MN GOP Chair Jennifer Carnahan remains defiant amid calls to resign

By: - August 17, 2021 5:09 pm

Former Minnesota Republican Party chair Jennifer Carnahan looks on during the national anthem during a rally for President Donald Trump at the Bemidji Regional Airport on September 18, 2020 in Bemidji, Minnesota. Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Minnesota Republican Party Chair Jennifer Carnahan took to the airwaves Tuesday to address the whirlwind since her friend and major Republican donor was charged with sex trafficking last week.

She remained defiant, even as a growing number of GOP officials and candidates have called on her to resign in the wake of Anton Lazzaro’s arrest. Lazzaro was a political operative and the largest individual donor to U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn, Carnahan’s husband. 

After several days declining interviews, Carnahan’s appearance on two radio stations Tuesday seemed to indicate a willingness to fight back. 

She told Dan “Ox” Ochsner of St. Cloud radio station KNSI that she hasn’t been questioned by authorities. She accused a “small faction” of Republicans of trying to re-litigate her reelection four months ago.

“People have to remember this is not guilty by association and none of us knew anything Tony was involved in,” she said.

She called it a “horrible situation” that she finds “disgusting and abhorrent,” and if convicted, she said Lazzaro should get “full punishment.”

Carnahan said she’ll call a meeting of the GOP state central committee after Labor Day. If they decide she’s not the right person to lead the party, she’ll step aside. She doesn’t believe the 14-member executive board, which meets Thursday, should decide alone.

“There’s about six people on our executive board that I think are really, really mean people that lead with hate in their heart,” she said. “And they’ve done very awful things towards me.”

Carnahan, who was adopted by her Minnesota family from South Korea, has said previously she’s faced racism and sexism from people in her own party.

Carnahan said she had no direct knowledge or involvement in Lazzaro’s alleged crimes. 

She said many Republicans and elected officials were friends with Lazzaro, “But none of us should be held accountable for his actions which none of us knew.”

“All this stuff is just noise,” Carnahan said. “We’ve just been handed a raw deal here at the party.”

Carnahan said non-disclosure agreements like the kind reported by the Reformer last week have been required of party employees since at least 1998 and are important to protect proprietary, confidential information.

Former state Rep. Kelly Fenton, who is also a former party officer, said non-disclosure agreements were never part of employee departures.

Regarding allegations that she thwarted a sexual harassment case during the Georgia runoff in November, she said she first heard of it three days before her reelection in April, when a blogger asked her about it. She looked into it and said a “verbal complaint” between two Minnesota staffers was resolved by Republican National Committee managers and was never taken to state party officials because the woman didn’t want to proceed.

On WCCO’s “Paul & Jordana” show, Carnahan said she met Lazzaro in 2016 after she knocked on doors at high rises in downtown Minneapolis during her campaign for the state Senate. He wasn’t home but reached out to her later and became more engaged with the party, later helping her campaign for chair.

“I did have a political friendship with him,” she acknowledged. He was at her wedding to Hagedorn, but so were “a lot of Republicans,” she said. 

She also acknowledged a call recording that appeared on social media in recent days in which she nonchalantly remarks that her husband would be dead in two years. Hagedorn has cancer. She said she had been drinking and “said something I shouldn’t have said” and has apologized to Hagedorn.

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.