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As Minnesota voters head to the polls, allegations cloud two of the DFL’s most prominent races

MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan

The last weekend before Minnesota’s 2018 primary might go down as The Case Against Voting Early.

Rep. Keith Ellison

MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
Rep. Keith Ellison

Allegations against two DFL candidates in contested primaries for major statewide offices — Keith Ellison and Lori Swanson — became public after thousands of Minnesotans had already voted during the state’s no-excuse absentee and early voting period.

And though Minnesota allows voters to “claw-back” their ballots to recast them, the window for doing so expired a week before the election, last Tuesday, which means there may be some regret among the 100,000 or so voters who took advantage of the early voting process.

The most recent of the allegations focused on U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison. On Saturday night, domestic abuse charges by Karen Monahan, with whom Ellison had a romantic relationship, surfaced in a Facebook post written by Austin Monahan, Karen Monahan’s son, who named Ellison in the post. Karen Monahan has written and spoken previously about her experience with someone who she said had emotionally and physically abused her but hadn’t used Ellison’s name. She later confirmed her son’s report on social media.

Several stories, first on MPR and then in the Star Tribune, followed on Sunday afternoon. Ellison, who is divorced, acknowledged a personal relationship with Monahan, one that ended in 2016. He denies the allegations of abuse, however, and says a video showing such abuse that Austin Monahan referred to in his Facebook post does not exist. The response was jarringly terse.

Ellison was expected to breeze to the DFL nomination for attorney general against a quartet of well-regarded but underfunded opponents. By Sunday, three of those candidates — Debra Hilstrom, Matt Pelikan and Tom Foley — had issued statements calling on Ellison to address the allegations.

Ellison, a six-term congressman from the heart of the Twin Cities and deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee, has widespread name recognition and commanded a big lead in the few polls that have been released about the attorney general race. He will now have the opportunity to see the difference between positive and negative name ID.

AG office pushes back on allegations, self-owns

The Ellison accusation became public just as DFLers were absorbing an earlier series of reports — first in the website The Intercept and then confirmed and expanded upon by the Star Tribune  and others — that Attorney General Lori Swanson had regularly used her office and staff for political purposes.

Attorney General Lori Swanson

MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Attorney General Lori Swanson

Swanson denied the charges and attacked the Intercept, calling it a “discredited blog” and claiming it is owned by a billionaire who has business relationships with other billionaires that her office has sued. The reports, however, have been reported by other media outlets that found sources — both named and anonymous — who gave similar reports about the office.

On Friday, Swanson — perhaps inadvertently — gave support to the claims of politicizing the AG’s office when her office press secretary used state email to send out information aimed at discrediting the primary source of the Intercept story, D’Andre Norman. Norman filed a restraining order on Friday to stop Swanson and her office from causing him irreparable harm by publishing court documents that had been expunged from the record by a judge.

Republicans have been taking some pleasure in the allegations against the pair of prominent DFLers, but especially those against Ellison. Both within the state and nationally, Ellison has been a frequent critic of Republicans, especially President Donald Trump. If either survives the primary, the allegations will feature prominently in GOP attacks.

Other elected officials respond

If there is a difference between the political road facing Ellison and Swanson it is that Ellison has worked hard to establish and maintain relationships within the DFL. He has built a voter registration and get-out-the-vote effort that some in the party credit with helping win close statewide races. He was an early supporter of Bernie Sanders and has strong support among Our Revolution, the political organization that grew out of that campaign. And he has traveled the country as deputy chair of the national Democratic Party, helping candidates and organizations.

Swanson, however, has not spent much time during her three terms at AG nurturing support within the party, and the lack of endorsers of her gubernatorial campaign among elected and party officials reflects that.

The somewhat different responses from activists could also be a product of those different relationships.

But at least one well-known DFLer put them both in the same box. Former State Rep. Ryan Winkler, who has endorsed Ellison for attorney general, tweeted this Sunday morning.

Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 08/13/2018 - 12:31 pm.

    Thanks, Swanson!

    Now just go away, if not today, then Wednesday. You’re every bit the strategist Ellison is.

    And while nothing I’ve learned over the weekend has changed my plans for voting tomorrow, this is why I only vote early if I have to, and then as late as I can

  2. Submitted by Jim Spensley on 08/13/2018 - 12:35 pm.

    Allegations are allegations

    Of course I am troubled by allegations of illegal or inappropriate conduct by public officials.
    I already voted. If I were voting tomorrow, my vote for AG would have been the same but I would have been conflicted because the DFL candidates were expected to respond to allegations as if they could not possibly be smears inended to weaken the field in the general election.

    Last minute smears are unfortunately nonpartisan and too common. The parties used to sort out rumors about candidates for endorsement rather than allow rumor to be as useful as fact in a wide open Primary.

    If the accused win the Primary anyway, and then withdraw or resign their cirrent office or face trial, .who benefit? If the allegations are untrue or overblown, who will benefit from the allegations?

    Same answer.

  3. Submitted by Gail O'Hare on 08/13/2018 - 01:19 pm.

    Timing is everything

    The allegation against Ellison seems full of holes. If there is a video, who recorded it? Who was in the room? If, in fact, it was the son, did he record the abuse rather than come to the aid of his mother? Why does the claim come out now, just prior to the primary? It’s a shame that, when a couple splits up, someone is often left hurt, but this looks entirely vindictive.

