A comedy writer and documentary filmmaker is asking federal and state authorities to investigate U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, accusing the Silt Republican of abusing her position to squelch a political critic.
In letters delivered in late October to the acting U.S. attorney for Colorado and Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, Toby Morton, a Tulsa, Oklahoma, resident, said he wants them to determine whether Boebert improperly used a congressional staffer and the assistance of law enforcement officials in an attempt to shut down a satirical website he maintains and discourage him from producing a film about the freshman lawmaker.
"Her actions against me to date have been predicated on legal threats, harassment, and intimidation," Morton said in an Oct. 25 letter to Weiser obtained by Colorado Politics.
"The most disturbing fact presented in this correspondence alleges that Representative Boebert called upon either Colorado state or local law enforcement to obtain private information from a police database for the purpose of disseminating said material on the internet via a third party," Morton wrote. "These events set a dangerous precedent that not only obstructs my right to engage in political commentary, and possibly my physical wellbeing, but also constitutes a clear and present danger to public order as we know it."
Morton also filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics, asking for an investigation into whether the allegations described in his letters to state and federal authorities amount to a violation of House rules.
Morton's complaints focus on what he described as a threatening email allegedly sent to him in May by Boebert's press secretary and an encounter in July between Boebert and Morton's cameraman outside Shooters Grill, the restaurant she owns in Rifle, that culminated in a social media account linked to Boebert posting an image of the cameraman's license plate and name.
A Boebert spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Richard Painter, the chief White House ethics lawyer under former President George W. Bush and one of Morton's lawyers, told Colorado Politics that he was alarmed by Morton's allegations suggesting potential abuse of police power.
"If the state and local police are being used for political purposes, to gather information about political opponents, that's something that needs to be investigated," the University of Minnesota law professor said in a telephone interview.
"When you start getting the police taking sides in partisan politics, we're in big trouble," he said. "It's critically important that law enforcement be neutral. And if that's not the case in Colorado, that needs to be investigated by the Colorado attorney general. They need to sort that out. And the same thing, if there are issues in D.C., law enforcement needs to be neutral of partisan politics."
Morton is also represented by Massachusetts attorney John "Jack" Alden.
In a letter to Acting U.S. Attorney Matthew T. Kirsch dated Oct. 26, Morton said: "The following facts and information in my petition to your office demonstrate that Representative Boebert has utilized the privilege of her office in furtherance of her objective to silence my voice as a political critic." (On Dec 1, Denver attorney Cole Finegan, who was confirmed by the U.S. Senate two weeks earlier, was sworn in as Colorado's U.S. attorney.)
Morton points to potential criminal and civil violations of numerous state and federal laws he says have been identified by his legal counsel, including federal laws against deprivation of rights, law enforcement misconduct and stalking, and state laws against harassment, official misconduct and misuse of official information. He's also seeking "pattern and practice" investigations by the U.S. attorney and state attorney general into possible misconduct by law enforcement officials.
Spokesmen for the Colorado U.S. Attorney's Office and the Colorado Attorney General's Office had no comment. A spokesman for the Office of Congressional Ethics said the office's rules prohibit commenting on submissions.
Morton submitted summaries of the complaints and additional material to the U.S. House select committee investigating the January 6 Capitol Hill riot, suggesting in a Nov. 1 letter to the committee's senior investigative counsel that his submission shows "habits and patterns demonstrated by Representative Boebert where she utilizes contact with law enforcement to provide her with political benefit and personal favor."
Taken together, Morton contends, the information he submitted "should meet and exceed any standard under your jurisdiction that is required to call Representative Boebert before the committee as a relevant witness to the events prior to and during the insurrection."
In June, the bipartisan U.S. House Committee on Ethics — a different entity than the Office of Congressional Ethics — decided against pursuing a complaint filed in March against Boebert by U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat, who alleged Boebert played a role in instigating and assisting the Jan. 6 attack. Applauding the committee's decision in a June 14 statement, Boebert called Jayapal's complaint "nothing more than baseless partisan rhetoric" based on "leftist media talking points."
Morton, a Colorado native who has written episodes of "MADtv" and "South Park" and portrayed Scott Tenorman and other characters on "South Park," launched a parody website in January that mocks Boebert's numerous brushes with the law and alleged links to far-right conspiracies.
The site — TheLaurenBoebert.com — features a photo of Boebert available in her online press kit, the same image that greets visitors to her congressional webpage. Morton's site calls Boebert a "QAnon sympathizer," referencing glowing comments she made last year about the conspiracy movement she later disavowed, and reproduces some of Boebert's tweets, including one sent last year that declares, ""I am the militia."
