Aurora theater shooting prosecutor George Brauchler ready to mull Senate run

Today – if all goes as scheduled — is the last day of the James Holmes trial. It’s also the first day of the rest of George Brauchler’s political career.

Once the judge finalizes Holmes’ sentence and the crowd files out of Courtroom 201, the 18th Judicial District Attorney will be expected to answer the question that for months has loomed over him: Is he running for U.S. Senate?

Speculation arose this spring after Brauchler’s internationally headline-making opening arguments in the Aurora shooting trial. His was a fresh face among Colorado’s Republicans at a time when the party was spiraling into disarray. Holmes’ trial started shortly before GOP state party chairman Steve House accused GOP Attorney General Cynthia Coffman of blackmail in an attempt to oust him from party leadership.

Brauchler has dodged questions about whether he’ll vie to unseat Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet. And rightly so. For one thing, it would be unseemly to have publicly flirted with a campaign for higher office while prosecuting a death penalty case. Besides, what Brauchler calls “the trial of a lifetime” has been so consuming, he says, he hasn’t had time to fully contemplate an inevitably contentious Senate run.

“I can’t see beyond this. I’ve had pretty limited bandwidth and have been in no position to give it serious thought. That said, though, I haven’t dismissed it,” he told The Independent during his lunch break Monday.

First on Brauchler’s post-trial agenda is reconnecting with his wife and four kids, ages 12, 11, 7 and 5. A Disney Cruise is a possibility.

“I need a break,” he said. “I just need to sit down and figure out what my family’s expectations are of me. I need to figure out if I can be the father and husband I want to be and still be politically ambitious.”

The first-term DA and Iraq War veteran has said frequently over the past four-plus-months that he slept better in Iraq than he has during the trial.

“With my family, I’ve been like an apparition,” he said. “Even though I’ve physically been in the house, or at some of my kids’ events, and even though they’ve seen me, my head isn’t there. My head has been in my legal arguments or how to handle witnesses or what I’m doing day in and day out in the case.”

Brauchler makes a point not to sound whiney. Out of respect to Holmes’ victims and their families, he’s careful to note that, in comparison, what he and his family have endured is “so de minimis.”

“I get to go home and see my kids and my wife at night. So many of these people don’t have that luxury. It’s devastating. Devastating.”

Brauchler is a staunch capital punishment proponent who said during trial that “Justice means death” for Holmes, who killed 12 and injured 70 during a midnight The Dark Knight Rises screening at the Century 16 theater in Aurora.

Brauchler frames his inability to convince all the jurors to give Holmes death not as a loss, but as a “failure to achieve a just outcome in this case.” He stresses that he respects the outcome – twelve consecutive life sentences — and won’t disparage it. In any case, he said one juror’s decision not to mete out a death sentence will have no effect on whether he’ll run for Senate.

“I can’t imagine wanting to predicate any political endeavor on a case. That would just be outrageous,” he said.

Brauchler acknowledges there’s pressure to make up his mind before Labor Day, the traditional start of the campaign cycle.

“I don’t feel that pressure now. but I will when this (trial) is over,” he said. “But I’m not going to be goaded into making a decision, especially on something this big.”


Photo credit: Kevin Burkett, Creative Commons, Flickr.

A recovering newspaper journalist, Susan reported for papers in California and Nevada before her 13 years as a political reporter, national reporter and metro columnist at The Denver Post. “Trashing the Truth,” a series she reported with Miles Moffeit, helped exonerate five men, prompted reforms on evidence preservation and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in investigative journalism. Her 2012 project, “The Gray Box,” exposed the effects of long-term solitary confinement. The ACLU honored her in 2017 for her years of civil rights coverage, and the Society of Professional Journalists honored her in April with its First Amendment Award. Susan and her two boys live with a puppy named Hymie whom they’re pretty sure is the messiah.