    As for Swanson, the stories’ timing is equally suspect, but there is apparently some substantiation. I am deeply disappointed because she is by far the candidate most likely to carry the state. Professionally, she’s unassailable. If people were asked to help on her campaigns, that is hardly anything new. I’ve worked in state government, and I’ve seen it more than once. If she’s sometimes a bear to work for, let me tell you what I know about some other MN leaders right up to the governor’s office. Politicians are often driven and demanding.

    If I could vote for Ellison, I would. I may still vote for Swanson, whose values and tough stances from healthcare to immigration have been exemplary.

    • Submitted by B. Dalager on 08/14/2018 - 01:14 pm.


      Monahan recorded the video, which she has said publicly.

      As for Swanson being “unassailable”…I think we have different definitions of the word. It’s not that people were *asked* to help on her campaigns, it’s that they were effectively *forced* to, at the cost of their continued employment, promotions, and salary increases. If you don’t see why that’s an abuse of power I don’t really know what else to say.

      I also think we have a different definition for the word “exemplary” – in my dictionary that doesn’t include quietly withdrawing Minnesota from the DACA case (and then acting like she should be lauded for being there at all).

  4. Submitted by Gary Farland on 08/13/2018 - 02:15 pm.

    Media Smears

    I fault the media, including the supposedly high-minded MinnPost, for facilitating unverified, last-minute smears of candidates based on the weakest of allegations. Perhaps it makes for easy reporting, but it destroys the democratic process which should be based on policy advocation and ability to deliver. It should not be based on such things as someone’s son claiming that he saw a now unavailable video several years ago. In recent years we have lost several Minnesota leaders of sane politics because of media irresponsibility. And did the media ever wonder why Hillary’s email server should be an important issue?

    • Submitted by joe smith on 08/13/2018 - 08:38 pm.

      Unverified information drives

      the MSM. It seems to not bother folks when the “other side of isle” is getting beaten up, only their side. Once the internet came about the need to be right was changed to the need to be first. Even though I couldn’t stand many of Al Franken’s politics, I thought he was railroaded without a chance to defend himself by the self righteous folks in his party. I don’t particularly care for Ellison but he deserves a chance to defend himself. I wish the left gave the same deference to folks on the Right.

  5. Submitted by Kathie Noga on 08/13/2018 - 07:55 pm.


    Lori Swanson’s situation was known a while ago and there are 7 people who say it happened. One on MPR. More likely happened than Ellison situation. Kim Ellison, Keith’s ex-wife, said it would be out of character for him to be like that. She ought to know she lived with him for a long time. I know her and trust what she says. I think there may be some thing personal going on in this situation and we probably don’t really know everything about why this woman is motivated now to say these things. You would think she would have come forward much earlier.

    • Submitted by B. Dalager on 08/14/2018 - 01:10 pm.


      If someone murders a person and their wife says, “well, he never murdered me!” does that make you think they’re not a murderer?

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 08/16/2018 - 09:00 pm.


        Men who treat women poorly, whether that be a suggestive comment, a grope, a slap, or something more serious, typically do that sort of thing on a fairly regular basis. If Ellison’s former wife has not seen this sort of behavior from him, that is certainly a point in his favor. It’s not game, set, and match, but it is a point.

        Al Franken was accused by 8 separate women. Judge Roy Moore was accused by several women also. When several women, unconnected to each other, all accuse a guy of some similar creepiness or abuse, that is significant.

        This is NOT to say that a man can abuse just one woman just one time. But typically there is a pattern, there is serial abuse or harassment.

        To bring up the existence of a recording, then say it can’t be found and won’t be shared in any case, just sounds a little fishy. If there is even a possibility of it’s existence, Ellison is taking a huge gamble to say there is no way it exists; if it surfaces he loses all credibility and his career in politics is over in an instant.
        Isn’t that what McCarthyism is? To say “I have evidence here but I can’t let you see it”?

        I am not a fan Ellison jumping into the AG’s race the way he did. I did not vote for him and did not plan to from the time he jumped into the race.

        • Submitted by B. Dalager on 08/20/2018 - 12:48 pm.

          You’re right

          …that abusers are usually serial abusers. But that doesn’t mean they abuse everyone. In Ellison’s case, he has another accuser from a past relationship (Amy Louise Alexander) as well. So now it’s two saying yes, one saying no. It’s a good illustration of how little one non-victim’s experience matters.

          As for the video, man I wish she’d share it with the media for verification. But I also know damned well that won’t stop people from disbelieving her…even if it got out, there would be dissection of whether it was “as bad” as she said it was, whether it “rose” to the level of domestic violence, whether it was “valid” domestic violence. And maybe she is actually inspired to stand up for other victims and doesn’t want to encourage video evidence as the standard for believing victims.

          The court of public opinion isn’t a court of law. Standards are different. Knowing how much abuse public accusers suffer, and how infrequently false accusations occur, I’m inclined to believe women. And absent any new information, that will factor into my AG vote in November.

  6. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 08/13/2018 - 11:34 pm.


    MeToo just doesn’t seem to matter, nor whistleblowers. Hopefully both Ellison and Swanson win their primaries and we can all find out through endless reporting how factual the accusations are. Or not. The media do seem to have their favorites…

  7. Submitted by jim hughes on 08/14/2018 - 04:05 pm.


    It’s hard to ‘respond’ to an allegation that consists of a couple of SM posts about a video that that no one will ever see. But it was apparently enough for the StarTribune to gin up a page 1 headline.

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