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Grams' wife will plead no contest in campaign e-mail case

June 15, 2001 

Grams' wife will plead no contest in campaign e-mail case

Christine Grams, the wife of former Republican U.S. Sen. Rod Grams, will plead no contest today to a misdemeanor complaint alleging she helped prepare and send anonymous disparaging e-mails about a rival Democratic candidate last year, her attorney said Thursday.

The Anoka County attorney's office made the complaint public before the plea agreement was disclosed, culminating an unprecedented 11-month inquiry under the Minnesota Fair Campaign Practices law.

Prosecutors said they pieced the case together "like a jigsaw puzzle."

They subpoenaed records from Internet service providers and analyzed a computer hard drive and disks seized from Christine Grams' Ham Lake home late last summer.

They ultimately concluded that the damaging material about DFL U.S. Senate candidate Mike Ciresi was e-mailed to Christine Grams by Terry Cooper, a Virginia-based GOP political consultant retained by Rod Grams' campaign.

Ciresi, who narrowly lost a DFL Party endorsement contest after the negative e-mails were distributed to party activists, said the plea is a vindication of sorts.

"We said at the time that all roads led to [Rod] Grams," said Ciresi, adding that "this is just another example of why Grams no longer sits in the Senate." Rod Grams was unseated last November by DFLer Mark Dayton.

Alford plea

Christine Grams' Minneapolis attorney, Doug Kelley, said she would appear this morning before Anoka County District Judge James Morrow to submit a rare Alford plea, which allows defendants to plead no contest "while maintaining their innocence if they reasonably believe the state has sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction," he said.

The complaint was filed against her under her birth name, Christine Gunhus. She used that name while serving for several years as a top Senate aide and as the political director to Grams' 2000 reelection campaign. The two were rumored for years to have had a romantic relationship and were married the weekend after Grams' defeat.

Kelley dismissed Christine Grams' e-mail activities as a "technical violation" and said that the prosecutors found no evidence that the material about Ciresi was untrue.

He said prosecutors promised Christine Grams as part of the plea agreement that they would recommend that there be no jail time but said a decision on a fine would be left to the judge. The misdemeanor charge carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a fine of as much as $700.

While Rod Grams has not been implicated, the development could complicate any prospects he may have for resurrecting his political career. He has said he is considering running for the seat held by Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone in 2002.

The complaint was filed under a 1988 Minnesota law requiring that all widely disseminated campaign material include the name and address of the candidate or committee circulating it. The law applies to anyone who helps prepare or distribute such material.

At least five anonymous e-mails, sent via a Microsoft "Hotmail" account under the name "Katie Stevens," were distributed to DFL delegates, party officials and Senate candidates before and after the state Democratic convention in early June 2000.

DFLers have speculated that the Grams campaign hoped Ciresi would not be the nominee, believing that as a moderate Democrat, Ciresi would be tougher for Grams to beat in the general election.

The e-mails included four attachments that criticized Ciresi. One annotated document titled "Who is Mike Ciresi?" challenged Ciresi's promotion of his legal work uncovering corporate wrongdoing and taking on tobacco companies and listed abuses by companies his law firm has represented.

Others said he was not a "team DFL player," that he was a "sold-out moderate" and that his law firm had lobbied for "oil spillers."

After discovering that the e-mails contained electronic footprints identifying Grams' campaign aides, Ciresi filed a formal complaint in mid-July 2000 asking the Anoka County attorney's office to investigate.

The complaint filed Wednesday said investigators retrieved from Christine Grams' computer a series of e-mails to her from political consultant Terry Cooper, including the material that was later sent to the Democrats.

In the e-mails, Cooper suggested that the material "go to identified convention delegates," "the other DFL candidates" and "environmentalists."

In transmitting the "oil spillers" memo on July 1, 2000, Cooper wrote: "Chris, please get this to the environmentalists, the other DFL candidates ... the DFL chieftains, [Rep. Bruce] Vento and green DFL State legislators and other elected officials."

The complaint alleges that she "did participate in the preparation or dissemination" of the material, but Assistant Anoka County Attorney Bryan Lindberg, who headed the inquiry, said investigators did not prove that she personally distributed the e-mails.

County Attorney Bob Johnson said the filing of the complaint ends the inquiry. He said Cooper would not be pursued because it is unclear whether he committed a crime in Minnesota. Cooper, reached at his home in suburban Washington, D.C., declined to comment.

Johnson said the outcome sends a message "that you can't avoid the election laws simply by using computers."

— Dane Smith is at

— Greg Gordon is at

Greg Gordon and Dane Smith, Copyright © 2001 Star Tribune

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