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DFL forwards Ellison review to law enforcement

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison has called for a U.S. House Ethics Committee probe into the accusations against him. (AP photo: Jim Mone)

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison has called for a U.S. House Ethics Committee probe into the accusations against him. (AP photo: Jim Mone)

A lawyer’s investigation has failed to substantiate a woman’s claims of domestic abuse against Minnesota attorney general candidate Keith Ellison, according to a published report.

However, the report that was leaked Monday to the Associated Press has been turned over to law enforcement rather than the rest of the news media.

Charlene Briner, a senior DFL adviser, said party officials hope the public will soon see the report.

“Certainly it wouldn’t do us any good to hold onto it,” she said in an interview. “We would hope that it would be an expedited investigation and that would be our request.”

Asked if she expects it would be released before the Nov. 6 general election, Briner said, “We would hope so.”

Briner said the report was given to law enforcement to avoid appearances that the DFL-initiated investigation into the abuse allegations was tainted.

“In order for people to not think that this was in any way DFL-led—even though the investigator was independent—we just made the decision to turn it over to law enforcement for one final review as part of the process,” Briner said.

The Associated Press reported Monday that the investigation failed to substantiate Karen Monahan’s abuse claims because she “refused to provide video she said she had of the incident.” Attorney Susan Ellingstad wrote the report, according to the AP.

In a written statement Monday, DFL Chairman Ken Martin said the DFL hired Lockridge Grindal Nauen PLLP, where Ellingstad is a partner, to investigate the allegations. Charlie Nauen, another partner at the firm, is the Minnesota DFL’s top lawyer, according to the AP.

Reportedly, the DFL investigation supplanted a Democratic National Committee review of the allegations announced in August. Ellison has also called for a U.S. House Ethics Committee probe into the accusations against him.

In his written statement, Martin said the draft report got released without the party’s knowledge “by someone outside of our organization.”

”For the purpose of objectivity and getting all of the facts regarding these allegations, we have decided to forward the information in the investigation to local authorities, in order to let them review the contents and determine whether further investigation is warranted,” Martin’s statement says.

Martin said the public’s desire for definitive answers is understandable. “But absent substantiated evidence that proves the claim or definitive exculpatory evidence, we believe it is prudent to ask law enforcement authorities to review the information as a final step in this process,” his written statement says.

Briner told Minnesota Lawyer the matter had been referred to the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office. However, AP reported Tuesday that City Attorney Susan Segal had asked Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom to provide a preliminary review, citing a conflict of interest because Ellison’s son is on the Minneapolis City Council.

In a letter dated Tuesday, AP reported, Backstrom told Segal that prosecutors generally do not conduct criminal investigations. He said if Monahan, the state’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, or others want to file a complaint alleging criminal conduct, that must be done with law enforcement. Then, it would be up to police to determine how and when to investigate.

Billy Grant, campaign manager for Ellison’s Republican opponent Doug Wardlow, said he thinks the DFL is simply dragging its feet on the report’s public release.

“It’s just a stalling tactic,” Grant said. “I think they are really just trying to drag it out as long as possible, and make it confusing enough, so that people think there was a real investigation—which there really wasn’t.”

David Schultz, the Hamline University political science professor and attorney, also suspects that handing the report to law enforcement might be a way to keep it out of media hands, at least for a while. But he is not sure why. “It’s an odd strategy,” Schultz said.

Because the initial Associated Press story suggested that the report left Monahan’s claims unsubstantiated, Schultz said he thought the party rushed to release it to other news media later in the day Monday.

“You would think that they would want to turn the report over to the public to be examined,” Schultz said. “And then hope they could get some good media bounce out of this. … It’s either a miscalculation or a clear calculation to sit on this material until after Election Day.”

The Ellison campaign, asked whether it was glad or frustrated by the party’s decision not to make the report public, did not directly respond. Instead it pointed to a written statement released about an hour after the DFL’s.

In it, the Ellison campaign thanks Ellingstad for conducting a “thorough, independent and fair review” while finding the abuse charges unsubstantiated. The statement directed all further inquiries to the Minnesota DFL.

“At this time, I will be focusing on the issues of this important election,” Ellison says in the release.

In a separate development Monday morning, the GOP’s U.S. Senate candidate Karin Housely weighed into the controversy. She called on state Attorney General Lori Swanson “to conduct an immediate investigation into the allegations of domestic abuse made against Keith Ellison.”

“Recent calls for a congressional ethics investigation, made by Keith Ellison and echoed by my opponent, amount to nothing more than political cover,” Housley said. “Ellison will have left Congress by the time an investigation could be completed.”

Housely is running against incumbent U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, the state’s former DFL lieutenant governor.

Meanwhile, late Monday on Twitter, Monahan said she had not yet seen the report leaked to the Associated Press. She referred media inquiries to her attorney, Andrew Parker.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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About Kevin Featherly

Kevin Featherly, who joined BridgeTower Media in mid-2016, is a journalist and former freelance writer who has covered politics, law, business, technology and popular culture for publications and websites in the Twin Cities and nationally since the mid-1990s.

One comment

  1. If we have learned anything from this #METOO movement…..it’s the need to accuse when the evidence is hot. These cases are always hard to prove, even more so when cold [even 2 years cold].

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