The ethics of the Koch/Brodkorb affair examined

We already know that Sen. Geoff Michel misled reporters about the timetable of events when he made public the resignation of Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch for having a romantic relationship with a staffer, who we now know to be Michael Brodkorb.

Whether that was intentional or unethical and violated ethics of the Minnesota Senate will have to wait — perhaps for years — to find out. DFLers filed a complaint which the Senate but no witnesses were allowed to testify because doing so may make a Brodkorb-threatened lawsuit more problematic than it already.

As a result, today’s hearing by a Senate committee mostly revealed to us what we already know.

Sen. Sandy Pappas cited an MPR story on the bogus timetable while reading her complaint to the Senate panel today.

“It was the responsibility of Sen. Michel to assure the situation was resolved in a timely matter,” she said, noting 11 weeks passed from the time he apparently knew about the Koch-Brodkorb affair and the time he confronted Sen. Koch on it.

She called on Sen. Michel to publicly apologize on the Senate floor.

“This is Monday-morning quarterbacking,” Michel responded. “The challenge… is to distinguish between ethics and partisan politics. This assignment fell to me in my role as deputy majority leader. No one would have asked for or volunteered for this assignment… so over time a group of members and a group of staff advanced a very sensitive issue in a thoughtful and thorough manner. We did our homework on the facts and the law and the human resources on this…”

Michel said his statements were not clearly misleading. “What I did was attempt to protect staff and whistleblowers from being further dragged into the situation. I tried very hard to avoid being specific about when staff came to me,” he said. “I didn’t try to be false or misleading and I don’t think I was. If I could answer a question differently, what I should’ve said was, ‘I’m not going to address the timeline question in any specific fashion’ in order to protect staff and whistleblowers.”

Michel said his intent to protect whistleblowers did not diminish the honor of the Senate.

The hearing, continuing at this hour and watchable here, doesn’t have anywhere else to go. One side says he deliberately misleaded reporters and the public, one side says he didn’t.

“The comment about the cover-up is political nonsense,” he said. “It was Senate Republican leadership who went to Sen. Koch to confront this. When she stepped down it was Senate Republican leadership who told the public the next day, rather than wait for it to come out in dribs and drabs. This 21st century media…. you guys act quickly.”

He said Koch was not willing to “resolve the conflict” — presumably, end the affair or fire Brodkorb — and Brodkorb refused to step down.

“There are also marriages, and families, and children involved,” he said. “So we could not cut corners.”

Pappas said it’s “unfair” to characterize her complaints as “political.”

“It wasn’t me who said it was a coverup,” she said. “It was (former GOP speaker) Mr. Sviggum.

Pappas tried to ask Michel who he talked to about the affair and when he talked to them, but she was told not to ask the question because it could impact litigation.

“If we cannot affirm with you who you talked to (and when),” Sen. Kathy Sheran said, “that’s a problem for us.”

“I’m under oath,” Sen. Michel said. “Give me the benefit of the doubt.”

“That’s not a reasonable measure,” Sheran said.

Republicans on the committee tried to kill the complaint, but DFLers vote against it. Republicans similarly blocked action to find probable cause to continue an ethics probe.

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