In the Spotlight

News & Features
Affidavit Raises Possibility of Dirty Tricks in Senate Race
By Amy Radil
September 8, 2000
Click for audio RealAudio 3.0

An affidavit released by the Anoka County Attorney's office shows what may be a link between Republican Senator Rod Grams' re-election campaign and some e-mails critical of one of his DFL rivals, Michael Ciresi. The affidavit says the e-mail account used to send the e-mails was used in the home of one of Grams' campaign advisors, Christine Gunhus. Grams has emphatically denied that his campaign was involved in creating the e-mails, in which the sender posed as a DFL activist.
Grams' Response
Hear Senator Rod Grams react to the story. He conducted a conference call with several reporters on September 8, 2000.

LAST MAY AND JUNE, four e-mails were distributed to DFL delegates and activists, describing Michael Ciresi as "too moderate," and saying he'd contributed little funding to the DFL Party and that his law firm represented big-business polluters among other things. The e-mails were signed by Katie Stevens, but electronic signatures contained the names of Rod Grams' campaign staffers.

Ciresi filed a complaint with the Anoka County Attorney's office, claiming whoever sent the e-mails violated a state law requiring campaign literature to state who sent it. The affidavit released Thursday says Katie Stevens' e-mail account was used at a Kinko's in Coon Rapids and at the home of Grams' political advisor, Christine Gunhus. The Anoka County attorney says the case is still under investigation.

Ciresi's campaign manager Bob DeCheine says the findings are serious. "If these facts turn out to be true and she was the person involved in sending these e-mail out, then she was pretending to be a Democratic activist and trying to influence the DFL's endorsement process. That is a dirty trick," says DeCheine.

The Anoka County Attorney's office used the affidavit to obtain a search warrant, and removed computers and computer disks from Gunhus' home. The county attorney hasn't filed any charges. But the findings contained in the affidavit point to a stronger connection between Grams' staff and the e-mail than was previously known.

"Reading this affidavit this is much more severe; this is pretty specific," said Robert Stephens, the computer-savvy head of the technology troubleshooting company The Geek Squad. He says he initially dismissed Ciresi's allegations against the Grams campaign and assumed someone had inserted the names of Grams staffers in the e-mails in some sort of political prank.

Stephens says it's not difficult to fake an e-mail address, but linking that e-mail account to Gunhus' physical address makes the case much stronger. If the campaign staffers created the anti-Ciresi e-mails, Stephens says they also showed a certain naivete in leaving behind so many electronic footprints.

"Whoever gets caught, it's equivalent to robbing a bank and writing your note on a Target receipt with your name on the side," he says.

Questioned about the case this weekend, Grams issued his most emphatic denial to date, saying his campaign was not responsible. The campaign put out a brief statement Thursday calling the investigation "politically motivated" by Ciresi, and saying that the information about him in the e-mails was "truthful."

"It's equivalent to robbing a bank and writing your note on a Target receipt with your name on the side."

- Robert Stevens
The Geek Squad
Gunhus' attorney, Doug Kelley, also suggests law enforcement officials overreacted by carrying out a search warrant for an alleged crime that, at most, carries a gross misdemeanor penalty. Kelley says he hasn't yet seen the affidavit, but he believes Gunhus will be cleared.

"When the dust settles on this case, my client will be found to have done nothing wrong," said Kelley.

However, heading into the general election, Grams could also face political fallout if his campaign were found committing what Ciresi's campaign manager calls "Nixonian dirty tricks."

But Ciresi may not turn out to be Grams' most potent rival. Recent polls show another DFL candidate, Mark Dayton, with higher name recognition and support.

Gustavus Adolphus political science professor Chris Gilbert says the latest revelation can't be helpful for the incumbent.

"If the first burst of Grams-centered news in this campaign turns out to be some shady e-mails for no apparent good reason, that's not really good for his campaign. But it does surprise me; I didn't think these e-mails could be tied back to anyone associated with Grams and I suspected that nobody associated with Grams had actually done the deed, so it's interesting that that connecting is starting to be made in the eyes of law enforcement," says Gilbert.