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Rep. Keith Ellison wins Democratic primary for Minnesota attorney general, despite domestic abuse allegations

Ellison won out in a five-person field on Tuesday night.

Keith Ellison, a member of Congress running in the Minnesota attorney general Democratic primary.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Despite recent allegations of domestic violence, US Rep. Keith Ellison won the Democratic primary election for Minnesota attorney general on Tuesday night and will be the party’s nominee in November.

Abuse allegations from Ellison’s ex-girlfriend Karen Monahan surfaced this weekend when Monahan’s adult son wrote a lengthy Facebook post saying he saw a video of Ellison grabbing his mother and swearing at her in a bedroom.

The accusations have not been independently substantiated, and Ellison denied that he ever mistreated Monahan or that video of the incident in question even exists. This is the second time he has been publicly accused by a woman of domestic abuse — another incident that was not independently verified.

“Karen and I were in a long-term relationship which ended in 2016, and I still care deeply for her well-being,” Ellison said in a statement Sunday. “This video does not exist because I never behaved in this way, and any characterization otherwise is false.”

Even with the allegations hanging over the Democratic primary for state attorney general, Ellison emerged as the victor in a crowded, five-person primary race, which included former Ramsey County Attorney Tom Foley, state Rep. Debra Hilstrom, attorney and former state Supreme Court clerk Matt Pelikan, and former state Commissioner of Commerce Mike Rothman.

At the center of the latest controversy is the alleged video that Monahan and her son both say portrays domestic abuse.

The video “showed Keith Ellison dragging my mama off the bed by her feet, screaming and calling her a “f**king bitch” and telling her to get the f**k out of his house,” Austin Monahan wrote in his Facebook post. But in a later interview, he said he didn’t have the footage.

Karen Monahan says the video exists, but in an interview with the Minnesota public radio station MPR News, she said she doesn’t plan to release it.

“It’s humiliating, it’s traumatizing, for everyone’s family involved, and for me,” she told MPR on Monday. “It sets the expectation for survivors of all kinds of forms of abuse, whether it be abuse toward women, abuse from police officers, abuse from other people in power, to have to be the ones, like I’m doing right now, to show and prove their stories. It’s feeding into that.”

Before the allegations this weekend, Ellison was seen as a rising Democratic star — a progressive who understood the Democratic Party’s shifting center. In 2017, after the party’s shocking loss in the 2016 presidential election, he became the national party’s vice chair. He viewed the attorney general position as a way to stand up to the Trump administration through the courts.

But now that Ellison has won the Democratic nomination, Republicans are sure to keep the pressure on his campaign about the Monahan allegations — as well as other domestic violence allegations made by a progressive activist named Amy Louise Alexander in 2006. Alexander’s allegations weren’t independently verified, as MPR News pointed out at the time.

On June 2005, Ellison took out a two-year restraining order against Alexander, and a year later, she filed a petition for her own restraining order in September 2006 (shortly before Ellison’s primary for the US House). A 2006 court filing by Ellison’s lawyer accused Alexander of trying to blackmail his campaign.

Minnesota hasn’t had a Republican attorney general since 1955. But this unique situation could give them an opening to take the spot.

Update: This article has been updated to reflect that fact that Ellison took out a restraining order against 2006 accuser Amy Louise Alexander, and that Alexander’s abuse allegations were not independently verified.