On anniversary of Wellstone crash, MPR looks at his FBI file

Eight years ago today — Oct. 25, 2002 — Paul Wellstone, his wife, Sheila, and six others died in an airplane crash in northern Minnesota, just 11 days before Election Day in his bid for a third term in the U.S. Senate.

On this anniversary, Minnesota Public Radio news has a look at FBI files kept on Wellstone, ranging from his anti-war activism in 1970 to death threats made on the senator 32 years later. The release of 219 pages of files, some of it never before seen, shows how the FBI looked at him as a potential threat in the early days but became his protector later in life.

MPR said it got the files by filing a Freedom of Information Act request; they include:

“… 88 of the 125 pages in Sen. Wellstone’s FBI file, and 131 of the 227 pages in his wife’s file. All of the documents included in Sheila Wellstone’s file are related to the plane crash that killed the couple and their daughter Marcia. The FBI did not include 76 pages related to the National Transportation Safety Board, the agency that investigated the crash. A request for those records is pending.”

The pages detail threats Wellstone received after his election, many related to his opposition to the Iraq War.

Jeff Blodgett, Wellstone’s state director, told MPR:

“We were shocked and surprised by these kinds of calls. We certainly didn’t expect that death threats would be part of the job of being a U.S. senator or taking death threats would be part of the job of Senate staff.”

And the FBI was very active in investigating the plane crash that killed the Wellstones, their daughter, three staff members and the flight crew.

Says the MPR story:

Eight members of an FBI evidence response team spent two days searching the wreckage. They assisted with an initial search for aircraft parts and the flight data recorder, and then helped retrieve human remains and personal items — watches, rings, campaign buttons, keys, and coins.

The FBI files reveal, for the first time, the specific criminal leads pursued by investigators.

FBI agents investigated the claims of a caller from Jacksonville, Florida, who said that members of the American Trucking Association had planned to disconnect the plane’s de-icers. The man said that Wellstone had been trying to schedule Senate hearings to expose organized crime in the trucking industry. In response to the call, a Wellstone staff member asked a Labor Committee member and a legislative director “who both indicated that they were not aware of any Senate hearing being scheduled to discuss this topic.” The rest of the document has been redacted.

The final document in the file says:

“Inasmuch as no indication of criminal activity was indicated after exhaustive examination and analysis by the NTSB which warrants further FBI investigation, this case is considered CLOSED at Minneapolis.”

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