The legislative commission that assigns investigative topics to the legislative auditor will consider Friday morning a proposal to instruct the auditor to investigate the recent spate of allegations of impropriety against Attorney General Lori Swanson.
Turmoil in the office has led to the resignation or dismissal of about 50 out of the roughly 135 assistant attorneys general in the slightly more than one year since Swanson took office. The office has also been roiled by an effort of the attorneys to unionize, although state law severely limits their right to do so. Swanson’s representatives have said that this level of turnover is normal and that morale in the office is good.
Over recent weeks, several present and former assistant attorneys general have described an atmosphere of fear, intimidation and retribution, have alleged that Swanson and other top officials of the office have pressured their subordinates to commit ethically questionable acts and have used the discretion of their government offices in ways that seemed unduly motivated by political considerations and a desire to attract favorable news coverage.
Many, but not all of present and former employees of the office have been unwilling to publicly identify themselves, saying that they feared retaliation. Two have gone public by name, Jody Wahl, a long-tenured investigator with the office whose position was eliminated early this year, and Assistant Attorney General Amy Lawler, who was suspended from her job after speaking to MinnPost and Minnesota Public Radio about her views.
Swanson’s office has said that Lawler was not suspended for speaking out, but for failing to raise her ethical concerns through proper channels.
MinnPost’s previous coverage of these issues can be found here, here and here.
In an editorial on Sunday, the Star Tribune suggested that a non-partisan investigation was needed, and specifically suggested Legislative Auditor James Nobles for the job.
The Legislative Audit Commission — comprised of six House members (three DFLers and three Repubs) and six state senators (again three and three) — can, by a majority vote, assign a topic for investigation by Nobles’ office.
That is exactly the idea that the commission will consider at 9:30 a.m. Friday, unless the meeting has to be postponed briefly because of business on the floor. If the idea is approved, Nobles will have subpoena power to compel the testimony of witnesses.