Intercept reporter 'confident more will come out' on Lori Swanson

“I'm very confident my sources and I'm very confident that there is a lot more that's going to be coming out."

Jared Goyette
August 07, 2018 - 5:54 pm

(Photo by Kyndell Harkness/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS/Sipa USA)

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The writer of a whistleblowing report published in The Intercept claiming that  Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson pressured government employees to work for her campaign says she may have more coming soon.

“I'm very confident my sources and I'm very confident that there is a lot more that's going to be coming out,” The Intercept's Rachel Cohen told WCCO Radio host Chad Hartman on Tuesday.

Swanson, currently the frontrunner in the Democratic primary campaign for Governor, vigorously denied the allegations in the report, which was based largely on anonymous sources. 

“There is no political activity undertaken by any member of the attorney general's office while "on the clock" for the government, period," said a statement from her campaign. Employees of the attorney general's office are paid and promoted based solely on their merit and work responsibilities, period,"

That statement went on to allege that the piece was “political attempt to settle scores.” The reasoning: The Intercept is owned by Pierre Omidyar, and Swanson, as AG, has sued his business partners.  

You can listen to Cohen’s interview here and a partial transcript continues below.

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*This transcript was produced with the help of voice recognition robots which are responsible for any typos or errors.
 

Chad Hartman: Thank you so much for coming on. What drew your interest to this story?

Rachel Cohen: Oh, thank you for having me on. Well, I'm based in Minnesota for the summer and I'm a regular contributor to The Intercept, which has done a lot of really good coverage of Democratic primaries across the country. So sort of good timing.  I was here and as I've been here I've met a number of people who, you know, I've talked to you about Swanson's office and in the legal community and everyone has just had this attitude that, oh yeah, this was an open secret. Everybody knows this goes on. There was a lot of talk that, you know, of these practices, but when I looked through the, um, you know, local media, I found no actual coverage of it except for, uh, from about a decade ago….

Chad Harman: Yeah. The Pioneer Press, about a decade or so. So just to reiterate what you're saying — lawyers and other people who are in kind of in that attorney general swirl for whatever reason that you're feeling is that there are many, many people who are aware of this and that this has been going on throughout the Swanson tenure

Rachel Cohen: Yes, absolutely.

Chad Hartman: The criticism will be, and let me add, we have had thousands of very good examples of journalism forever where many, many journalists, hundreds and hundreds, thousands in fact have had good reporting where individuals would only go on background, but for the folks who will see it differently and say, this store would have significantly more legs and it's lacking credibility without these eight individuals stepping forth and giving their name. What do you say to those folks?

Rachel Cohen: Well, I think what I would say is what actually happens a lot in these instances, which is as soon as my story went live, I started hearing from more people and I had another, on the record interview with a source today talking about a number of things from my piece, the reporting is still going on. I have another on the record interview scheduled for this afternoon for this story, there were a lot of threads, there is more to the story than even I could include in the piece. But you know, there's strength in numbers and, and I understand if... people need different forms of evidence. But I'm very confident my sources and I'm very confident that there is a lot more that's going to be coming out

Chad Hartman: Let me get you to react to what you wrote in your story so I'll let other people know about and then get you to react. Ruth Stanoch, who was a spokesman for the Swanson campaigns said the allegations that are categorically false and that additional questions should be directed to the Attorney General's office. A spokesman for that office, "Benjamin Wogsland, told The Intercept than anyone who volunteers on a political campaign must do so on their own personal time and that the office does not consider an employees participation in the political process or lack thereof in determining raises and promotions. He declined to answer specific follow up questions unless The Intercept would name the employees we interviewed." What do you think about that last part about the spokesman reacted to that last part...


Rachel Cohen: To clear, you know, we originally reached out to the campaign for an interview with Laurie. The campaign spokesperson basically said she was indefinitely unavailable, citing her mother. This is two weeks before the primary primary, but sort of making her unavailable and then....he said that they wouldn't answer questions unless we gave a large amount of identifying information on our sources and we explained that we will not do that, that they fear retribution. He refused. We asked basic yes or no question, but they wouldn't even deny. We asked have lawyers and other staff in the downtown office ever been asked to take time for legal matters to attend political work. They declined to answer that question. We said, have lawyers or staff ever been asked to do research about negative news articles about the attorney general during office hours? They declined to say that — these were a basic yes or no questions that they refused to answer. And so, you know, we reported that to

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Chad Hartman: How blunt were they (in pressuring government workers to volunteer for the campaign) or  was it just a given that you just would see what other people would do and you just knew if you didn't do this, you weren't moving up?

Rachel Cohen: So I think this is a really important, because I saw some of the reactions to my piece, people are like, wow, this is really suspicious timing. Some people have accused me of, of just carrying water for these Murphy and Waltz campaign, which is completely ridiculous. I never spoke with anyone from the campaign. That's just a completely fabricated, a in fact lazy kind of theory. But... The reason that it's happening now is because she's running for governor now and people said to me, the reason they're speaking up is because they felt really uncomfortable that some people felt there was a, you know, unethical, even illegal, illegal activity going on that they didn't feel this is right, that they felt uncomfortable in any way that feeling that my sources told me, which is why they're talking about now because, you know, some of them left recently, some of them left a while ago. But, um, and you know, we include Prentiss Cox, who's at the University of Minnesota and Linda McEwen, who both sort of said similar things, which was that, you know, they felt this was the time when they had to speak up.

Chad Hartman: Now Linda McEwen, in the end, had a conflict with Hatch and Swanson and was fired. Does that jeopardize her credibility in anyway?

Rachel Cohen: Well, you know, we thought it was obviously important to include. It would have been a something that if we didn't, people would have immediately said. But, you know, Linda has been, uh, I, I worked to independently corroborate a things you told me that I could and I, and all of the names that we, the names that she could provide, you know, we went in and talked about with other people, um, you know, readers can make their own judgment about, uh, what they want to take from her experience. But the fact is she worked in the Capitol Hill sweet office, which only has, you know, there's hundreds of people working in the Attorney General downtown office, something like a dozen, 15 people work in the top in the state capital office. I'm Linda, uh, worked across the hall from Lori. She shared an office with the director of HR for three years. All salaries and promotions ran through their office together. So yeah, we felt like she has a pretty strong witness because I also, um, you know, a lot of the more explicit campaign work took place in the executive suite. Sources told us that I'm more of the campaign work took place at the executive suite office, which is where Linda works. So, you know, we're, we felt okay, well we'll, we can report that and you know, readers can think about those two facts., or those two point.

Chad Hartman: Just to back up the costs because you laid out in great detail about staff expenses now that she's running for the office and contrast that with other people. Explain that. And then in any way, can she come back and say, listen, I just started running only a few months ago. My expenses should be lower by a significant amount compared to others.  

Rachel Cohen: She has had no campaign staff, expensive since at least 2014. You can go back further to her Attorney general committee.... I asked the campaign for details. They did not respond to questions about whether she maintained separate staff for her gubernatorial committee. I mean the, she's had significant campaign expenditures in her gubernatorial campaign and you know… it raises questions. You usually don't spend that much money in a campaign and not have any staff sort overseeing it. It’s not like, oh, we don't have staff and we've also haven't been spending money. They've been sending money.