Testimony from election deniers begins Trump’s defense in Colorado 14th Amendment trial

A series of tense exchanges between plaintiffs’ attorneys and witnesses called by former President Donald Trump’s legal team characterized the opening stages of Trump’s defense in a Colorado trial to determine whether he is ineligible to seek office under the Constitution’s “insurrection” clause.

Several of the witnesses called by Trump’s attorneys are close allies of the former president who continue to spread conspiracy theories alleging widespread fraud in the 2020 election, which have been repeatedly debunked by elections officials,  experts, media investigations, law enforcement and the courts.

Trump has been indicted by federal prosecutors who allege that his “pervasive and destabilizing lies” about the election had “targeted a bedrock function of the United States federal government.” Shortly after Trump gave a speech at the White House Ellipse on Jan. 6, 2021, a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol and interrupted congressional proceedings to certify the Electoral College results.

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A group of six Colorado voters filed a lawsuit in September seeking to bar Trump from Colorado’s 2024 presidential ballot, arguing that he is ineligible to hold office under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. The Civil War-era clause prohibits anyone who took an oath to uphold the Constitution and then “engaged in insurrection” from holding office in the United States.

After testimony earlier this week from plaintiffs’ witnesses — who included a U.S. congressman, two police officers assaulted by the Jan. 6 mob and experts on right-wing extremism, national security policy and the history of the 14th Amendment — Trump’s defense team has called a series of current and former Trump advisors and allies to the witness stand to testify about the events of that day.

Amy Kremer, a pro-Trump activist, testified that she and other election-denial activists had initially organized “Stop the Steal” events with figures like far-right Ali Alexander, but by Jan. 6 had distanced themselves from what she called “agitators” and “bomb-throwers.”

Plaintiffs have focused on the combative rhetoric of Trump’s speech at The Ellipse, which ended roughly an hour before the assault on the Capitol began. But Kremer said Trump’s calls to “fight” and “take back our country” were understood to be metaphorical and flatly denied that she had seen anyone in the crowd that day who was “angry.”

“People were happy. It was a fantastic event. They got to hear their president, and they love him,” Kremer said. “It was just a happy, joyful event, and you could see it on their faces.”

On cross-examination, Kremer acknowledged that she had been onstage near Trump during his speech, left promptly afterwards to return to her hotel, and was not among the crowd that began marching to the Capitol. And she said that she continued to believe that the results of the 2020 election were fraudulent, and that a “coup” had taken place.

“Your view is that there was no insurrection on Jan. 6, but there was a coup on Nov. 4, 2020?” asked Sean Grimsley, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

“I was talking about, metaphorically, they stole an election. So, metaphorically, they were taking out a sitting president,” Kremer said. “We don’t know who stole the election. It happened in a number of states.”

Grimsley asked Kremer about a post she made on X, formerly Twitter, on Oct. 28, shortly after former Vice President Mike Pence suspended his 2024 presidential campaign. In the post, Kremer wondered whether Pence had been “in on the coup to remove President Trump.”

“You can’t possibly believe that’s true,” Grimsley said.

“I don’t know what Pence was doing,” Kremer replied, citing a debunked legal theory advanced Trump attorney John Eastman holding that Pence had the unilateral authority to block or delay certification of the election results. “On Jan. 6, we didn’t want to overturn the election or overthrow the government. All we wanted was for the evidence to be laid out and heard.”

Geoffrey Blue, an attorney for Trump, could be seen repeatedly touching his hands to his face throughout the cross-examination. Trump’s team made repeated objections to the line of questioning, which were overruled by Judge Sarah B. Wallace.

“This goes to credibility,” Wallace said.

Pro-Trump witnesses

Later on Thursday, Trump’s attorneys called Tom Bjorklund, the treasurer of the Colorado Republican Party and a veteran GOP political operative, to testify about what he witnessed near the Capitol on Jan. 6. Bjorklund was associated with the U.S. Election Integrity Plan, a conspiracist group founded by several Colorado-based election deniers.

On Facebook, Bjorklund spread widely discredited conspiracy theories alleging that the violence at the Capitol was instigated by “Antifa and (Black Lives Matter),” the Colorado Times Recorder reported. Bjorklund reiterated his belief in those conspiracy theories in his testimony Thursday.

“I don’t believe there was any kind of insurrection,” he said. “I think it’s a ridiculous narrative.”

Nikhel Sus, an attorney for the plaintiffs, showed Bjorklund video footage of the pro-Trump mob’s assault on the Capitol and Capitol police officers.

“Why would Antifa do that?” Sus asked. “Why would Antifa break into the capitol to stop the certification of the election of Joe Biden?”

“Because it actually derailed a more intelligent plan,” Bjorklund said. “This is obviously not an intelligent plan.”

Tom Van Flein, chief of staff to Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar, also testified Thursday. When asked by plaintiffs’ attorneys, Van Flein declined to say whether the 2020 election was legitimate, citing “irregularities” in the results.

Gosar is one of Congress’ most prominent election deniers, and led the effort by many House Republicans to object to the certification of election results on Jan. 6. He has continued to spread baseless conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, suggesting earlier this year that former Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Mark Milley should be “hung” for his actions on Jan. 6, and endorsing Trump’s 2022 call to “terminate” the Constitution and hold a “new election” in a post that was later deleted.

Other witnesses called by Trump’s team included Katrina Pierson, a former Trump communications advisor, and Kash Patel, former chief of staff to acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller under Trump.

Patel largely blamed the lack of security on Jan. 6, including the lack of National Guard troops, on what he said was Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser’s failure to request such a presence. An expert on national security law previously testified in the trial that Trump could have ordered the National Guard to respond with or without Bowser’s request.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers cross-examining Patel asked him about his views on the “deep state” and a cabal of “evil” politicians he said controlled the government. They discussed a children’s book that Patel had authored, titled “The Plot Against the King,” and Patel confirmed that he is currently a paid consultant for one of Trump’s political action committees, earning a fee of $15,000 per month.

This story was originally published by Colorado Newsline, a sister publication of Arizona Mirror and a member of the States Newsroom network of local newsrooms.

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