By Corinne Murdock |
On Monday, a federal judge sentenced 64-year-old Mark Rissi to 2.5 years in prison for threats made to a Maricopa County election official and the former attorney general.
Rissi, an Iowa native, issued two separate threats in late 2021 to Maricopa County Board of Supervisors member Clint Hickman and former Attorney General Mark Brnovich. Rissi pleaded guilty to two counts of sending a threatening interstate communication.
Rissi told Hickman in a September 2021 voicemail that he would “lynch” him, and that he was going to die by hanging; months later, Rissi told Brnovich in a December 2021 voicemail that he would hang him as well. Rissi made it clear in both voicemails that he was dissatisfied by how both men were responding to allegations of the theft of the 2020 election from former President Donald Trump.
The DOJ arrested Rissi last October.
Rissi testified that he made the threats while under the influence of sleeping and pain medications he’d taken to mitigate his depression over his mother’s death, which he blamed on the COVID-19 vaccine, and the influence of misinformation regarding the elections process in Arizona. Rissi asked for forgiveness.
Arizona District Judge Dominic Lanza, a Trump appointee and longtime Federalist Society member, handed down Rissi’s sentence. Department of Justice (DOJ) attorneys Tanya Senanayake and Sean Lokey prosecuted the case, representing Hickman and Brnovich.
Senanayake has been with the DOJ since 2020 and, prior to that, served as a Federal Election Commission attorney for five years. In 2022, Lokey was named Arizona’s district election officer to oversee election day complaints of voting rights concerns, threats, and fraud.
In remarks to the judge, Senanayake said Rissi’s speech represented “threats to democracy.” Senanayake asked for 24 months in prison.
In a statement presented to the court by Senanayake, Brnovich asked for Rissi to be held accountable.
Hickman claimed in an interview with the “Mike Broomhead Show” on KTAR News that he petitioned for a lesser sentence for Rissi. Hickman also claimed that Lanza said he needed to make an example of Rissi.
“I gave the judge the ability to offer mercy and compassion for a guy that should not be spending maybe some of his last years on this earth in a jail cell,” said Hickman. “And I asked for compassion and mercy. The judge heard that and then the judge said, ‘Listen, we have to prove a point. This is the judicial system and punishment needs to be meted out.’”
In a press release, DOJ Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicole Argentieri warned that threats to election officials will be met with significant punishment.
“This sentence makes clear that individuals who illegally threaten election officials and others associated with the electoral process will face meaningful penalties,” said Argentieri. “The Justice Department will diligently investigate and prosecute attempts to illegally threaten, intimidate, and coerce the individuals administering the nation’s free and fair elections.”
Rissi’s case was one of the many under investigation by the DOJ’s Election Threats Task Force. According to a meeting from one year ago, the DOJ was investigating around over 100 cases out of over 1,000 they reviewed.
The DOJ launched the task force in July 2021 under Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco.
Monaco served as Homeland Security Advisor, Associate Deputy Attorney General, and Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division under former President Barack Obama.
Monaco has worked in the upper ranks of every Democratic presidential administration since former President Bill Clinton. Monaco has served as a research coordinator for the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired at the time by now-President Joe Biden, working on the Violence Against Women Act; legal intern for the White House Counsel’s Office and then counsel to former Attorney General Janet Reno under former President Bill Clinton.