It is unclear what will result from the public ugliness that erupted late last week at the upper levels of the Minnesota Republican Party, but it is at the very least another black eye for Rep. Jim Hagedorn, the second-term congressman for the 1st District.
Hagedorn at best appears to be a magnet for an assortment of grifters and worse — from last year’s revelations that his congressional office’s budget was being milked by a staffer’s sideline business, to an apparent commingling of congressional and campaign resources, to the indictment last week on sex trafficking charges of a major donor and family friend.
And it is clear that a significant number of party officials suspect that Hagedorn’s wife, party chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan, is part of the problem. On Sunday the party’s executive committee voted to have an audit both to trace the funds from the indicted donor and to examine all party expenditures and reimbursements to staff, involving Carnahan herself. It also canceled the nondisclosure agreements Carnahan imposed on party employees, said to have been used to muzzle criticism of Carnahan. While Carnahan has acquiesced to the audit, she now seeks to have the NDAs reestablished.
The personal ties of Hagedorn and Carnahan to the indicted Anton “Tony” Lazzaro are clear. Lazzaro was one of just 50 guests at their wedding, he has been a major supporter of Carnahan in some bitter fights within the GOP, he and Carnahan did podcasts together and there are social media photos of the three together at Vikings games and other social events.
Lazzaro went from behind the scenes to the spotlight Thursday with the release of the indictment. On Saturday it was revealed that the chairwoman of the St. Thomas University chapter of the College Republicans, Gisela Castro Medina, was also charged with sex trafficking.
While Lazzaro’s attorney calls the charges an abuse of federal prosecutorial power, Minnesota Republicans on all levels, including Carnahan and Hagedorn, are scrambling to distance themselves from him. Hagedorn — the largest single recipient of Lazzaro’s largess — has declared that his various campaign funds will donate some $21,000 of Lazzaro donations to nonprofits combating sex trafficking. Several other GOP officeholders have announced similar plans.
Carnahan complains that the firestorm surrounding her is just “guilt by association” and that her critics are using the Lazzaro scandal to undo her April reelection as party chair. That may be. But there is an adage about what happens when you lie down with pigs. You get muddy.