Reports of politicized AG's office put Swanson on the spot

State Attorney General Lori Swanson answers questions from the media after a debate on MPR News inside the Kling Center for Public Media in St. Paul, Minn. on Friday, Aug. 10, 2018. Evan Frost | MPR News

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Updated 5:22 p.m. | Posted 9:10 a.m.

Three days after accusations surfaced that Minnesota Attorney General and DFL Gubernatorial candidate Lori Swanson pressured state employees to perform campaign work, several additional former employees have come forward to corroborate the story.

First reported Monday by The Intercept, the online publication ran a second story Thursday, saying that after the first story ran, more than a dozen people, including seven former employees, came forward to share stories of being asked to volunteer for Swanson's campaigns.

Unlike the first story, which contained only anonymous sources, the follow-up report included on-the-record interviews with former employees, including D'Andre Norman, who worked in the attorney general's office from 2006 to 2014.

"It was all true, unfortunately," Norman said of the first story. "Nothing in there was not right and correct."

• NewsCut: Swanson's gov bid wounded by former deputy's allegations • Tuesday: Swanson denies steering AG staff into political duties

Norman was hired by former Attorney General Mike Hatch after helping Hatch with his unsuccessful bid for governor, according to reporter Rachel Cohen, who wrote the articles for The Intercept.

"His primary work was to help recruit staffers to attend Swanson's political events, conventions, fundraisers, all across the state for years," Cohen told MPR News host Cathy Wurzer.

It's not illegal to work to work on your boss's campaigns, but Minnesota law bars politicians from compelling their staff to do political work.

Cohen said she spoke to nearly 20 former and current employees and that many described a practice of pressuring younger employees to participate in campaign work.

Swanson's campaign has vehemently denied the allegations, calling The Intercept reports a political attempt to settle scores.

In an extended statement released Friday, attorney general's office spokesperson Ben Wogsland said the office "never terminated anyone for union organizing activity, nor was anyone ever terminated or rewarded for who they supported or didn't support politically."

Wogsland attacked Norman's credibility and suggested The Intercept report was "payback" for Swanson's pursuit of companies linked to a business partner of an investor in The Intercept.

After the Intercept story was published, Wogsland emailed reporters information on a past criminal charge against Norman.

Norman's attorney filed a request for a temporary restraining order against the attorney general, arguing they caused him "irreparable harm" and violated state law in releasing expunged criminal records. Wogsland sent the records from his state email address.

Reporter Cohen said several of the employees she spoke to were scared to talk publicly and reveal their names. That's why she told MPR News Norman's accusations should be taken seriously.

"D'Andre freely admits to a lot of things that make him look bad and put him in jeopardy," Cohen said, "in part because he felt guilt and wants to help fix things. His willingness to incriminate himself I think makes the story one that people need to take seriously."

MPR News reporter Briana Bierschbach contributed to this report.

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