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Two Harbors council may ask attorney general to review mayor's crypto comments

Mayor Chris Swanson's comments appeared in a New York Times story just five days after the council sent his comments about a planned underwater hotel to the attorney general.

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Virginia Mayor Larry Cuffe Jr. and Two Harbors Mayor Chris Swanson take the stage to present a letter from six Iron Range mayors supporting the Trump-Pence campaign during Vice President Mike Pence's campaign visit to Lake Superior Warehousing on Aug. 28, 2020, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — The Two Harbors City Council will again consider sending comments made by Mayor Chris Swanson to the Minnesota Attorney General to determine if he violated any policies or laws.

Earlier in January, it was over Swanson’s plans for an underwater hotel in Lake Superior . This time it’s over comments Swanson made in a Jan. 25 New York Times article, “The Rise of Crypto Mayors,” in which he expressed support for making a decentralized autonomous organization, or DAO, that would bring cryptocurrency investors in to fund Two Harbors projects. In return, the investors would have voting power over the projects, the New York Times reported.

In a special City Council meeting scheduled for Tuesday evening , the council will consider asking Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office to issue an opinion on “whether or not a violation of the city code, charter, policies or state statute has occurred.”

The council will also consider establishing a committee to consider other such violations.

Reached by phone Monday afternoon, Swanson declined to comment to the News Tribune.

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"As I understand city policy, I am no longer allowed to speak to you," he said and then hung up.

The city’s ethics policy bans elected and appointed officials and employees from using their “official capacity” to make a statement or comment to media outlets without the prior approval of the City Council. But it “does not restrict the rights” of the press to interview elected officials, appointed officials or employees.

Swanson described the plan for DAO to the New York Times as simplifying and speeding up projects in town.

“Trying to get something built can be really complicated, and you end up going to the same pools of money over and over and over again,” Swanson told the New York Times. “The projects that the community wants to see could get done quicker.”

The New York Times reported, “a 26-year-old crypto enthusiast, cold-emailed 2,000 U.S. mayors, hoping to engage them in discussions about blockchain technology. He got one response — from Chris Swanson.”

On his Twitter account, Swanson has repeatedly floated the idea of DAO and even an official cryptocurrency for Two Harbors, which he called “TwoHarborsCoin.”

The New York Times story was published just five days after the council unanimously agreed to have the attorney general review Swanson’s tweets as well as comments he made about a proposed underwater hotel in Lake Superior .

In August, Swanson appeared as a guest on the “ Ask a Billionaire Podcast, ” where he discussed plans for a $400 million underwater hotel and submarine with “Mr. O.”

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Mr. O is a pseudonym for a man claiming to be a billionaire who is mentoring Swanson and would work with him on the project. Swanson denies having any financial interest in the project.

That appearance, along with an unfinished but live website for the project, vibetwoharbors.com , and Swanson’s tweets, prompted the council’s first meeting.

During the most recent episode of Mr. O’s podcast , which was recorded just after the City Council meeting, Mr. O said he had his attorney speak with Swanson about the matter being referred to the attorney general.

“The mayor was saying, ‘Are they going to come and take my computers and everything? Because I run my business from (the computers),’” Mr. O told podcast listeners. “(My attorney) said, ‘No, they need to have probable cause of a criminal thing. That doesn’t happen.’”

Swanson was first elected mayor in 2016 and was reelected in 2020. He is the CEO of digital marketing agency PureDriven and entrepreneur coaching service Garage Starts.

Jimmy Lovrien covers energy, mining and the 8th Congressional District for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at jlovrien@duluthnews.com or 218-723-5332.
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