are incensed by his actions at the Capitol and his nonstop promotion of conspiracy theories.
In a past interview with CNN, Griffin questioned if US Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick is really dead. Sicknick died from strokes he suffered the day after defending the Capitol, where he was hit with pepper spray. Griffin also questioned former President Barack Obama’s citizenship.