"This website is a parody," Morton's site says, alongside links to additional sites maintained by Morton that take aim at Republican lawmakers and Boebert allies Ted Cruz, Jim Jordon, Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene and others.
Several months after the site went up, Morton said Boebert's press secretary Jake Settle sent him an email demanding that he take the site down, claiming it used photos that were "copyrighted property of the U.S. federal government" and Boebert's congressional office. "Additionally," the email said, "the entire website is a defamatory impersonation, and it goes against relevant terms of service and U.S. law. Please remove immediately or face further action."
Rather than comply with the demands, Morton publicized the demand and saw a big jump in traffic to the site.
Hello Lawyers/Smart People - Lauren Boebert wants me to take down https://t.co/zjr5H9soIR. What say you @AriCohn @Popehat @ASFleischman @adamsteinbaugh @Jturk125 @wolmanj @questauthority @mmasnick @KathrynTewson @RichSeviora @thewolflawyer @estockbridge @USConst_Amend_I pic.twitter.com/FgBdXFdaCR— Toby Morton (@tobymorton) May 3, 2021
While Boebert's office didn't respond in May to numerous requests for comment about the email, Denver-based First Amendment attorney Steve Zansberg, who represents Colorado Politics and other media outlets, said at the time that the claims lacked merit.
"In short, no, she does not have a legal leg upon which her threatened claims can stand," Zansberg told Colorado Politics, noting that photographs produced by the federal government are in the public domain and that courts have made clear that parody sites are fully protected speech.
In his letters to the U.S. attorney and Colorado's attorney general, Morton asserts that Settles's email amounted to a "threat of legal action," adding, "the correspondence, being authored by a government employee, and dispatched by a government email account, is both harassing and intimidating."
After announcing plans this summer to produce a documentary about the congresswoman, Morton traveled to Colorado in early July to interview constituents and shoot footage with the help of a cameraman he'd hired locally in the state's 3rd Congressional District, including in Rifle, where Boebert operates the gun-themed Shooters Grill.
"The journey to Colorado for my documentary, 'The Real Lauren Boebert,' turned out to be much more than expected including a face to face confrontation, and now, DM's from her inner circle/burner accounts," Morton tweeted, referring to an exchange on July 8 with Boebert across the street from her restaurant and subsequent exchanges on Twitter.
Morton said on Twitter that he and his cameraman had been filming interviews and other footage in and outside another restaurant near Shooter's Grill when Boebert "began yelling at us from across the street," prompting the filmmakers to pack up and return to their car. Boebert followed them, Morton said.
As they filmed each other with smart phones, Boebert and Morton's cameraman exchanged words. According to the two videos, which were posted to Twitter later that day, Boebert repeatedly asks why they were filming near a construction area and declares that an "Officer Gonzalez" was on the way to make sure there wasn't "an issue."
With permission from the restaurant across from Shooter’s Grill, we began filming interviews and exterior footage for my website, https://t.co/zjr5H9soIR. After @LaurenBoebert began yelling at us from across the street, we decided to pack up. She then followed us to our car... pic.twitter.com/jPtkkmPMEH— Toby Morton (@tobymorton) July 9, 2021
"It's just a little weird with you walking through the place taking pictures and recording," Boebert says in the video. "I don't know — are you scoping out the place to see how you could break in easier?" Saying she believes the cameraman is "acting a little sketchy," Boebert says she's filming so she can show the video to "Officer Gonzalez," adding, "If you stick around, you'll meet him."
After asking whether he's making a documentary "or a paid tracker" — a political operative who follows candidates to gather opposition research — Boebert says she called the police "because I want to see what you're doing. We've had a lot of sketchy stuff happen with this construction site, and you're over there filming it."
A couple hours after Morton posted the video of the exchange recorded by his cameraman and sent Boebert a message asking her to 'Stop Harassing My Friends," Morton said in his letters requesting an investigation, a Twitter account he'd previously been unfamiliar with, @Freedom53597835, posted the video shot by Boebert with the message, "Don’t be shy post the whole video…"
Don’t be shy post the whole video… pic.twitter.com/1vcpxrppvv— freedomfighter (@freedom53597835) July 9, 2021
Later, Morton says he learned that the same account posted an image of his cameraman's license plate and first name in a tweet that was later deleted. At almost the same time, the same Twitter account posted a reply to another of Morton's tweets, using the cameraman's first name: "Michael your moms wondering if you’ll make it home in time for dinner?"
