MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - St. Louis County Commissioner Pete Stauber used his official county email account to request opposition research from the National Republican Congressional Committee as he geared up his campaign for the U.S. House seat from northeastern Minnesota, emails released under court order Tuesday show.
The county released the 22 emails after the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party sued for access to them, arguing that they were public data under the state's open records law. District Judge Stoney Hiljus signed an order Monday for the county to turn them over.
Stauber faces Democrat Joe Radinovich and Independence Party candidate Skip Sandman in a race that's considered one of the GOP's best chances in the country to flip a House seat now held by a Democrat. The race has already attracted over $8.6 million in outside spending.
The emails show that Stauber requested opposition research on Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan in August 2017, ahead of a congressional field hearing in Duluth on veterans' health care issues. Stauber wrote that he needed "Nolan's anti-Veteran votes" so he could get people to attend.
Stauber made that request before Nolan announced in February that he would drop out of the race and retire. He also traded messages last December with the NRCC's regional press secretary, Maddie Anderson, discussing how they might use Nolan's support for internet neutrality against him.
Stauber pointed out an item in Nolan's weekly email newsletter to constituents denouncing the Federal Communications Commission's decision last December to end net neutrality. Anderson replied that the outrage "has really faded away" and that it "might be a plus" if Nolan made it an issue. Stauber agreed.
Several other emails, from before Stauber officially announced his candidacy in July 2017, dealt with setting up meetings with lawmakers about an Obama administration decision to block mineral prospecting near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, which the Trump administration has since rescinded.
Stauber said he attended one on the Iron Range that included Nolan and GOP U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, and two other congressmen involved in natural resources issues, even though Stauber wasn't invited. The messages didn't indicate what transpired at those meetings.
Several others dealt with setting up an interview with the Fox News Channel.
DFL Chairman Ken Martin said in a statement that the emails show that Stauber used taxpayer resources even before he was officially a candidate, and as recently as April, to advance his candidacy.
"It's outrageous that it took a court order for Pete Stauber to do the right thing and release these unlawful emails," Martin said. "Beyond abusing the public trust, Stauber disregarded state law and violated St. Louis County ethics policy by using county resources to advance his political ambitions."
The Stauber campaign issued a short statement that did not address the content of the emails.
"Pete respects the court's decision and the process just as he did when the county looked into this matter and found no wrongdoing," spokeswoman Caroline Tarwid said.
St. Louis County Administrator Kevin Gray defended the decision to fight to keep the emails private.
"Our priority has always been to follow the law," he said in a statement. "Although we interpreted the language of the statute differently; we will comply with the Court's order. "
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This version of the story corrects the transposition in the name National Republican Congressional Committee.