DFL seeks law enforcement review of abuse claim against Ellison

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison.
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., listens during a forum on the future of the Democratic Party, in Denver, Dec. 2, 2016.
David Zalubowski | AP 2016

Updated 4:45 p.m. | Posted 1:18 p.m.

DFL Party officials are seeking a local law enforcement agency to investigative materials into a domestic abuse allegation against Rep. Keith Ellison, the party's nominee for Minnesota attorney general, after the party-contracted inquiry could not substantiate the allegation.

Karen Monahan, Ellison's ex-girlfriend, said that in 2016 the six-term congressman grabbed her by the foot and dragged her off a bed while he screamed obscenities. She said she took video on her phone of the incident but has declined to release the footage. Ellison has denied the allegation and said the video doesn't exist.

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The allegation first surfaced days ahead of a five-way DFL primary in the attorney general's race, which Ellison won. In August, DFL Party hired attorney Susan Ellingstad to review the allegation.

The investigation took weeks and included messages, doctor's notes and interviews with Ellison, Monahan and others. It was expected to be released this week, but DFL Party Chair Ken Martin said Monday the allegation needs further review.

"We understand the public's desire for definitive answers in this matter, 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," he said in a statement.

A draft report of the party's investigation, released to The Associated Press on Monday, found the allegation was "unsubstantiated" because the alleged video of the incident has not been produced.

Martin said that report and its findings were released "without our knowledge."

"We believe asking for the initial investigation was the right thing to do, and we still do," he continued. "We also believe that a final review by law enforcement authorities who routinely make decisions about allegations such as these, will offer the greatest assurance that the claims were looked into in a fair, impartial and thorough manner."

Martin wasn't available for interviews, a party spokesperson said.

It's still unclear which law enforcement agency will conduct the review. The party late Monday said it would ask the Minneapolis City Attorney's Office, which prosecutes misdemeanor criminal cases within city limits, to take a look.

Shortly after that, however, the city attorney's office said it had a potential conflict of interest — Jeremiah Ellison, Keith Ellison's son, sits on the Minneapolis City Council — and was seeking another jurisdiction to review the matter.

Ellison, who has never been arrested or charged in connection with the alleged abuse incident, indicated it was time to move on to what he called the important issues of the campaign.

"Addressing this allegation has been especially challenging given the important national moment we are in," Ellison said in a written statement. "I believe women who come forward must be heard, and to have their allegations fully investigated. This is why I have complied with this investigation fully and will do so with any other inquiries."

Republicans were not so eager to move on.

"As predicted, the sham 'investigation' led by the DFL party attorney's legal partner has concluded in favor of the party's attorney general candidate," Republican attorney general candidate Doug Wardlow said in a statement. "But the publicly available evidence contradicts that conclusion."

Even before the investigation outcome was released, Republicans were questioning its veracity. Ellingstad works at the firm Lockridge Grindal Nauen, which has a long history with the party. The firm's partner, Charles Nauen, is the DFL Party's attorney.

The DFL report is by no means that last word.

Last week, Ellison asked the House Ethics Committee to look into the allegation, saying he was "eager to see the matter resolved." Ellison is leaving Congress at the end of this year, and it's unclear what — and if any — consequences he could face from his colleagues.

After Monahan's allegation emerged in August, the Democratic National Committee also said it is looking into what happened. Ellison is the deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee, but the organization ultimately deferred to the state party's investigation.

Republicans are also criticizing Democrats for not thoroughly investigating Ellison while simultaneously calling for an FBI investigation of Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court, Kavanaugh is accused of sexual assaulting Christine Blasey Ford while the two were in high school in the 1980s.

State Sen. Karin Housley, a Republican who is running for the U.S. Senate against Sen. Tina Smith, said Monday that DFL Attorney General Lori Swanson should conduct an "immediate investigation" into the allegation as head of the state's chief legal division. "The attorney general's office can provide an impartial investigation into the serious allegation," she said.

A spokesperson for the attorney general's office said they do not have jurisdiction to investigate the allegations.

Monahan said she participated in the investigation, sharing with attorneys messages exchanged between her and Ellison over the years, as well names of four different people who told investigators that she came to them after the alleged incident.

She also shared notes from therapy sessions and several medical records, including one from last year where she told her doctor that she had been in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship with Ellison but was afraid to come forward. The doctor stated there were no signs of physical trauma at the time of her visit.

But the lack of video became a sticking point for Ellingstad, according to the Associated Press.

"An allegation standing alone is not necessarily sufficient to conclude that conduct occurred, particularly where the accusing party declines to produce supporting evidence that she herself asserts exists," she wrote in the report. "She has thus repeatedly placed the existence of the video front and center to her allegations, but then has refused to disclose it."

"How the political parties move forward is their choice," Monahan said in a statement. "I have stated over and over my intentions and how I have moved forward and will continue to do so."

Monahan said she's received threats and has been repeatedly harassed since coming forward. She's hired an attorney since then.

"The smears and fabrications that have been spread in the community and media about me, are not about a politics of justice and humanity, in fact they are cruel and mean spirited," she continued. "We live in a shamed based society, us vs them, which does not allow the victims or perpetrator, to come forward, to heal and find support in that journey."