Not quite a nothing burger, the Pete Stauber emails released on Tuesday also seemed nothing of the sort that would derail the county commissioner’s campaign for Congress.
The emails included some political strategizing, arrangements for an interview with the national Fox News channel, and, ultimately, insight from Stauber himself, who told his contacts with a Washington, D.C. political group to begin using Stauber’s private email.
“From here on please use the following email,” Stauber wrote last December to multiple contacts before providing them with a private email address.
Stauber’s email correspondence with the National Republican Congressional Committee was made public following a judge’s order filed in District Court in Duluth on Tuesday and almost two months of mystery about what was in the emails.
The array of campaign emails, mostly from June-December 2017, showed in one instance a county commissioners’ assistant helping to arrange a Fox News television interview related to Stauber’s candidacy for Congress.
Another email from Stauber to the NRCC in July 2017 referenced Keith Nelson, a fellow commissioner and chairman of the St. Louis County board who has called the email issue “a nothing complaint.” Stauber asked that Nelson be included on meetings with congressional representatives while the two were scheduled to be in Washington, D.C.
When asked about Nelson’s inclusion in the emails, the county said Nelson was in Washington, D.C. during the time period around the email for meetings on transportation funding issues and potential projects for inclusion in a transportation bill.
“We verified with Commissioner Nelson: He and Commissioner Stauber were not traveling together, nor did Nelson take part in any meetings with Stauber,” county spokeswoman Dana Kazel said, adding that Nelson met with Sen. Amy Klobuchar and others in the state’s federal legislative delegation.
The Stauber emails were released by St. Louis County after it fought to keep the emails private, citing an incorrect reading of state data practices statute. The Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party sued the county last week to get release of the emails. Tenth District Court Judge Stoney Hiljus heard arguments in the case in Duluth on Friday.
“It’s outrageous that it took a court order for Pete Stauber to do the right thing and release these unlawful emails,” said DFL chairman Ken Martin, who notably attacked the process but failed to criticize a single example from the emails in his commentary - a nod to the overall banality of the campaign correspondence.
Stauber is the Republican candidate in an expensive and high-profile 8th Congressional District race which also features Democrat Joe Radinovich and Independence Party candidate Ray “Skip” Sandman. The candidates were set to square off in Chisholm on Tuesday night for the last of five debates. The emails figured to be a topic at the debate.
“Pete respects the court’s decision and the process just as he did when the county looked into this matter and found no wrongdoing,” Stauber campaign spokesperson Caroline Tarwid said.
St. Louis County policy prohibits elected officials from using county resources on their campaigns.
The 22 emails - only 13 originals with several duplicates - arrived following Hiljus’ order saying the emails were public data and the county could no longer refuse requests to see the emails.
“Our priority has always been to follow the law,” County Administrator Kevin Gray said. “Although we interpreted the language of the statute differently; we will comply with the Court’s order.”
NRCC spokesperson Maddie Anderson was among the people to correspond with Stauber in the emails. In one email last December, she speculated to Stauber that Rep. Rick Nolan, the incumbent and presumptive DFL candidate at the time, would have a difficult time making a campaign issue out of net neutrality.
“The outrage … has faded,” she wrote. “If he wants to make this a campaign issue, that might be a plus for us.”
In emails with the News Tribune on Tuesday, Anderson seemed to wink at the impact - or lack thereof - the issue would have in the lead-up to the Nov. 6 midterm election.
“It is not our practice to release emails, at any time, so we saw no reason to change that over nothing - which is exactly what this is,” Anderson wrote. “If Joe was hoping for a silver bullet, this isn’t it.”
The Radinovich campaign weighed in to say the emails were part of a pattern of misleading behavior from Stauber, who they’ve criticized for taking convenient, popular stances they believe Stauber will abandon if elected to Congress.
“He’s been as slippery on his policy positions as he has been untruthful about these emails,” Radinovich campaign manager Jordan Hagert said.
In one email, Stauber took an official correspondence for Nolan, DFL-Crosby, and forwarded it to the NRCC for strategizing purposes. The Nolan email was an invitation to Stauber, as a county commissioner, to a town hall meeting on veterans’ health issues. Stauber’s forwarded email to the NRCC, dated August 2017, seeking information on Nolan’s congressional voting record: “Look at this. I need Nolan’s anti‐Veteran votes to get people there.”
In the lone email dated this year, Stauber forwarded an email in April 2018 to the NRCC that he’d received from North Branch Mayor Kirsten Kennedy. In the email, Kennedy was critical of Leah Phifer when both were vying for the DFL endorsement, and Phifer followers were caught on video making light of Stauber.
In a June 2017 email, before he announced his candidacy in the 8th District race the next month, Stauber wrote to his NRCC contact to say he went to an event on the Iron Range, where Nolan and other house representatives toured the United Taconite iron ore mine in Eveleth and the proposed Twin Metals copper mine near Ely.
Stauber wrote: “I was at the event with Nolan … yesterday up on the range. Even though not invited. Went well.”