Senate committee “stuck in the mud” on Michel ethics complaint

By T.W. Budig, ECM Capitol Reporter

The Senate ethics committee met for more than two hours this morning, Tuesday, April 17, but was unwilling or unable to break a deadlock gripping it in regard to an ethics complaint filed against Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina.

Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, in her complaint against Michel alleges the former deputy majority leader lied to the public and otherwise mishandled events relating to the Koch scandal in the Senate last year.

Pappas wants Michel to make a public apology on the Senate floor for his perceived falsehoods and missteps.

For his part, Michel argues the complaint against him is politically motivated and a form of political retribution.

Indeed, Michel, in a brief statement after the committee recessed for Senate floor session — plans were for the committee to come back later today — argued the complaint had “twisted it (the ethics committee) into a pretzel because there’s no merit to the charges.”

The spectral that dodged the ethics committee at an earlier hearing on the complaint — possible litigation growing out of a claim by former Republican Senate communications director Michael Brodkorb, who has said he had an intimate relationship with former Republican Senate majority leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, and argues he was wrongly fired from the Senate for it — also overshadowed today’s hearing.

The two Democrats on the ethics committee, Sen.John Harrington, DFL-St. Paul, and Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, argued they’ve been unable to ask the kind of questions shedding light on the issue of probable cause because of perceived legal risks making such inquiries presents to the Minnesota Senate in terms of possible legal actions relating to the Brodkorb firing.

Harrington, for one, argued the committee should just set aside legalities and blaze ahead.

“That’s not my concern,” he said of possible legal ripples.

But Senate Ethics Committee Chairwoman Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, argued the possibility of legal actions against the Senate cannot be simply disregarded.

She styled the current political, legal drama unfolding in the Senate as “unprecedented.”

Two motions on probable cause made at the first committee hearing several weeks ago, a Republican motion finding no probable cause, a Democratic motion finding probable cause, failed on tied votes on the four member, bipartisan committee.

A motion today by Harrington that would have brought the committee back within 15 days to pursue further inquiries failed on another tied vote.

“We’re basically stuck,” said Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, DFL-Alexandria, ethics committee member.

They’re “basically stuck in the mud here,” he said.

Pappas dismissed a suggestion that Michel and she get together and work things out by themselves.

The moment for that passed, Pappas argued, when she filed her complaint.

Moreover, Michel clearly damaged the honor of the Senate, Pappas argued, by giving misleading and false information to the media.

“We should not give false information to the press,” she said.

Michel, in his brief appearance before the ethics committee, argued the complaint against him was politically motivated.

One thing the ethic committee could look into, he suggested, is updating Senate human resources policies.

Sheran suggested the ethics committee meet again later today to discuss whether the committee needed further meetings.

She was hopeful a “window” could be found for committee members to pass through.

Ingebrigtsen said he could not support any future hearing that excluded the press.

It had been suggested by Democrats the committee could meet in executive session.

Fischbach indicated the ethics committee would meet later today.

But a second meeting on the day the ethics committee first met to take up the Pappas complaint failed to materialize.