Former District Attorney George Brauchler used the resources of the 18th Judicial District to benefit his side gig as a radio host, directing a staff member to help him book a guest.
On November 19 of last year, the 18th Judicial District Communications Director Vikki Migoya called and emailed the Colorado Department of Public Health and Education (CDPHE) at the direction of Brauchler, who is her boss.
She asked if the agency could provide a guest for his “The George Show” on KNUS radio, a hard-line conservative station. She sent the email after 5 p.m. but used her 18th Judicial District work account.
“District Attorney George Brauchler has a Saturday radio show,” Migoya wrote in an email, obtained via a records request. “He is looking for a CDPHE representative to explain how a future COVID vaccine will be allocated in Colorado. His radio show is not part of his office duties; he asked me to point him to the right contact so he can arrange this himself with that person.”
The following morning at 9:18 a.m., Brauchler followed up with CDPHE personally, making it clear that he planned on challenging the department’s COVID vaccine prioritization policies. Brauchler is a Republican who ran for state attorney general in 2018, losing to Democrat Phil Weiser.
“Vikki contacted you for me for the purpose of finding someone who could discuss on the radio tomorrow morning the priorities for future COVID vaccinations,” wrote Braucher in his email to CDPHE. “Straight-forward interview, no surprises. Candidly, I’m not supportive of the decision to prioritize incarcerated criminals over 70 & 80 year old Coloradans, but there must be some explanation for that–and I wanted to discuss it.”
CDPHE did not produce a guest for Brauchler’s show the next day, but the initial email exchange was only the first of many emails, also obtained via a records request, between the District Attorney and CDPHE.
Between Nov. 20 and Dec. 31, 2020, Brauchler sent about two dozen emails to CDPHE and the Colorado State Joint Information Center (CSJIC) media contacts.
Brauchler used his personal email account, though he did send eighteen of those emails during standard business hours. Most of Brauchler’s emails asked for a guest to interview on his radio show. He also requested additional details about various state pandemic response policies.
Brauchler’s frustration boiled over in a Dec. 17 email in which he snarkily asked the CDPHE communications staffer if they were being held hostage.
“I am now worried that you are either a hostage and can’t get to your email, or you’ve left your position with CDPHE. Who should I contact about interviewing someone on the radio?” wrote Brauchler.
Three days later, on a Sunday evening, Brauchler followed up again, this time noting “I am making these requests in my capacity as a Denver Post columnist and as a 710 KNUS radio host.”
To be clear, emails such as the one above, sent after hours via personal email, are perfectly appropriate. And in the grand scheme of things, sending a bunch of personal emails during the workday isn’t a big deal.That said, the optics of any public official using work hours and more importantly using staff for personal benefit, aren’t great.
Brauchler has long been considered a likely candidate for statewide office. He briefly ran for governor before switching over from the governor’s race to the attorney’s general’s race. It’s unclear whether he will run again, but a weekly radio show and a regular column in Colorado’s largest newspaper help keep his name in the public arena.
Reached by email, Brauchler broadly dismissed the concept of work hours, as out-of-date, noting that district attorneys are essentially on the clock 24-7. He also denied, albeit far more precisely, that he asked his staff to find a guest for him. He says he only asked the employee to identify a person CDPHE contact so that he could request his own guest.
Here is Brauchler’s full reply:
“During my time as an elected official I was careful not to use state resources for personal gain — that is why the emails to which you refer came from a personal email account. You note that they were sent ‘during work hours.’ That might be true of CDPHE, but an elected district attorney is on the clock all the time — nights, weekends, holidays, kids’ birthdays, anniversaries…every day. As a matter of fact, unlike other government officials and employees, during my time as DA, I did not accrue leave of any kind…not sick, vacation or personal time that I could request to use — a district attorney is expected always to be available. So to say ‘during work hours’ in reference to me is disingenuous at best. No DA limits themselves to the 1990s government model of 8-5, Monday through Friday.
I did not ask a staff member ‘to contact CDPHE for you to inquire about a radio show guest,’ as your question states. As the email you have from our communications director to CDPHE clearly states, ‘His radio show is not part of his office duties; he asked me to point him to the right contact so he can arrange this himself with that person.’ And that is exactly what happened.”
The second objection is some pretty fine parsing, so I followed-up: “I’m still not sure how asking a state employee to help you find someone to help you find someone for your show is not still using the 18JD office for personal gain. At your request, a staffer contacted (via phone and a state email address) CDPHE in order to help you get a guest for your show. It’s not a big thing, but it’s a thing.”
“I disagree,” Brauchler promptly replied. “And that limited, single email effort at identifying a point of contact for me to pursue a guest in my personal capacity took place after 5 PM. Of course, you are free to spin that into any issue you choose.”
As his emails with CDPHE indicate, had the department provided a spokesperson, Brauchler made it very clear what he wanted to ask about: he questions the state’s COVID vaccine prioritization process concerning prisoners and elected officials as well as its criteria for determining “essential” workers.
He also questioned whether the governor and his staff ignored their own rules with regards to masks and social distancing during press events. Brauchler also encouraged lawmakers to pass legislation restricting the governor’s authority, particularly his power to issue emergency declarations. He views some of the governor’s actions during the COVID pandemic as overreach, exercising power that as the state’s top elected official he can but shouldn’t use.
As far as elected officials’ authority, however, there’s one position Brauchler, who failed to convince a jury to put the Aurora Theater shooter to death in 2015, considers to have more power than all others: his own previous title.
“[District Attorneys] are the most powerful positions in local government,” Brauchler opined last June for The Denver Post. “They are more powerful than the attorney general, governor, and Supreme Court. No other public official can—with the stroke of a pen—start the machinery of government against an individual in our communities to take away their good names, their treasure, and even their liberty.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article described Ms. Migoya as a “state employee.” Judicial district staff funding is provded by the counties that comprise the district.