Keith Ellison Easily Wins Minnesota AG Primary Despite Abuse Allegations

Rep. Keith Ellison talks to reporters as he leaves a House Democratic caucus meeting.
Rep. Keith Ellison talks to reporters as he leaves a House Democratic Caucus meeting.
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U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison cruised to the Democratic nomination for Minnesota attorney general on Tuesday, just days after allegations surfaced that he had once physically assaulted his former girlfriend.

Ellison denies the alleged incident happened, though the Democratic National Committee says it is reviewing the matter. “All allegations of domestic abuse are disturbing and should be taken seriously,” the DNC said in a statement Tuesday. Ellison has served as the DNC’s deputy chairman since 2017, when he lost a bid to be the party’s chairman. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Bernie Sanders, a close Ellison ally who endorsed his AG campaign, have not yet commented on the abuse allegations, first raised by the son of Ellison’s ex-girlfriend over the weekend.

With about a third of votes counted, Ellison, a six-term congressman, led the five-person field with 53 percent of the vote, while his next closest challenger, Debra Hilstrom, was at 16 percent. It was not immediately clear how many ballots were cast during early voting, which began in June.

Ellison’s district is the most liberal in Minnesota, and his decision to trade a safe seat and the DNC spotlight for the chance to become the top prosecutor in the 22nd most populous state in the nation came as something of a shock when he announced it in June, shortly before the filing deadline. But state AGs have proved to be the first line of the Trump #Resistance, and should he win in November, Ellison would be well positioned to lead the charge against the president’s agenda on everything from immigration to climate change. “When this moment in history is written, there’s got to be a chapter on state attorneys general, standing up for immigrants, standing up for students,” he told the New Republic last month. “It’s why I want to be a part of it.”

While Ellison’s campaign rolled to victory in the primary, it’s still unclear what effect the allegations will have on his party in the general election, and should he become attorney general, on his ability to do the job. Former Minnesota Sen. Al Franken resigned from the Senate last year under pressure from his Democratic colleagues after seven woman came forward to accuse him of groping or forcibly kissing them. Another AG with a national profile, Eric Schneiderman of New York, resigned in May after four women accused him of physically assaulting them.

The allegation against Ellison, which involves a single incident, was first made by the son of Karen Monahan, a Minneapolis political organizer who dated the unmarried congressman for several years. In a Facebook post this past weekend, the son claimed he had seen both angry text messages Ellison sent to Monahan and a video of Ellison dragging her off a bed. Monahan later confirmed her son’s story—“Every statement he made was true”—and filled in her backstory in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio this week:

The alleged incident … happened at Ellison’s Minneapolis home. In Monahan’s telling the couple had a verbal confrontation, so she slept in a guest bedroom. The next morning she said she was listening to a podcast on her phone when Ellison came into the room, asked her to take out the garbage before he left town, and grew upset when she ignored him. Then, according to Monahan, he pulled her from the bed by an ankle and shouted profanities at her. She says she recorded it on her phone, which she was holding at the time.

Monahan says she still has the video but that she will not make it public, in part, because doing so unfairly raises the bar for others to come forward to report abuse. “It sets the expectation for survivors of all kinds of forms of abuse, whether it be abuse toward women, abuse from police officers, abuse from other people in power, to have to be the ones, like I’m doing right now, to show and prove their stories,” she told MPR. “It’s feeding into that.”

Ellison has denied any such tape exists, saying the incident never happened. He will likely continue to face questions about the incident in the general election, when he faces off against GOP nominee Doug Wardlow, a former state lawmaker and an attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a well-funded conservative Christian legal organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed a hate group. The winner will replace Democratic AG Lori Swanson, who opted to run for governor instead of a fourth term.