Toxicity, abuse, NDAs and sex trafficking: What's going on with the Minnesota Republican Party?

Catch up here on recent federal sex trafficking charges lodged against a high-profile strategist, and the attempted ousting of Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan.

Jennifer Carnahan, chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota, during a visit to Rochester in September 2020. Rochester Post Bulletin file photo
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ST. PAUL — Pressure continued to pile on Wednesday, Aug. 18, for Minnesota Republican Party Chair Jennifer Carnahan 's resignation as former party executive directors and Executive Board members called for her to step down.

It has been less than a week since a GOP donor and advisor — and personal friend to Carnahan — was indicted on federal sex trafficking charges. Now, former GOP staffers and leaders, along with current candidates, lawmakers and board leaders, said the party should part ways with Carnahan in the face of several allegations of harassment and abuse under her leadership, and the use of nondisclosure agreements.

If she refuses to step down herself, many are urging the executive board to vote to unseat her.

Before the Minnesota Republican Party's Executive Board meets Thursday, Aug. 19, to determine its next steps, here's a look at how the party got here, and what could happen next.

What happened?


Political operative Anton J. Lazzaro is being held in the Sherburne County Jail on child sex trafficking charges. Courtesy / Sherburne County Jail via MPR

Former Minnesota GOP donor and advisor, Anton "Tony" Lazzaro on Thursday, Aug. 12, was indicted on federal charges of sex trafficking. He is facing 10 federal sex trafficking charges of recruiting six minor victims to engage in sex acts.

A 19-year-old Minnesota woman, Gisela Castro Medina, was also indicted as part of the investigation.

Since those charges came to light, Carnahan — who is a personal friend of Lazzaro's — has been questioned on whether she had any idea of his alleged illegal activity.

Carnahan has said she had no knowledge of potentially illegal activity by Lazzaro and condemned his actions.

Since the charges were made public last week, colleagues of Carnahan's are coming forward with further allegations of abuse and workplace toxicity, and Republican power-players are calling for Carnahan's removal from party leadership.

Why is she in the crosshairs?

Carnahan has come under fire for her close friendship with Lazzaro. Prior to his arrest, Lazzaro attended Carnahan and Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn's wedding, was photographed at a Vikings game with the couple and co-hosted a podcast with Carnahan.


And elected officials, former party leaders and staffers have called into question how Carnahan could've maintained a friendship with Lazzaro without knowing about his alleged trafficking activity. More recently, former GOP staff, college Republican leaders and others shared stories about experiencing unwanted advances from Lazzaro and feeling as though they had to talk to him to continue working in GOP politics in the state.

On social media and in interviews with news outlets, the current and former Republican leaders said they'd also experienced workplace harassment and abuse, as well as efforts to keep allegations of impropriety quiet under Carnahan's leadership.

Four former GOP executive directors on Wednesday wrote a letter calling for Carnahan's removal after accounts of harassment and abuse came to light. And they said they might have a brief window to share their stories since the Executive Board voted to waive nondisclosure agreements that prevented them from speaking about their time with the party.

"It is time to stop believing the lies and put an end to the toxic, retaliatory, and dramatic reign of Carnahan," former directors Kevin Poindexter, Becky Alery, Christine Snell and Andy Aplikowski wrote. "We are calling for the immediate resignation of Carnahan, an independent investigation into the HR department along with an external financial audit. If she will not resign, we implore the State Executive Committee, many of whom know the four of us closely, to listen to us, hear our stories, and make the right decision to end this cycle of pain and chaos."

What has Carnahan said?

Jennifer Carnahan
Jennifer Carnahan

Carnahan has denied having any knowledge about Lazzaro's alleged trafficking and said efforts to tie her to the charges and unseat her constitute a "coup."

The chairwoman primarily responded to the charges through news releases last week and in her first interviews on Tuesday, Aug. 17, she said she hadn't been questioned by authorities following Lazzaro's arrest. She also said she worried that the swell of negative comments and allegations around party leadership could damage Republicans' chances in 2022.


She also said those bringing forth new accusations had stood opposed to her re-election to the position of party chair earlier this year.

“People just have to remember, this is not guilt by association and none of us knew anything Tony was involved in,” Carnahan said in an interview with KNSI Radio. “If you see all the people on social media, on Twitter and Facebook, these are the same people that were working against me ... they are the ones that are putting this party in this horrible position."

Who is calling for her to resign?

Meanwhile, numerous prominent Minnesota Republicans say that the party and its candidates are more doomed if Carnahan stays in power.

Three declared GOP gubernatorial candidates: former state Sen. Scott Jensen, Mike Marti and Lexington Mayor Mike Murphy, along with more than a dozen state lawmakers, including possible gubernatorial candidate Sen. Michelle Benson, have called for Carnahan's resignation. And the four former executive directors, as well as Republican National Committeeman Max Rymer, said publicly that they believed those coming forward with allegations of harassment and urged Carnahan's removal.

The state's Republican U.S. representatives — Tom Emmer, Michelle Fischbach and Pete Stauber — had not yet weighed in about Carnahan's chairmanship on Wednesday.

A fourth, Rep. Hagedorn, who represents Minnesota's 1st Congressional District, is married to Carnahan. Lazzaro was a top donor to Hagedorn's campaign.

Meanwhile, state Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka on Monday said he trusted the Executive Board and Central Committee to make the right choice, but did not elaborate.

RELATED: Hagedorn distances from top donor and GOP operative indicted on child sex trafficking charges Lazzaro, indicted for sex trafficking, gave Hagedorn $31,000.

What comes next?

The Minnesota Republican Party Executive Board will meet Thursday, Aug. 19, to discuss the next steps. The board on Sunday narrowly voted to approve an audit of the party's finances and Lazzaro's contributions.

Carnahan has said this week that she doesn't plan to step down from her post but would prefer that a vote of no confidence in her leadership take place at the state GOP Central Committee level, which would involve hundreds of delegates, rather than at the executive board level.

"I don't think 14 people should make a decision for the rest of the base of this party, I don't think that's right," Carnahan told KNSI Radio Tuesday.

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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