"Therefore, it is apparent that Representative Boebert was provided information about my cameraman’s identity from this 'Officer Gonzalez' or other law enforcement official(s)," Morton said in his letters to the U.S. attorney and attorney general. "This conclusion is reached logically in that cameraman’s license plate and name were published on the @Freedom53597835 Twitter account."
While Boebert has more than 1 million Twitter followers between her personal and congressional accounts, the @Freedom53597835 account has only a few hundred. The account was created in February. Prior to the exchanges with Morton, it had posted fewer than a dozen tweets, including liking and retweeting Boebert's tweets a few times and responding twice to tweets critical of Boebert with a photo of Boebert with her middle finger extended and the message, "And I was like ... Why are you so obsessed with me."
Morton and other online activists speculated that the account was Boebert's "sockpuppet," a false online identity typically created to express support for the account holder's public identity. On July 10, however, after tweeting several stills of Morton's cameraman from the video shot by Boebert, @Freedom53597835 declared: "Up to 200 fans/followers thanks guys. But just some food for thought if this was really Lauren’s burner account don’t you think it would have a lot more tweets?" The account has been inactive since July.
Morton's complaints don't include the cameraman's full name, noting that he doesn't want to be involved "based on Boebert’s intimidation, harassment, and fear about retaliation."
Painter, Morton's lawyer, acknowledged that the man's identity could have been gleaned some other way but said the possibility a law enforcement officer helped Boebert or her allies dox the cameraman demands an investigation. (Numerous websites allow users to determine vehicle registration information, including the owner's name, from license plate numbers.)
"We don't know exactly how they got the license plate matched with a name, what the role of the police officer was who never came at the same time that Toby was there with the camera, but it is very serious if, indeed, a member of Congress has a relationship with the police where the police officers could be brought in to to go after political opponents, give private information on political opponents and so forth," Painter said.
"So this certainly crosses the threshold in these allegations of something that needs to be investigated, particularly in light of some of the other conduct that's already in the public domain people know about," he added.
Painter was a prominent critic of the Trump administration, including leading a lawsuit alleging Trump violated the U.S. Constitution's emoluments clause. He ran for the U.S. Senate in Minnesota in 2018 as a Democrat after he left the Republican Party, maintaining there was no room for Trump critics in the GOP. Painter has said recently that he's considering a run next year for governor of Minnesota as an independent.
"These are serious concerns," Painter said. "We go back to what happened in the summer of 2020, where the president ordered the protestors cleared out Lafayette Park by the police for a campaign photo (opportunity) over at St. John's Church in June of 2020. The use of the police in law enforcement for political purposes is a very, very dangerous practice, and I think we need to get to the bottom of it, whether it's the U.S. Department of Justice and the use by the president, or whether it's something at a state and local level."
Linking to a page on his parody site that promotes the documentary, Morton on Nov. 19 tweeted: "Press Secretary to @laurenboebert didn’t have to send me a bogus cease and desist for my website. Lauren didn’t have to harass us while filming in her hometown. Lauren didn’t have to harass us via her burner account. But she did, and now it’s my turn."
Morton's complaints describe Boebert's history with the Garfield County sheriff, who last year endorsed Boebert campaign and made clear he wouldn't enforce a court order after Boebert's restaurant defied a public health order to shutter during the early months of the pandemic. Morton also describes an offer by the Rifle chief of police to assist Boebert set up an outside dining area in front of her restaurant when indoor dining was prohibited.
The documents Morton submitted to the January 6 committee propose a link between his allegations and Boebert's activity leading up to the events of Jan. 6, including a pair of tours she took of the U.S. Capitol that have drawn both scrutiny from her critics and firm denials of wrongdoing from Boebert.
In October, Boebert firmly rejected allegations in a Rolling Stone article based on unidentified sources that reported she was among nearly a dozen congressional Republicans who took part in meetings and conversations with planners behind the Jan. 6 rally that preceded attempts by Trump supporters to prevent certification of President Joe Biden's election.
"Let me be clear," Boebert said in a statement dated Oct. 25. "I had no role in the planning or execution of any event that took place at the Capitol or anywhere in Washington, DC on January 6th. With the help of my staff, I accepted an invitation to speak at one event but ultimately I did not speak at any events on January 6th. Once again, the media is acting as a messaging tool for the radical left." She went on to charge "the left" and Rolling Stone with making false accusations and "grasping at straws" to attack her.