Conflict Of Interest? DFL Investigation Into Ellison Led By Lawyer From Major DFL Donor Firm

The impartiality of the report is now being called into question after research reveals Lockridge Grindal Nauen, Ellingstad’s law firm, has been a major donor to Democrats since 1998.

Keith Ellison
Credit: Lorie Shaull

The lawyer tapped by the Minnesota DFL to lead an “impartial” investigation into the allegations against Rep. Keith Ellison is a partner of a law firm that donated over $500,000 to Democrats since 1998.

On Monday, a draft of the report written by Susan Ellingstad, the lawyer hired to investigate the domestic violence allegations against Ellison, was leaked to the Associated Press. According to the report, Ellingstad was “unable to substantiate the claim.”

“The investigation report, which was released today without our knowledge by someone outside of our organization, was unable to substantiate the claim of physical abuse made by Ms. Monahan,” DFL Chairman Ken Martin said in a statement.

Ellingstad was originally chosen, according to Martin, to ensure the investigation “wouldn’t be colored by people with associations with the party.” However, the impartiality of the report is now being called into question after research reveals Lockridge Grindal Nauen, Ellingstad’s law firm, has been a major donor to Democrats since 1998.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics data, the firm’s PAC, Lockridge Grindal Nauen Political Fund, has donated over $500,000 to Democratic candidates, including Ellison himself. Since 2004, Ellison has received over $50,000 from the firm.

Data from the Federal Election Commission shows Ellingstad herself has donated almost $46,000 to the firm’s PAC since 2005.

In addition to the large donations, Charles Nauen, another partner at the law firm, is also the DFL Party’s attorney.

Ellison’s opponent, Republican Doug Wardlow, has pushed back on the “sham investigation” saying the “publicly available evidence contradicts that conclusion.”

“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,” Wardlow said. “But the publicly available evidence contradicts that conclusion.”

“Karen Monahan’s allegations are substantiated by documentary evidence and a witness. Ms. Monahan’s son, Austin, has seen video evidence of Ellison’s physical abuse of Monahan, and he also witnessed the traumatic effects that the abuse had on his mother. Ms. Monahan also released medical records that detail what she told her doctors about Keith Ellison’s abusive behavior,” Wardlow added.

According to the draft of the investigation, the claims made by Karen Monahan, Ellison’s accuser, could not be substantiated despite medical records from 2017 that corroborate Monahan’s claims. Ellingstad wrote that Monahan’s refusal to provide the video of the alleged incident where Ellison tried to drag Monahan off a bed by her feet during a fight in 2016 prevented the investigation from coming to a definitive conclusion.

“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,” Ellingstad wrote. “She has thus repeatedly placed the existence of the video front and center to her allegations, but then has refused to disclose it.”

Following the release of the report, Martin issued a statement Monday afternoon saying the investigation would be forwarded to local authorities to “let them review the contents and determine whether further investigation is warranted.”

In addition to the DFL investigation, state Sen. Karin Housley, the Republican running against Sen. Tina Smith, released a statement Monday calling for the Minnesota Office of the Attorney General to conduct an immediate investigation into the allegations against Ellison. Housley said “it’s time to put an end to the hypocrisy and give Minnesotans the clarity they deserve.”

It is not yet clear who in local law enforcement will be tapped to review the investigation. According to Briana Bierschbach from MPR News, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office says they do not have the authority to investigate the claims.

Christine Bauman