Jennifer Carnahan, the Chair of the Minnesota GOP, resigned Thursday night after allegations of harassment, abuse, and ties to a child sex trafficker came to light. Carnahan is the wife of Representative Jim Hagedorn (R-MN-01).
Allegations of harassment and workplace abuse began being anonymously posted on social media after the indictment of Anton Lazzaro, a long-time GOP donor and political activist, on child sex trafficking charges. Reportedly, Lazzaro had a long-time relationship and friendship with former GOP Chair Carnahan and was even invited to Hagedorn and Carnahan’s wedding.
Carnahan refused to resign for several days, alleging in her first public statement regarding the situation that she had “no direct knowledge” of Lazzaro’s alleged illicit activity and that she was not “in any way involved.” Carnahan went on to say that assuming guilt by association was “setting a dangerous precedent” for the Minnesota GOP and for the country.
MN GOP Releases the Following Update: pic.twitter.com/hji0rh5Pwv
— MNGOP (@mngop) August 16, 2021
Four former executive directors of the Minnesota GOP came forward claiming that Carnahan “created an extremely toxic work environment, often yelling, demeaning and questioning loyalty.”
— Becky Alery (@aleryrl) August 18, 2021
Reports also alleged that instances of sexual harassment occurred within the Minnesota GOP but that Carnahan did nothing about it. The Minnesota GOP released a statement saying that the statement that reports claiming that “the Chairwoman had any knowledge of sexual harassment allegations are categorically false.” The statement went on to say that “the allegation in question occurred in November 2020” and that “the Chairwoman was not made aware of this allegation until April 7, 2021.”
Updated: MN GOP Statement on Unfounded Sexual Harassment Allegations pic.twitter.com/LrMOIrHgBK
— MNGOP (@mngop) August 16, 2021
Staffers within the Minnesota GOP also alleged that they were held by non-disclosure agreements and could not speak out about the claims before now, for fear of retaliation. In response, the Minnesota GOP tweeted out that on August 15, a motion had been passed to release former employees from the agreements.
Calls for Carnahan’s resignation continued from many GOP lawmakers in Minnesota, including State Representative Kurt Daudt (R-Anoka), State Senator Julia Coleman (R-Chanhassen), and State Senator Paul Gazelka (R-Albert Lea), as well as several candidates for the gubernatorial election: Dr. Scott Jensen, Mike Marti, and Mike Murphy.
As of 8:30pm this evening, this is the latest most up-to-date list of public officials, organizations, and candidates who have called for Chairwoman Carnahan's resignation. pic.twitter.com/0egZkkey45
— Rebecca Brannon (@RebsBrannon) August 19, 2021
Carnahan resigned during a meeting of the Minnesota GOP Board on Thursday after negotiating a severance package.
Carnahan’s full statement regarding her resignation reads:
It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve as Chairwoman for the Republican Party of Minnesota. I never imagined my life would move from being abandoned as a baby next to the garbage dumpster on the back doorstep of a rural hospital in South Korea on the day I was born to serving as Chairwoman of the Republican Party of Minnesota.
Our party has faced difficult circumstances this past week with the indictment of one of our party’s major donors for the heinous acts of sex trafficking and obstruction of justice. I want to be very clear in unequivocally stating I had no knowledge or involvement in those activities. I trust that justice will be served, and he will spend the rest of his life in prison.
In the past few days, numerous allegations have been swirling regarding sexual harassment claims and allegations of which I had no knowledge. It is unfortunate that the mob mentality has come out in this way to defame, tarnish and attempt to ruin my personal and professional reputation. I am confident a full investigation will uncover the facts and prove my innocence.
However, I signed up for this party to help us elect Republicans and I want to ensure we can continue to do that. At this point, it’s in the best interest of the party and my mental health to resign from my position as Chairwoman, effective upon the conclusion of tonight’s Executive Committee meeting, and step away from the party.
I will be forever grateful and thankful for everything we’ve accomplished together in the past four years. From paying off our legacy debt to flipping Congressional seats to turning out a record number of votes for Republicans, we have much to be proud of.
Thank you for all you’ve done to make my experience a positive one. With great love, respect, and appreciation.
Carnahan will receive a severance package which will include three months salary, equal to around $38,000, according to board members. Seven board members voted for the severance package, and seven board members voted against, with Carnahan breaking the tie and voting for her own severance package. Sources say that Carnahan wanted 8 months severance pay.
The 7 out of 15 Members who voted against severance:
Members Jeff Schuette
& Jennifer Larson
pledged an additional $5,000 to the party to pay Carnahan more.#MNGOP
— Rebecca Brannon (@RebsBrannon) August 20, 2021
A former executive director for the Minnesota GOP, who was just fired by Carnahan in August, went public with his own story after the non-disclosure agreements were lifted. Andy Aplikowski wrote in an open letter about his experiences within the Minnesota GOP and raised the question about why there had been six executive directors during Carnahan’s four-year stint as the chair of the board.
— Andy Aplikowski🍎 🐄 🎿 (@andyformn) August 19, 2021
Aplikowski writes that Lazzaro’s name did come up in conversations he had with Carnahan back in 2020. He said that Carnahan allegedly told him that he “would not approve” of Lazzaro’s lifestyle. Aplikowski also claimed that Carnahan attempted to have him sign a non-disclosure agreement in exchange for a $10,000 severance package, which he says he declined.
Reports also circulated that Lazzaro served as campaign manager for Lacy Johnson, the Republican challenger to Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN-05) in 2020. Johnson took to Twitter to dispel those rumors, saying, “Mr. Lazarro was never employed by my campaign.”
I am aware that several news reports have mistakenly claimed recently-arrested Anton Lazarro was my campaign manager. Mr. Lazarro was never employed by my campaign. My deepest concern remains with the victims of sex trafficking and their families. I want justice for the victims.
— Lacy Johnson (@LacyJohnsonMN) August 15, 2021
Federal Election Commission (FEC) campaign finance files show that Lazzaro’s PAC, the Big Tent Republicans PAC, was listed as a connected organization to Johnson’s campaign. FEC records also show that the Big Tent Republicans PAC contributed $22,000 to the campaigns of nine GOP Congressional candidates around the country in the 2020 election cycle. Lacy Johnson’s Congressional campaign was not one of those nine campaigns that received contributions from the Big Tent Republicans PAC.
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Hayley Tschetter is a reporter with The Minnesota Sun | Star News Network. Follow Hayley on Twitter or like her Facebook page. Send news tips to [email protected].
Photo “Jennifer Carnahan” by Jennifer Carnahan.