EDINA, Minn. — Minnesota GOP Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan resigned Thursday evening after growing pressure from members within the party following the sex trafficking indictment against a Republican strategist and major donor.
Carnahan announced her decision during a closed-door meeting at the GOP's Edina Headquarters.
Carnahan was under fire for her personal ties with Anton "Anthony" Lazzaro, who is facing 10 federal sex trafficking charges for allegedly recruiting six minor victims to engage in commercial sex acts. Carnahan and Lazzaro hosted a podcast together and were often seen together socially, prompting many within party to call for her removal.
In a statement, Carnahan denied having any knowledge of Lazzaro's alleged criminal activity, saying, "I trust that justice will be served, and he will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Carnahan's full statement reads:
It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve as Chairwoman for the Republican Party of Minnesota. I never imagined my life would move from being abandoned as a baby next to the garbage dumpster on the back doorstep of a rural hospital in South Korea on the day I was born to serving as Chairwoman of the Republican Party of Minnesota.
Our party has faced difficult circumstances this past week with the indictment of one of our party's major donors for the heinous acts of sex trafficking and obstruction of justice. I want to be very clear in unequivocally stating I had no knowledge or involvement in those activities. I trust that justice will be served, and he will spend the rest of his life in prison.
In the past few days, numerous allegations have been swirling regarding sexual harassment claims and allegations of which I had no knowledge. It is unfortunate that the mob mentality has come out in this way to defame, tarnish and attempt to ruin my personal and professional reputation. I am confident a full investigation will uncover the facts and prove my innocence.
However, I signed up for this party to help us elect Republicans and I want to ensure we can continue to do that. At this point, it's in the best interest of the party and my mental health to resign from my position as Chairwoman, effective upon the conclusion of tonight's Executive Committee meeting, and step away from the party.
I will be forever grateful and thankful for everything we've accomplished together in the past four years. From paying off our legacy debt to flipping Congressional seats to turning out a record number of votes for Republicans, we have much to be proud of.
Thank you for all you've done to make my experience a positive one. With great love, respect, and appreciation.
According to three executive board members, Carnahan will receive a three-month severance worth roughly $37,000-$38,000.
Court records show in December – at Lazzaro's swanky downtown Minneapolis condo – the FBI seized his Ferrari, $371,000, 13 cell phones, computers and memory cards. Other court records reveal the feds also found hundreds of gold and silver bars, plus foreign currency.
Gisela Castro Medina, a 19-year-old college student from Delano who has been identified as the chair of the University of St. Thomas College Republicans chapter, was also indicted and made her first court appearance on Monday, Aug. 16.
Carnahan has repeatedly said she had no knowledge of Lazzaro's alleged criminal activity, calling it an attempted "coup" by people who actively opposed her re-election as party chair in April, and a "guilt by association" campaign.
"We are grateful for every contribution we receive, but there is no way for us to know the personal background of every contributor to our party – even those donors with whom we have a regular and consistent relationship. To imply otherwise is simply wrong," Carnahan wrote Monday, in a letter to the state party's central committee members.
Her letter also included an itemized list of Lazzaro's contributions to Minnesota state and federal candidates and political organizations, which totaled more than $270,000 across several election cycles.
Carnahan said the party is setting up a separate bank account for the purpose of holding the money Lazzaro donated directly to the state party, which was roughly $37,000. The party will then donate that to charities, after deciding on which ones are appropriate.
Rep. Tom Emmer released a statement Thursday night calling her resignation the "first step in moving the Republican Party of Minnesota forward."
His full statement reads:
Jennifer Carnahan’s resignation is the first step in moving the Republican Party of Minnesota forward. However, if we are to restore integrity and live by the conservative values we stand for, there is more work to be done. I urge the executive board to continue on with full investigations into any alleged impropriety. I am grateful to the victims who have come forward, and I hope the Party will do everything possible to honor their stories and help them heal. Despite these heartbreaking events, our Republican values still hold fast and I am confident that we will unite to better our state as we look ahead to 2022.