Embattled Minnesota GOP chair says she won't resign

·4 min read

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The embattled chair of the Minnesota Republican Party said Tuesday that she won't resign amid the uproar over the indictment of a major GOP donor and a college Republican chapter leader on sex-trafficking charges.

Jennifer Carnahan said in back-to-back interviews on KNSI and WCCO Radio that the people calling for her resignation are the same ones who opposed her during her bitter reelection fight earlier this year. She noted that she has asked the state party Executive Committee to hold a vote of confidence in her leadership when it meets Thursday, adding that she plans to call a meeting of the party's larger Central Committee to decide her fate.

Carnahan acknowledged being “political friends” since 2016 with donor Anton Lazarro, who attended her wedding to U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn and with whom she formerly co-hosted a podcast. In a letter to party activists Monday, she said donations from him to various GOP-linked campaigns and groups topped $270,000, most of which have since said they'll donate the money to charity. But she insisted she knew nothing about his alleged sex trafficking before his indictment was unsealed last week.

“To ask me to resign because I knew somebody, or was friends with somebody, I think is wrong, and I will not resign over that. To ask me to resign over all these false accusations, and this defamation of character and this libel, this slander that's going on about me, absolutely not,” Carnahan said on Minneapolis-based WCCO Radio. “If the base have lost faith in me as chair, then I will accept that.”

Party activists and several GOP office-holders have called for Carnahan's resignation or removal since Lazzaro’s indictment became public, saying she must have known about his alleged wrongdoing. Lazarro and co-defendant Gisela Castro Medina, 19, the former chair of the University of St. Thomas College Republicans chapter, face multiple federal sex-trafficking charges. The indictment gives few details but says authorities know of six minors who may have been sexually exploited. The FBI suspects there could be more victims.

The calls for Carnahan's ouster also include allegations of mistreating party staffers and forcing them to sign nondisclosure agreements. Carnahan denied abusing staffers but said the party has long required nondisclosure agreements and that they're normal in the political and business worlds when employees have access to sensitive information.

Carnahan told St. Cloud-based KNSI Radio that her opponents, who have generated a firestorm on social media, are just a “small faction” of the party. She said it's impossible for the party to know the personal background of every donor.

“I think it sets a very, very dangerous precedent to assume this guilt by association,” Carnahan said. “I just want to go on the record and say I had no direct knowledge or was in any way involved with the alleged criminal activities undertaken by Mr. Lazarro. There are many, many Republicans in our party who knew and were friends with Mr. Lazarro — Republican elected officials, people who were accepting contributions from him — but none of us should be held accountable for his actions, which none of us knew.”

Carnahan also confirmed that an audio clip being circulated by her critics on social media contains callous comments that she made about her husband's medical condition during a phone conversation. Hagedorn is battling stage four kidney cancer, and announced last month that he'd had a recurrence. He was first diagnosed in February of 2019, shortly after he took office and a couple months after they were married in December 2018. Doctors removed his affected kidney in December of 2020 after a course of immunotherapy.

“I don't care. Jim, he's going to die of cancer in two years,” she can he heard saying. “So be it.”

Carnahan told WCCO that she said that around a week or 10 days after his surgery.

“I was at an event, had a long day of meetings, went out socializing and drinking wine and whatnot with friends, and I said something in grief that I shouldn't have said, and it's absolutely regrettable,” Carnahan said. "I'm horrified by it. I have obviously apologized to my husband. I love him very much and I'm going to continue to be his biggest supporter and cheerleader.”

Steve Karnowski, The Associated Press

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